Following Jesus ‘outside the camp’ Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

I hope that your Lent has gotten underway in a way that is already prayer-filled and fruitful. Furthermore, I hope that it continues to be so.

On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the readings provided me with a few points for reflection -- they are three simple points about being “outside the camp.”

Being ‘outside the camp’

In that final Sunday before Lent (Quinquagesima Sunday), we were reminded about the protocols for dealing with leprosy under the Jewish law.

In the reading from Leviticus, we hear that if someone had the disease of leprosy, that person was considered unclean. They had to warn others such that, if they saw someone coming near them, they had to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean! Stay away from me!”

Furthermore, the one who had leprosy was required to live apart from everyone else, “outside the camp,” because they were unclean and they shouldn’t spread their disease.

Outside the camp was like quarantine, but it was also a place of isolation and shame for those afflicted with leprosy.

Obviously for the ones afflicted with the disease, it’s bad enough to suffer, but they have the added indignity of going around crying, “Unclean! Unclean!”

And then, being forced to stay isolated, outside the camp was, in some ways, as bad as having leprosy, because it’s a terrible thing to be isolated, alone, and in shame just because you are sick! And Jesus has pity on the person who would suffer in this way.

We learned this in the Gospel of Quinquagesima Sunday and that brings us to our second point.

No longer ‘outside the camp’

In the Gospel story, Jesus encounters a leprous man who is forced to live outside the camp, who is unclean, and not to be touched.

What does Jesus do with this encounter? He touches and heals the leper. He heals the leper and he says, “Go show yourself to the priests.”

Jesus was insistent that the man show himself to the priests so that they could see that the man was no longer unclean, so that he would not have to stay outside the camp anymore.

Jesus has pity and does not only heal the man from his disease, but he has mercy and saves him from his fate outside the camp.

Jesus crucified ‘outside the camp’

And a third point, as we make our way toward Holy Week: Jesus was crucified at the feast of the Passover.

To have been punished as a criminal and crucified during Passover rendered Him unclean.

Jesus Himself! And so, Jesus had to be crucified outside the camp at the time of the Passover.

So, not only do we see Jesus saving the man (and many people) from the shame and the isolation of being outside the camp, but in His death, He does us one better, He goes outside the camp to die on the Cross.

He makes that horrible place of shame and isolation outside the camp into the place of salvation!

Changing the meaning

So Jesus not only freed the leper from the camp, but in His death, He changed the whole meaning of what it is to be outside the camp.

With and in Jesus, outside the camp is not to be a place of shame and isolation, it’s where our salvation occurs! It’s where we should want to be.

Instead of avoiding it, we should go out there. And indeed, the author of the letter of the Hebrews says that!

“Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the camp, to consecrate the people by His own blood. Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing the reproach that He bore (Heb 13:12-13).”

Jesus changed the whole meaning of being outside the camp -- to the point that we are now implored as His followers to make that our home.

We don’t go outside the camp to Jesus to try to save Him from the Cross.

Instead we go “bearing the insults that He bore.”

We go to Him outside the camp to suffer with Him!

Indeed, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me!’” (Jn 16:24) And so, as Christians, we go to Him outside the camp every day, bearing the insults that He bore!

Going to the ‘peripheries’

I have been thinking and praying about that in these first days of Lent, and it addresses thoughts that I’ve had for some time.

For a while I’ve been trying to understand exactly what it means when Pope Francis talks about, “the peripheries.”

He talks about it a lot and so I think it’s important to have a clear understanding of his meaning.

Does he mean simply that we should take our supply of food and go to where there are poor and hungry people and give them the food and relieve their problem?

Is that what he means? Well, in charity, we should certainly go and help the poor and hungry in a direct way, but the Christian going out to the camp is less about bringing food and more about bringing companionship in suffering.

We should desire to go outside the camp, not first of all to take Him down from the Cross, but we should go to Him outside the camp to suffer with Him to take up our own cross.

This, I think, is what Pope Francis is talking about when he talks about going out to the peripheries. And it just so happened that on the day I came to this conclusion, Pope Francis addressed it himself in an Angelus talk.

So, it’s not just an idea that I have that might be true. The Pope confirmed it!

Whenever we hear the Holy Father say “the peripheries” and whenever he exhorts us to go out there, let us remember first of all he’s telling us that Jesus had to die outside the camp.

Let us go to Him outside the camp to keep Him company in His suffering.

The primary gift we are called to give when we go outside the camp, when we go out to the peripheries, is the gift of our time and the gift of ourselves.

Any other gift we bring is less important than the gift of time and the gift of self.

So let’s go to the peripheries and outside the camp planning to stay for a while. It’s not supposed to be convenient to go outside the camp. You don’t just make a delivery and keep moving.

Salvation is found where Christ redeemed the world -- outside the camp, on the peripheries.

And so, this Lent, let us focus in a special way on going outside the camp, to be present with Jesus and to whoever is there, so to find our salvation.

Praised be Jesus Christ!