First reading: 1 Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46
Psalm: Ps 32:1-2,5,11
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
He remained outside in deserted places
Denise was a student in Victoria, Brazil, and doing private piano teaching in her spare time, when her relationship with her boyfriend of three years came to an end. She felt like her hopes, dreams, and her future had come to an end. She felt devastated and alone. She felt like she had no one to share her life! She felt so lonely! Nothing could fill her emptiness.
Denise began to think that maybe God could help. Then someone who knew her situation invited her to a church, and this person assured her that she would be better after going there.
The speaker at the church meeting was talking about Jesus, how He would like to take her hand, and lead her all the way ahead. The speaker said that Jesus is alive, and that He would like to live with her and help her to overcome all difficulties, especially her loneliness.
Denise cried and prayed, “Jesus, I want you in my life. I know you died to give me life. Take all my sad and bad feelings, take away my loneliness and give me purpose for my life. Give me all you have. Guide me until the end. I give my life to you.”
Denise realized Jesus was with her, as if at the table having a meal, or walking on the street, or in her room. She was not alone. She could talk to this special and perfect friend! And she had new friends who were Christians, who helped her, and invited her into their community and their community’s work.
Types of loneliness:
There are two types of loneliness, emotional and physical.
Emotional loneliness occurs when we feel separated from others we are attached to. Examples of this are when little children are separated from their parents and begin to cry and act out. This happens in adults too, when we feel separated from the person we love the most. One of the biggest days for feeling that separation lies ahead, Valentine’s Day, especially if the one we love is far off, disconnected from us, or has died.
Physical loneliness is the bodily separation from another person, place or an event. This is the loneliness we experience when we lack a wider social network, when we feel apart from our community, or if we do not have friends or allies that we can rely on, especially in times of distress.
We are getting lonelier:
We are getting lonelier. About 60 million Americans see themselves as being lonely, that is 20% of the total population who feel lonely.
Another study found that 12% of Americans have no one with whom to spend free time or to discuss important matters, and research suggests that the rate of loneliness has been increasing over time. The General Social Survey found that between 1985 and 2004, the number of people the average American discusses important matters with decreased from three to two. Additionally, the rate of Americans with no one to discuss important matters with tripled.
At the beginning of the 20th century families helped to alleviate the sense of loneliness. Families were typically larger and more stable, divorce was rarer, and relatively few people lived alone. In 1900 only 5% of households were single-person households; by 1995, 24 million Americans lived alone, and by 2010, it is estimated that that number has increased to around 31 million.
Loneliness as a symptom:
Loneliness is a symptom. The greatest challenge in human life is not some extraordinary scientific discovery, or some great feat of daring. Rather, it is the challenge of avoiding sinfulness. Loneliness is the worst of the symptoms that result from the sickness of sin. We tend to separate ourselves from those we love, from our social network, friends, and allies as a result of sin.
In Denise’s story, we see loneliness resulting from the sin of despair and hopelessness, and from an act of abandonment by the person she loved.
Sometimes it might be the smallest of sins, that time we neglected to pick up the phone, or visit that friend because we were feeling lazy. At other times it might be that big sin, the time we yelled at the person we love, used harsh words, told someone to get out. It is also the sin of not committing enough time to our spouses and our families.
Jesus and loneliness:
Jesus had just healed the leper who had begged Him for mercy. Jesus instructed the former leper to go show himself to the temple priests and to make the called for sacrifice. But now Jesus was in trouble.
According to Mosaic Law, Jesus could not go near anyone. He had touched a leper, and in the process had made Himself ritually unclean. According to the law, He had to stay away from people, had to be isolated, so that He would not contaminate anyone else. Of course, Jesus was completely pure and clean, but He abided by the strictures of Mosaic Law.
Jesus came to us, not to be separated from humanity, but to be part of humanity. That meant He was subject to the same feelings, the same temptations, the very same things we face. So today, we learn about Jesus’ experience of isolation and loneliness.
Jesus knew loneliness well, and the greatest moment of loneliness was as He felt totally abandoned, hanging on the cross.
The whole point of Jesus’ isolation was not just to show that He is like us in every way but sin, but to let us know that He is here, to this day, as the remedy and cure for our isolation and loneliness.
That cure takes two forms. The first, and something to be especially cognizant of as we prepare to enter Lent, is that Jesus heals our sinfulness. In Him we find the cure for the sickness of sin and the roadmap we can follow to avoid sin. More so, Jesus gives us the grace we need to set aside sin and to live the life God asks us to live.
The second part of the cure is the very same one Denise found. She let Jesus into her life. She accepted Jesus and His grace. She offered her life to Jesus and in doing so entered the community of faith.
So many people have found that finding and accepting God was to lose loneliness. In doing so they found forgiveness. They found real purpose in receiving love from Jesus, and in giving it to other people in this unhappy world.
Never lonely again:
Jesus calls us to repent of sin and follow the Gospel, to fix relationships that are damaged and spoilt because of our own wrong actions and selfish behavior. He also wants us to know that the Father – the maker of the whole world – is a loving person, who desperately wants a relationship with us! It may be unbelievable, but it is true. God is not a power, a force, a feeling, or a distant angry ruler – He is a person, who wants to be a ‘friend who stays closer than a brother’. He is the ultimate Family, the real Lover, and the special Friend. What is more, He gives us a new power inside, to handle life, relationships and problems. He came to heal isolation, to end loneliness, and to be with us, even when we think we are so alone.
As difficult days lie ahead for this parish, as community appears to be breaking down, let us take comfort in knowing that if we follow the gospel, if we trust in Jesus, if we set aside despair, and rely on God’s grace, like Denise did, we will remain joined. Let us be assured that God remains with us, ever close to us.
God created us, each of us, to be social, to live in community, to be a real part of each others lives. We need people because God designed us that way. Recall what God says in Genesis: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Then let us resolve to remain in each others lives, in each others hearts, in each others prayers. We are first and foremost members of Jesus’ community and nothing can make us lonely or separate us from Him or each other. Amen.