Dear friends. There is a story told of a young man who died and went to hell. On hearing the news, one of his friends went down to the gates of hell and pleaded on his behalf: ‘he may have done some bad things but he had a good side too. Please open the gates and let him out’. But the gates remained shut. Next his priest came down and pleaded in the same way: ‘he was wild and immature but came from a good family. Please open the gates and let him out’. But the gates remained shut. Finally his mother came down. Unlike the others she said: ‘Yes, he did bad things and I’m here to take responsibility for them. Open the gates and let me in so that he can come out’. And the gates opened.
The story shows just how far a mother’s love was willing to go in order to be with and rescue from suffering the child she loved. Here is a parent’s love that is deep and costly. It is willing to swap places with the one who is loved if that is what it takes to rescue the one who is suffering.
The Gospel for this Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time features an encounter between Jesus and a man who is sick – in this case a victim of the dreaded disease of leprosy. There are many inspiring features to the story – the man’s faith, Jesus’ compassion and his desire to heal the man. But the detail that caught my imagination was how Jesus’ deep love for the sick man caused him to swap places with him. Before the healing, the leper was isolated from the community and outside the camp whereas after the healing, Jesus was the one who had to ‘stay outside in places where nobody lived’. Just like the story of the mother who was prepared to take the place of her son, so Jesus was willing to take the place of the man outside the community if that was the price to be paid.
The Gospel story is a reminder how Christian love does not remain at the level of feelings but is deep and costly. As Lent is upon us this week, it is a timely example of the kind of love that Jesus showed us. It was costly and came with a heavy price to himself. Yet this was the price he was willing to pay, even if it meant entering the hell of crucifixion. Remember the story of Barabbas – the criminal who goes free as a ransom for the innocent one who is sent to the cross. ‘For ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried…He was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace and through his wounds we are healed’ (Is. 52, First Reading on Good Friday).
On Thursday last, we marked the 29th ‘World Day of the Sick’. At this time of pandemic, we remember and pray for all who are sick in mind or in body. We call to mind all Christians who witness to the deep and costly love of Christ everyday in their care for and commitment to the sick. ‘World Day of the Sick’ is celebrated in Lourdes where thousands of the sick and people with disabilities gather with carers and family members to pray for healing. These are just some examples of the costly love of Christ that is still on display and still inspires us to do the same.
As Lent begins this week, let us open our hearts and return again to the cross that displays the moving love of Jesus that is willing to swap places with us and suffer instead of us. Let us also open our eyes to see how and where this costly love of God is to be seen in the everyday example of those who love and care for the sick.
Fr Billy Swan