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Feb 11, 2018

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Gospel MK 1:40-45

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning the him sternly, he dismissed him at once.

He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”

The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
He remained outside in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.


Reflecting & Living God’s Words

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
(Gospel MK 1:40-45)


Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

(Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32; I Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45)

The first reading stands in harsh contrast to today’s gospel. It comes from a section of Leviticus (chapters 11-16) that deals with the laws of purity for daily and religious life. According to Leviticus, leprosy, or any serious skin disease, was thought to be a sign of a person’s spiritual uncleanness. That person was declared "unclean," through no fault of their own, and was to be excluded from worship and the social life of the community. Israel was to be a holy people without blemish or disorder. An "unclean" person was considered to be in stark contrast to the holiness of God, and a blemish on the community’s purity. Leviticus was a book of early legislation. Its final form took shape after the Babylonian exile. It was written by the priestly school, which set up rules for the community’s worship. According to the rules of Leviticus, lepers were to be quarantined and not allowed to participate in worship. Since leprosy was thought to be contagious, lepers were also excluded from the community’s social life. In ancient times such expulsion was the equivalent to a death sentence. What kind of life could such people have without human relationships? "They shall dwell apart, making their abode outside the camp."

One author likens people with leprosy to being "living corpses." If such a person were cured, it would be like a resurrection, since it brought the person back into the community’s social and religious life.

Our Catholic tradition puts emphasis on the community. We are not solitary "spiritual people" seeking our own salvation. We grow in holiness and come to full humanity as members of a God-oriented community. When we sin we not only cut ourselves off from God, but from the community of God’s people as well. So, in order to return to God we also need to be reconciled to the community. That is why Jesus instructs the cured man to go show himself to the priests to have his cure confirmed and to welcome him back into the social and religious life of the community.

Today the preacher has an opportunity to speak about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sin is not merely a private affair, but has consequences in the community. The sin we call "mortal" not only is a turning away from God, it is also a separation from the community. We have a choice: to live with God, or live without God. When we realize we have cut ourselves off from God we believe forgiveness is readily available to us. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is our concrete assurance that we truly have been forgiven and are also reconciled with God’s holy people. The sacrament is the community’s welcome back to the member who has turned away from both God and the community.

Ash Wednesday is this week and we begin the season of Lent. We celebrate the season of repentance and change as members of God’s people. The community supports us this season of faith, hope and love by the example of its members and by our liturgical life that prepares us for Easter. We do not grow in holiness alone, but in community with one another. We look around at the people celebrating Eucharist with us today with gratitude for their witness and support in our commitment to spiritual maturity.

The gospel story follows a familiar pattern common to other miraculous cures. First, the dire situation is described – the man has leprosy. Then the cure occurs by word and, in this account, by touch. Finally, there is a demonstration that a cure has occurred – the man is told to go to the priest for confirmation, in accordance with the Levitical law (cf. first reading). The third point shows a typical theme in Mark called "the messianic secret." The man is told not to tell anyone about the cure; but he immediately tells everyone, disregarding Jesus’ instruction.

Let’s pause for a moment and do a brief word study, it may help us as we interpret the story. When the leper approaches, Mark says Jesus was moved with pity for the man. In the original language the word (splanchnizomai) suggests a deep inner groaning. It describes a very physical, gut-wrenching reaction. Jesus just didn’t feel sad for the man’s condition, he felt deep-down empathy and was resolved to help.

Such passion for the suffering of others can be a driving force moving us to do what Jesus did: to comfort and aid the least, the outcast and the despised. There may be all kinds of social restrictions about such action: "They are illegal... criminals... drug addicts, etc." But there are times when we just have to follow our inner feelings and compassion (splanchnizomai) for the suffering of others and do something.

Here is a another word from the original language. When Mark describes Jesus’ healing the man he uses a word (embrimamenos), it literally means a snorting and anger (v. 43). The anger wasn’t directed at the leper, but at the debilitating disease and, in their belief, towards the demon that had control over the man.

Anger – that’s another passion that may move us to act against the injustice leveled against parts of our society and, yes, even towards members of our church. We observe an injustice, we see the innocent oppressed and a righteous anger (embrimamenos) stirs us to do something about it.

Jesus did not want the man to broadcast what had happened to him; he didn’t want to be known merely as a wonder-worker. The cross and resurrection that awaited him would reveal his true identity to the world. Leprosy was seen as a sign of sin and that is the healing Jesus wants to offer to all humanity, a deliverance from the slavery of sin that makes us outcasts to others and even to ourselves. The man’s spreading the news of his cure caused people to be captivated by Jesus’ wonders, thus limiting his ability to proclaim what he had announced at the beginning of Mark’s gospel: "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News" (v. One: 17).

Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP