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 25 June 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 25th June 2021. Gospel passage – Matthew 8:1-4

Explanation

Jesus had just come down from the mount of the beatitudes where he preached about being merciful and immediately puts into practice what he had preached. He extends a hand of mercy to a leper. The text itself is crafted in a masterful fashion showing the beauty of the oriental mind in crafting texts in such a way as to highlight the more salient points. In this brief passage the actions of the leper and the actions of Jesus are highlighted by the use of simple repetition. The actions of the former are that he approaches Jesus and prostrates before him. The word used indicates prayer and also acknowledges Jesus as healer. The coming together of the man’s will with the will of Jesus (Matthew 8:2-3) marks the turning point in the story and the rhetorical device of repetition is now on the lips of Jesus when he indicates that the man should make an offering as Moses commanded. It is good and well to know all this but let us not be blinded to the practical consequences this passage has for us. Let us use the text as a mirror to see ourselves as we really are.

Application

The word used in the original text is not “heal” or “cure” but “cleanse”. Lepers were considered unclean and had to be cleansed. Lepers were also untouchable and when Jesus reached out and touched the man, he would have been rendered unclean in the minds of the self appointed guardians of their faith. This gesture of Jesus indicates that there should be no untouchability among us and should prompt us to see in which ways we need cleansing. Are we able to approach Jesus in the manner in which the leper in today’s passage did? Note that this man made his prayer in the presence of a crowd (Mt 8:1). Can we be humble enough to recognise our insufficiency and our neediness? In what ways am I untouchable?

Another question is: “how do I treat the unattractive characters who cross my path?”. In other words, who are the lepers that populate my world? Sadly some are disowned because of addiction and unfortunate life choices. Do I have the courage to be like Jesus and stretch out a hand to them? In conversation with a street person who begged at traffic lights I came to realise that these people are hurt in many ways but what stings them the most is not so much that we do not give handouts but that we fail to acknowledge them and even make eye contact with them. It can be difficult as many social outcasts have not been schooled in the mannerisms that we would like to see but they are the children of God who loves them and who would love to show them his care through us.

This passage can be explained in a few minutes but let us not be deceived – it will continue to haunt us and force us to live in the world created by the text until we see that in the eyes of faith, it is the one who refuses to help the poor that is in greater need of being cleansed. “Lord if you want to, you can cleanse me. I want to – be cleansed” (Matthew 8:2-3).

Prayer 

Let us pray: Lord help us to imitate you in your attitude to those in need of help. Father may we become more attentive to those around us so that when you look at us, you will be able to say what you said about Jesus at his baptism and his transfiguration: “behold, my child in whom my heart delights”. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.