Theme: Everlasting love
Through the centuries, humanity has suffered myriad of illnesses some of which have altered the course of history. Nearer to our times, various cancers continue to afflict and kill thousands and have yet to be controlled. Leprosy was one of those feared ailments that once it punched, victims would be quarantined. Separated from rest of society, the person suffered immensely first from illness, then isolation and victimization because of being referred to as living dead.
First reading: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
In a tentative exposition of Leviticus 13, is a cry of mercy by a leper “let my prayers come before you God. My couch is among the dead. I am an abomination to my friend; imprisoned and I cannot escape. Will you work wonders for the dead, O Lord?” cf. Psalm 88:3-6. While we cannot know for certain whether a leprous condition prompted this prayer, given what we do know of this dread disease, it was a likely scenario due to 1- fear of contagion and 2- ritualistic uncleanness which resulted from contact with the diseased. According to the rabbis, leprosy was thought to be a direct punishment from God for serious sins. Although the law presupposed that it could be cured, its healing was as difficult as raising the dead to life.
This reading represents a small excerpt from a lengthier section of Leviticus Chapters 13 to15 containing legislation on leprosy of the skin, hair, clothing, houses and the processes of purification. The afflicted were not directed to the care of a physician but to the authority of the priests. Our forebears in the faith were not shunning science or the medical profession; rather, because they believed that illness resulted from corrupted morals and not from bacteria/viruses, they sought a healing that was spiritually rather than physically oriented. To that end, they were willing to submit to a lengthy and tedious process of personal purification accompanied by sacrificial offerings. At each phase, a priest was consulted; only upon his approval would the process proceed. Considering the lengths to which these people would go to receive official approval to participate in the liturgy, we should feel privileged that we can freely praise and worship. While physical imperfections, disease and handicaps pose no threat to full participation, we need to acknowledge our sinfulness and embrace forgiveness from God.
Second reading: 1Corinthians 10:31-11:1
One evening, after a brilliant performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; conductor Arturo Toscanini found himself facing a crowd gone wild. They applauded to deafening ecstasy with shouts of Bravo! Bravo! Toscanini bowed repeatedly and turned to acknowledge the artistry of the orchestra. With breathlessness in his hushed voice, he leaned in close and said, ‘Gentlemen! Gentlemen! I am nothing!’ This was an extraordinary admission from a great performer. Then the he faced the crowds and added, ‘Gentlemen, YOU are nothing’ but Beethoven is everything! Centuries before these two great musicians, Paul had come to the same realization that Christ was everything and all he wished was to share his experience with everyone he met.
Today, Paul wants to convince Corinthian about the supreme importance of Christ by arguing them to relent from licentiousness/extravagancy. Some Corinthians had opted to live by the slogan “all things are lawful for me” 1Corinthians 10:23 and used their freedoms to eat and drink anything including food sacrificed to idols, Paul instead recommended that, “whether you eat or drink, do everything for the glory of God” 1Corinthians 10:31. In this way he was moving his community from an emphasis on rights to an emphasis on obedience and service. Eating, drinking were embraced by this comprehensive mandate. In light of Paul’s wise counsel, we can conclude that the glory of God is upheld when people serve one another and live in loving unity. Paul encourages all to avoid giving offense and instead pleasing all in every way. By this way Paul and Corinthians would achieve maximum understanding that Christ was everything. He who was God became man, he who was goodness and holiness associated with sinners. He emptied himself to the levels of a servant “that many may be saved” 1Corinthians 10:23. Paul offered himself as a sincere model of Jesus Christ to the point of asserting: “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” 1Corinthians 11:1. We are likewise invited to be models of Christ. When we witness that Christ is everything, we assert that we are Christians.
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
Had it been any other rabbi in Galilee that day, the leper featured in today’s gospel would probably have fared quite differently. With a daring that may have been prompted by his frustration and despair; the rumors floating around this carpenter from Nazareth made the leper approached Jesus. He ignored the strict rules of quarantine that separated him from the rest of society. He dared to hope that Jesus might behave in a similarly iconoclastic manner by allowing him to draw near to him despite the resulting condition of uncleanness that would affect them both. With a courageous hope fueled by faith, he put his case before Jesus. “If you will…you can cure me” Mark 1:40. Another rabbi may have reprimanded him and vented his anger at the audacity of the man whose unclean presence threatened his own purity and ability to perform priestly duties cf. Leviticus 13:14. Not so with Jesus. With little regard for the rules of ritual purity and with great concern for the suffering of the leper, Jesus breached the quarantine society had imposed and cured the man.
You may be aware that in all societies, there are special people authorized to ‘cross the line’ and deal with the unclean of that society: police engage criminals; doctors treat the diseased, priests deal with sinners, just to mention but a few. These special people might be called ‘limit breakers’. Jesus was officially designated by God as just such an agent. He did not cross the line because he belonged to the world of the unclean; rather, he had the power to heal and to make whole all who were unclean, whether by disease or sin. Since he allowed the outcast and the forsaken to approach him and made a point of seeking them out, Jesus was frequently criticized by the upright of citizens and religious authorities “see, this man talks with sinners and eats with them” Mark 2:16 they sniped. Nevertheless, Jesus exercised his prerogative as messiah to redraw the traditional barriers which separated people from one another and from God. Jesus established a new set of standards based not on race or tradition but on love and forgiveness.
Narrow-mindedness of religious managers made Jesus cross the boundaries of selectiveness towards the leper. Although current translation of the Greek word, splagchnizomai/moved with pity, the correct word should be, ‘moved to anger’. Jesus was angry at the presence of evil. It is true that illness among the Hebrews was generally attributed to demons; consequently, Jesus’ healing ministry becomes an ongoing battle with the forces and effects of evil. This explains why “Jesus gave him a stern warning and set him on his way” Mark 1:43. STERN WARNING is the translation of a technical Semitic term for exorcising demons. Jesus’ stern warning and not a word was meant to keep evil away from many since the healed leper was representing several people segregated upon and equally to safeguard the immature society in matters of faith against future attacks. Stern warnings could not contain the joy of the healed man because good news of salvation could not be silenced. On the contrary, he freely proclaimed his story which literally means word/logos/gospel far and wide.
As we hear the story of the leper, we are invited to change attitude about the way we treat people and perceive situations. Encountering Christ should make us a people above average. When tempted to make sweeping conclusions we must desist because as we are baptized we become a new generation cleansed of sin, freed from selfishness and segregation. The joy of the Gospel is intended to release us from the quarantine of separation and alienation. Healed by the grace of Jesus like the leper we are compelled to celebrate our story publicly by welcoming people instead of judging them. The good news is that God forgives sinners and welcomes them into his universal home where all human persons feel at ease revealing that the glory of God is in a happy and liberated humanity. No one should be obliged to live under fear and intimidation; thus instead of arguing and complaining about sickness, let us do something wise to stop or to eliminate it all together. May the word of God today heal and transform us.