It’s not often that I consult the Urban Dictionary, an online glossary of slang words and streetwise lexicon. Searching for the perfect word to describe the behavior of the healed leper in the gospel reading this weekend, however, it seemed necessary.
According to an entry made by “Pistol Packin’ Pappy” in 2010 on the crowdsourced dictionary website, the word “reppin’”—which is short for “representing”—means “to be showing off your colors, letting the world know who’s your crew and hood.” According to a secondary definition in the local patois, the word also means to be “[g]etting up in someone’s face to let them know who you are, who you run with, and where you hang.”
The gospel reading tells us that the man Jesus healed of leprosy “spread the report abroad.” In other words, he was representing by letting the world know that Jesus healed him of the terrible disease and was now his crew.
Indeed, leprosy was an incurable disease and a death sentence that imposed a total quarantine. As the first reading says, the Law of Moses required that lepers, once diagnosed by a priest, be declared “unclean.” To identify himself and thereby avoid accidental contact with a healthy individual, the leper was required to wear tattered clothing, leave his head bare, muffle his beard, wear a bell around his neck, and cry out “unclean, unclean,” in order to warn others of his immediate presence.
Combined with the common physical ailments of sores, disfigurement, loss of limbs, and blindness, the anguish of leprosy was absolute. I can only imagine the sense of joy and relief the healed man experienced when Jesus made the bold move of stretching out his hand in pity and touching the defiled individual with his curative power. Covering his tracks to avoid sensationalism, Jesus warned the man not to publicize his recovery. Apparently unable to contain his delight, however, he began reppin’ Jesus everywhere.
In this book, To Light A Fire on the Earth, Bishop Robert Barron identifies a spiritual hunger in every human being, a “hungry heart, hungry for God, and that means we’re ordered for something that goes beyond . . . what we can see and [that] . . . [n]o amount of the merely natural will satisfy the hungry heart” (Crown Publ’g, 2017, 138). Unlike the leper restored to health, however, too many of us fail to recognize this deep hunger fully or how Christ satiates it. As a result, we do not represent Christ to the world as we should.
The term, New Evangelization, began with an Italian priest, Monsignor Luigi Guissani, who “drew the conclusion that what Western culture really needed was . . . a new determination to preach Christ to the world” (Id., 116).
For five weeks now, we have shared all the reasons we believe that It’s Better In Here than out there: beauty, goodness, truth, verticality, and a sense of belonging and being valued. Now, it’s time to rep it out there! Invite someone to church.
Father Roger Gustafson