Today’s post is from guest contributor Sr. Donna McGartland. Donna is one of the authors in Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious published by New Ways Ministry.
Today’s liturgical readings for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.
In today’s first reading from Leviticus, the Israelites continue their 40-year journey through the desert. Some of them developed leprosy, so to mitigate further spread, anyone who was suspected to have this disease was considered unclean and was forced to dwell outside the camp.
Until as recently as the 1960s, those with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) were forced to live in colonies, outside of society, shunned out of fear and belief that it was the best course of action so that the majority would not be infected. Those people with leprosy would be kept on the margins, and in many ways, invisible.
At the very beginning of Mark’s gospel, a leper approaches Jesus, begging to be healed. In doing so, the diseased person violates all societal norms by coming in direct contact with someone who was not sick. Jesus touches this ‘unclean’ person and makes the leper clean. Jesus requests anonymity while telling the person to follow the Jewish law: “Tell no one but go to the priest.” The priest was the only person who could declare the leper clean again.
More importantly, Jesus knew that, by touching an unclean person, Jesus would immediately be rendered unclean, no longer able to enter any town and forced to remain outside of society, on the margins. Mark makes a point to emphasize that, from that point on, Jesus lived in deserted places, outside of society, and yet, people from everywhere sought Jesus.
This is the same place where I often encounter Jesus: with me, on the margins, with so many others who seek healing and wholeness. It is here that I am fully embraced by the God of the poor, a God who welcomes me and all who know the feeling of longing for connection.
As a person on the LGBTQ+ spectrum living on the margins, I’ve discovered that this is a privileged position. I can live “in the mainstream society” but, in truth, to do so would feel wrong. I have had the experience of not being accepted simply because I was created lesbian. I don’t want to be part of a society that feels they have the right to place conditions on God’s creation.
While I am obviously part of the larger society, and I choose to be part of the Catholic Church that I have come to really love, I am not controlled by its unhealthy quest for power. Living outside of their grasp, on the margins, I can appreciate the life that is all around me as I walk with and enjoy my companions who have also been judged to be a threat to a warped sense of security or the perceived “common good.”
Those living on the margins today are not contagious as in the time of Moses, and yet we continue to be treated as such. Too often, we are treated as the ‘invisible’ force that threatens, rather than the creative and diverse blessings God offers a struggling world. Banning books, denying access to support groups in schools, and banning the display of symbols that affirm our presence are simply ways that some are trying to control the reality of our presence. The persons and groups who actively stand against the document approved by Pope Francis, “Fiducia supplicans,” the document which permits blessings of same-gender couples and those in “irregular” situations, are the modern day people who would exclude and isolate those they consider “different.” Their attitudes reveal how threatened they feel.
Identifying with those on the margins, I don’t need nor want to defend myself. I am much freer here knowing I am blessed everyday walking with Jesus who chose to live on the margins.
–Sr. Donna McGartland, February 11, 2024