XIR222724 Jesus Healing the Leper, 1864 (oil on canvas) by Doze, Jean-Marie Melchior (1827-1913) oil on canvas 105x135 Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nimes, France Giraudon French, out of copyright



BY: Rev. Fr. Utazi Prince Marie Benignus


HOMILY: Hebrews 3: 7-14; Psalm 95: 6-7c, 8-9, 10-11; Mark 1: 40-45

May you continue to experience the presence of God, particularly when you go through times of emptiness and isolation. AMEN

It is natural to want life to be pleasant. We surround ourselves with items which make us feel comfortable. Yet, sometime we end up becoming too attached to “things” and find that they are hindering our progress in the ways of God. It is then that we must separate ourselves, at least in our minds, from all that confuse our way of living and seek the solitude of being alone with God. At other times, our possessions and that which we treasure are taken from us. Again, that is when we need to turn to God and see God’s presence in our lives.

The Letter to the Hebrews, echoing the words of the Responsorial, reminds us to not harden our hearts as the Israelites of old did when they were in the desert. It addresses Jewish Christians reminding them that they have gone through a desert experience. They, like their ancestors of old, are going through changes in their lives. They have left behind their slavery to sin and are experiencing an Exodus into a place of rest, a place of relationship with God. The path to that place of rest, the Promised Land, the Heaven, goes through the desert. The desert is the life here on earth. While they are traveling through the dry and barren areas, they are not to lose heart or test God, as their ancient predecessors had done. Yes, the ancient Hebrews had lost sight of the promises of God and started to complain against God. The reading today challenges the Hebrew Christians to remain faithful to the life they have begun in Jesus and to stick it out until the end when they will enjoy the eternal rest and joy of the heavenly Promised Land. Today’s believers are also challenged by this reading. I am, particularly challenged.

The psalm passage we have today urges the faithful to realize the relationship they have with God, who is their protector and deliverer. The psalm urges us to remain faithful as we journey along the hard, and seemingly lifeless, paths.

In the Gospel, Jesus, with great compassion, reaches out to a leper. Jesus heals him and ask that he not proclaim his healing but that he should go to the religious authorities so they could, according to the law, pronounce that the leper is now healed and whole, that he has received healing and salvation. The excitement of the former leper made him spread the news of his healing by Jesus. Jesus, realizing that He could no longer stay in that town, moves out to a desert or deserted place. At first, I am sure, He was alone except for being in the presence of His Father. As word spreads, people are willing to come out into the desert to find Him.
Dear friends, do not harden your hearts when you hear the Voice of God calling you to repent and to come to him with sincere heart and zeal. Remember that God is always with you. The healing power of God and his compassion in the person of person of Jesus Christ is always there for you.

What is the specialness of desert as found in today’s Gospel? We read how the desert takes a prominent place throughout Scripture. It was in the desert that Moses encountered God in a burning bush. It was into the desert that the people of the Exodus came after their release from the slavery of Egypt. It was on a mountain in the desert that God gave the Ten Commandments. It was also in the desert that the faith of the Chosen People was tested. The desert was also the place where the Israelites had to travel for forty years as result of their lack of trust in God. Some of the prophets escaped to the desert to be alone and prepare themselves for their ministry, including John the Baptist. Jesus Himself spent 40 days in the desert after His baptism and before the beginning of His public ministry. It was there that the devil tempted Jesus.

In Jerusalem today, in the sides of the desert hills, there are many monasteries and hermitages which had been built so that Christians over the ages could have a desert experience. Some saints, such as St. Paul the Hermit (whose feast we commemorate on January 15) and Anthony of Egypt (whose feast we commemorate on January 17), literally went out into a deserted place. Some of the great mystics have used the image of the desert to describe times in their lives when they failed to experience the presence of the living God.

The desert is usually dry, somewhat lifeless, and often barren. It is something with which the Hebrew people were quite familiar. Yet it was in the desert, the place of emptiness, that God often made the divine presence known. It symbolized rough times, but also times when one could be away from the regular distraction of life and able to focus on the essentials of life.
Then, Jesus found solace in the desert away from the crowds. It was there that He was able to spend time with His Father. He was able to get away from the hecticness and demands of His ministerial life. Yet it was also the very place where He was tempted to give into Satan’s wily ways.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, all of us experience times of emptiness and dryness. Saint (Mother) Theresa of Calcutta experienced such an emptiness for many of the last years of her life. We go through times when we are all burned out and seem to be lifeless. The desert can be a place where we can either live or die, physically and/or spiritually. It is a place where we need to focus on what is essential in life. It is a place where either we will be renewed and refreshed with the realization of God’s presence in our lives, or we will be tested to a point of giving up on God and selling out to the temptations of evil. Yet it is a place we must go if we want to come back to the life of ministry to which God has called us. It is also a place through which we must travel if we are going to arrive at the Promised Land, the Resting Place of God, that ultimately is heaven.

The desert experience for some might be dealing with an aging parent, or seeing a sick or injured child, or having to face a frustrating relationship with a loved one. It might be a financially trying time as many are experiencing by being out of work or home with children who are remotely learning. The important thing in the desert is that we have to give up all the non-essentials in our lives and focus on keeping alive – with God. If we stay focused, unlike the Israelites of old who tested God, then we can realize the relationship we have with God.

*MEDITATION* When have I experienced a desert in my spiritual life? What temptations did I face while in the spiritual desert? Did I sense the presence of God as I abandoned myself of all that was burdening me? How can I more effectively leave behind the worldly ways and find solace in God’s presence during my hectic daily life? How can I encourage others who are experiencing a desert time in their lives?

*PRAYER* Lord God, through the example of Your Son, help us to treasure the dry and barren times, the hard and risky times of being alone in the desert. Through the power of Your Holy Spirit, help us be renewed while we journey along the desert way. May we acknowledge You as our God, the One Who shepherds us and guides us. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.


©️ Rev. Fr. Utazi Prince Marie Benignus

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