Prayer and Reflection by Bishop Sylvester David OMI

Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 8th January 2021, during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.

Reflection for Friday 8th January 2021. Luke 5:12-16

No amount of explanation of the text or preaching on the text can take the place of our own prayerful reading of the Gospel passage. To engage with the word of God is to engage with God himself because we cannot separate the speaker from the word anymore than we can separate the dancer from the dance. What I say in this reflection can only add to the base each person has established through engaging with the word. Questions such as “who is the outcast in my situation?” can be helpful. Also helpful is to see which position I am closer to – the one needing the help, or the position of Jesus who routinely gives help.

This passage is about the healing of the leper. In the time of Jesus there were two kinds of leprosy – a virulent skin disease and a more serious type in which parts of limbs were lost. Whatever the case lepers were considered untouchable. There are a few lessons in the text:

Firstly, the leper did what was forbidden. Lepers were not allowed to make contact with anyone. They had to stand afar off and shout “Unclean! Unclean!” Leviticus 13 and 14 give detailed instructions about this. The leper in our passage took a decision to step out of his cycle of self pity and depression and in this mindset of seeking a better life, he approached Jesus with his request. There is a lesson here for all who find themselves trapped in a cycle of victimhood and depression. One can choose to remain a victim or to become an agent of change. Also, this man acted in faith. He sees Jesus not just with physical eyes but with the eyes of faith, he prostrates himself and begs Jesus to heal him. There are three forms of prayer in the one sentence – contemplation, adoration and petition. The passage tells us that he was not just a leper but he was “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12). That was not all he was full of. He was also full of faith. Misfortune, poverty and ill health are definitely not signs of faithlessness. This man teaches us that blessings come to those who have hope – irrespective of their social standing.

Secondly there is the attitude of wanting a better life for the neighbour. We see this in the attitude of Jesus. He stretched out his hand, saying by that gesture that there should be no untouchability among us. He also shows what can happen when we reach beyond ourselves. He empowered a man to take responsibility for his life. Jesus does not achieve results by pressing buttons. He literally touches the man’s condition. That is how we need to empower those around us. We need to embrace their reality, affirm their faith and literally touch their suffering. Okay the pandemic with its social distancing requirements places limits on what we can do but what about the things we are able to do while observing the protocols – such as making contributions to the hungry, making contact with someone who is lonely or hurt, etc. I started off by saying that in the time of Jesus there were two types of leprosy. How many kinds of untouchability do we experience today. This gospel passage calls us to see who the outcast is and to stretch out our hands in their direction.

It is interesting to note that the passage starts and ends with social isolation. The leper was in permanent quarantine at the start and Jesus opts for isolation at the end. In between the man is touched by Jesus and integrated into society. Jesus too, will spend time alone with the Father and then stretch out his hand in the direction of the needy all over again. We have to contend with both types of isolation at this time – the isolation forced upon us and the isolation freely chosen. If both are accepted in faith we will emerge stronger and empowered to stretch out our hands.

Let us pray: Father, we thank you for the presence of Jesus in our lives. At Christmas we celebrated his presence in the family. Help us to locate him in our own homes by living his values and speaking his words. Help us to speak his words of truth, of justice, of peace and of healing. Through speaking his words may we participate more and more in his life. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Blessing].