Tuesday, February 6, 2018

O Admirabile Commercium

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Imagine if you would, if you could, trade places right now with anyone that you knew or wanted to be; who would you choose.   Would it be a movie star? Would it be someone with power, maybe a president or some ruler? What person would you want to trade places with if you had the chance? In 2012, on a promotional visit to Australia, popular television reality show socialite, Kim Kardashian, who is remembered more for her racy dressing and photoshoots rather than for her faith, gave this answer, when asked the same question by a journalist. “Jesus,” Kardashian answered. “Because I think it would be pretty fascinating to see the power that he had.”  Imagine  that, Jesus looking like Kim Kardashian and vice versa.

In an antiphon of the vespers of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the Church brings the Octave of Christmas to a close with her praising, “O admirabile commercium: O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of a virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” One may find it ironic that the Christmas liturgy speaks of the greatest and most wondrous commerce. It is certainly not referring to the massive discounts, bargains, and offers at commercial outlets as people go about their frenzied Christmas shopping. Rather, it speaks of the divine exchange that takes place on Christmas day – the Incarnation – The Eternal Logos, the Divine Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, took our humanity in exchange for the gift of divinity. St Augustine would also give this “great exchange” a remunerative tone. In Mary’s womb, the Son of God enacts the “divine business deal (diuina commercia), the transaction effected in this world by the heavenly dealer…. Without him, we are nothing, but in him we too are Christ.”

Certainly an unfair exchange, divinity traded for humanity. Thus the reason why we speak of its wondrous nature. In exchange for the gift of eternal life, all that we need to offer the Lord, which the Blessed Virgin Mary did at the Annunciation, was our weak and suffering prone human flesh and frail and fragile mortal lives. This is what we witness in today’s gospel story. The leper, an outcast, having to stay in isolated places, came into the city, met Jesus. Jesus in the city because of the leper ended up in isolated places. Jesus trades places with a leper.

Leprosy in Jesus’ time was not just a despicable virulent disease but also carried along with it the worst of religious and social stigmas. The disease was horrendous, no denying that. But it is compounded by the fact that you have no ability to interact with anybody but the people who also have the disease. Misery seeks company. Lepers were treated as if they were living dead men, corpses. In Israel they were barred from all walled cities. And if they did enter any other place, they had to keep their distances. If a leper came near a synagogue, he would be rejected and sent to a small holding room until they could deal with him later. Rabbis used to pride themselves in avoiding lepers and that too would be seen as a virtue.

But this leper came to Jesus, through the crowd. He violated all necessary standards of exclusion in his desperation. He came to Jesus beseeching Him, begging Him with strong pleas, showing his desperation. His attitude was humble, respectful. He literally flattened himself in humble adoration before the One, who though He was divine, humbled Himself to assume our humanity. Unlike so many who possess a delusional sense of entitlement, this man understood he could make no just claim on God or His Christ. He understood that God owed Him nothing. Rather than make demands of Jesus, the man offers a humble request, “If you want to.” The man's plight triggered Jesus' compassion. Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him and then said to him, “Of course I want to! Be cured!” Now in Leviticus 5:3 there's a law forbidding anyone to touch a leper. But Jesus couldn't be defiled by anyone. His touch was a touch of compassion. His touch was a touch of connexion. It is Jesus linking Himself directly to the healing. Instantaneously and completely the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

After healing the man, our Lord gives him some specific instruction. He sternly warned him, (it was not a suggestion) that he should not speak of this to anyone, except to go to show himself to the priest as prescribed by the Law. But the Lord was not just concerned about fulfilling the prescriptions of the law. This would be a form of a testimony to the priest. He wants the priests to witness His authority and power, the very priests who felt threatened by His authority and had rejected it. This testimony was meant to indict the priests.

But the cured leper disobeyed these commands and instead went around to spread the news. His disobedience eliminated the opportunity for the needed testimony to the priests which is what the Lord wanted him to do. Secondly, the man's disobedience in spreading this everywhere had a negative effect on even what Jesus was able to do. It says at the end of today’s passage, “Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.” In an ironical twist to the story, Jesus trades places with the leper. The social outcast is reconciled with the community and the very hero feted by the community, now becomes an outcast of His choosing.

Jesus did not only trade places with us at the Incarnation, He did it too on the cross. As St John Paul II once taught, “The cross of Christ on Calvary stands beside the path of that admirable commercium, of that wonderful self-communication of God to man, which also includes the call to man to share in the divine life by giving himself, and with himself the whole visible world, to God, and like an adopted son to become a sharer in the truth and love which is in God and proceeds from God.”

The story of the leper is our story. We are the spiritual lepers who lived in alienation and isolation from God. Leprosy is a picture of sin. Is there any better physical picture of sin, which destroys the whole person, alienates, isolates, cuts people off from God and the community? But something happens when we encounter the Lord. In meeting Him, we are reconciled with God and brought into His presence. We who are aliens are made citizens of the Kingdom. But the only way we could ever be taken from our isolation and brought into the presence of God is if He left the presence of God and went Himself into isolation. Our Lord exchanged places with us, He traded places with us, He took our sin and our punishment, He became an outcast, He was forsaken for our sake in order that we might be received, accepted, cured and made into sons and daughters of the Almighty God. And that's what He did at the Incarnation and what He did on the cross.

Though we may wish to trade places with some celebrity or rich person, no one would suspect that God through our Lord Jesus Christ wants to trade places with us. He wants to exchange His fellowship with our alienation, His riches with our rags, His Truth with our confusion, His strength for our weakness. And at the moment of our deaths, Jesus will take upon Himself the penalty of human suffering and death to set us free to life in God.  This is the joy of the Gospel, that God so loved the world, and each of us, that God gave His only begotten Son that we might have life. Let us never cease to be grateful for this great gift, this great exchange, knowing that we are always undeserving of it. O admirabile commercium: O marvellous exchange!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.