Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the desert, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, ad I said, 'They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.' As in my anger I swore, 'They will not enter my rest.'"
Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
"Value today," advises the psalmist, whose text is quoted in Hebrews, because right here and now God provides the grace and insight we need to live a life of faith, and therefore to enjoy a true spirit of peace. The Bible highlights faith in order to interpret the events of our lives. But this is not so much a dogmatic faith as an openness to God's guiding spirit. As today's reading insists, right here and now we must not harden our hearts. We must be open to new impulses, inspired by God's personal presence in our lives. Faith must be experienced and lived Today--and not as mere fidelity to forms of the past. The externals of our religion, even the most solemn of doctrines and the holiest of objects or sacraments, exist in order to facilitate inner communion with the Lord. Our inmost hearts are the true Ark of the Covenant and the place of encounter with the living God. Sometimes, for whatevef mysterious reasons, the externals on which we tend to rely seem to slump and almost collapse. In many places attendance at our church services has dwindled and religious expressions hallowed by time seem unable to contact today's Zeitgeist and leave us wondering how to share the faith with our contemporaries. It seems that we must cross this desert as the Israelites once did, to find our God again.
Discerning true from false fidelity is not always easy. We Christians and our leaders must bear our share of blame if agnosticism, superstition and New-Age fads are rampant among our people today, in part due to outmoded ways of presenting our handed-down Catholic faith. Every believer has some role in commending the faith, within our proper field: as parent or teacher, as priest or minister, as neighbour or friend. In our interactions we can and do influence others and can help them recover their former strength of faith and a more robust moral vision.
Today's Scriptures raise questions about governance, for bishops and all church leaders: Do I use my authority to serve my people, or to dominate them in the name of a hidebound system? Do I seek to reflect with others on what our times require, in light of the Gospel and current opinion, as well as listening to guidance from the Vatican? Does my teaching and example help my people be aware of God's presence? Do I seek ways to bridge the current painful breakdown in communicating the faith?
Often in the gospels Jesus heals people by means of his word. In healing the leper, however, Jesus not only spoke to him, but he touched him. In touching the leper, Jesus did what no one else would have done. For obvious reasons, people kept lepers at a distance, and lepers were expected to keep their distance from others. Jesus, however, kept no one at a distance, not even lepers. No one was beyond his reach; no one was untouchable. He came to touch our lives in a very tangible way, all of our lives, regardless of our condition. The leper wasn't sure whether Jesus wanted to heal him, as is clear from his opening words to Jesus, "If you want to, you can cure me." Jesus showed he wanted to heal him, by touching him. Jesus wants to touch all of our lives, because he wants to bring life to us all. Nothing we do or fail to do, no circumstance in which we find ourselves, need place us beyond his reach. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, "nothing can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus." The Lord touches our lives, where we are, as we are. All we need is something of the leper's initiative in approaching Jesus.