11Feb 11 February. Sixth Sunday (Ord. Time)

1st Reading: Leviticus 13:1ff

Lepers must live apart from the community. Only a priest can pronounce a leper cured

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a leprous disease on the skin of his body, he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. he is leprous, he is unclean. The priest shall pronounce him unclean; the disease is on his head.

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

Resp. Psalm (from Ps 32)

Response: I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble,
and you fill me with the joy of salvation

Blessed is he whose fault is taken away,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed the man to whom the Lord imputes not guilt,
in whose spirit there is no guile. R./

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I did not hide.
I said, I confess my faults to the Lord,
and you took away the guilt of my sin. R./

Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you just;
exult, all you upright of heart. R./

 

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Do all to the glory of God… and please people if you can

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Gospel: Mark 1:40-45

Jesus cures a leper by the healing touch of his hand. Then he wants the cure recognised, so the man can rejoin his local community

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Bible

Leprosy of the soul

Today’s mention of leprosy in the Gospel can also be applied to something other than that physical disease itself. This is suggested by the Psalm, that celebrates the joy of people who confess their sins and experience forgiveness. Spiritual writers regard sin as a kind of leprosy of the soul. The ancient world tried to prevent the spread of leprosy by isolating the lepers, make them live outside the camp or town. They had to call aloud, “Unclean, unclean!” as a warning to anyone approaching them. Also, whoever had the misfortune to even touch a leper would be regarded as unclean, and would be excluded from the community. Sin is a kind of social leprosy. In the church of Jesus, a sin committed by any individual member is never a purely private affair, but a rejection in some degree of the standards the community is pledged to uphold. One of the most disturbing sayings of Christ in the gospels was his reference to Judas at the Last Supper: “Not one of them is lost, except the one who chose to be lost” (Jn 17:12).

There is a touching humility in the leper’s request to Jesus, “If you want to, you can cure me.” This appeal was met with compassion by Jesus, who, as St Mark comments,was moved with pity. He went further, stretching out his hand and touching the leper, so making himself unclean according to the law. Shortly afterwards “Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in country places.” This compassion for suffering humanity resulted in more and more people coming to him. Even today the outstretched arms of God’s Son on the cross are a never-ending invitation to sinners to seek refuge with him. No longer was the leper, when cured, forced to live apart from others. After showing himself to the priest he was re-admitted as a member of the community.

What in the past was called confession is now called the sacrament of reconciliation. We should reflect that just as mortal sin is not an isolated act, but rather the culmination of a series of minor infidelities, so reconciliation is a gradual return to God over a period of time, with the reception of the sacrament as the high point, a time to celebrate our joy and gratitude in being at one with God again. This conversion, this newly-found commitment to the Lord is a thing which has to be constantly renewed. There is an enduring need for reconciliation, if we want to love God with our whole strength, and our neighbour as ourselves — the task Christ has set each of us when he said, “This do, and you will live.”


A Word of Thanks

Today’s story may be an early version of the healing of the ten lepers as told by St Luke (Luke 17:11-19).. But the point is quite different. In Mark’s version Jesus heals the leper by a touch of his hand. Then, far from not thanking Jesus, the healed man goes about shouting his gratitude to all who would listen. The passage is made obscure by Mark’s recurring literary device of the “Messianic Secret,” implying that Jesus wanted to keep his true identity a secret. Many biblical scholars regard as just an odd literary device used by Mark to add drama to his story. While Jesus did not want to be known as the kind of military messiah that so many people in his time wanted and expected, it seems unlikely that after each miraculous healing he would tell people to be quiet and tell nobody about it.

The predicament of lepers in the time of Jesus was truly pathetic. Those unfortunates were debarred from all social life, both religious and commercial. We might try to explain their plight with examples from one’s local surroundings, although it is difficult to find such an all-embracing boycott, in modern cultures. Jesus crosses social and religious boundaries in order to cure the leper. But before this could happen, the leper had the courage to break the Law of isolation. The poor outcast has such hopes from this holy man that he risks a rebuke for ignoring the normal prohibitions. At the heart of the encounter, compassion moves Jesus not only to respond with a word of encouragement, but also to reach out and touch him. This shows us God’s attitude to human disability. He wishes to reach us in our weakness and restore us to fullness of life.

It is wonderful but not enough that the outcast have his skin restored to healthy condition. Without the permission of the priest he could not regain his place in society and would remain an social outcast. Jesus wishes to reestablish communion in a broken human family. Leprosy drove people away from others through the fear of the healthy that they would contract the dread disease Jesus wishes to remove these barriers between human beings and set up a communion that is free and harmonious. We might apply this to our own community by instancing types of bias and prejudice that exist locally and invite people to ask the Lord to heal whatever keeps them at a distance from certain others. Continuing reconciliation is necessary as we go through life and receive various types of hurts, which could make us withdraw from others as the leper did. It requires the courage of the leper to bring these hurts and fears to the Lord for healing.

A different homily could be built on the second reading. Paul’s emphasis on thought for the other’s good is a reminder that none of us can ignore. He does not pander to the desires of others, but in a generous spirit thinks of how his actions might affect them. He wants to imitate the Lord, who loved his brethren even unto death. Paul wants to love them in their weakness and to work for their advantage. This type of attitude is unto the glory of God in ordinary things, such as eating and drinking. It resembles the practical advice given by Matthew in 18:10 that no one can ignore anyone else, even the least.


Healing the isolated

We all need to connect with others, to interact with them. We don’t like to feel isolated or cut off from family, friends, or the wider community. One of the most challenging aspects of sickness or disability can be the isolation that it brings. When we are ill or our body grows weak we cannot take the same initiative we used to take to connect with others. People can become housebound because of their physical condition; the things they used to do to meet up with others are no longer possible. Certain forms of illness can be more isolating than others. The most isolating form of illness in the time of Jesus was leprosy. For hygienic reasons, lepers had to live apart, ‘outside the camp’, in the words of today’s first reading. Lepers were only allowed to have each other for company. They lived apart from their family, their friends and the community to which they belonged.

Both Jesus and of the leper have something to say to us about steps we can take to break out of our isolation, even when the odds seem to be stacked against us. We can all be tempted from time to time to retreat into our shell, whether it is because of our health or some disability or some past experience that has drained us of life. It is at such times that we need something of the initiative and daring energy of the leper. There can come a time when, like the leper, we need to take our courage in our own hands and, against the conventional expectation, to head out in some bold direction. It was desperation that drove the leper to seek out Jesus. Sometimes for us too, it can be our desperation that finally gets us going, gets us to connect with that person who matters to us and to whom we matter more than we realize or gets us to link up with some gathering or some group that has the potential to do us good or maybe even to transform our lives. Sometimes I can be amazed at the initiatives that some people take to connect with others, people who are much less healthier than I am and are much less physically able. I come across it all the time in the parish – older people who have mastered the internet and have come completely at home with Skype; younger people who in spite of some serious disability have found the means to live a very full life that is marked by the service of others. The man in today’s gospel who approaches Jesus could well be the patron saint of all those who strive to connect with others against all the odds.

Unlike the leper, Jesus was perfectly healthy, but he had the same desire to connect with others. When approached by the leper, he could have turned away, as most people would have. Jesus stood his ground and engaged with the leper, reached out to him not only by word but by action. He not only spoke to him, but he touched him. Jesus often healed people by means of his word alone; but this man who had suffered from extreme isolation really needed to be touched. Jesus did more than was asked of him; he took an initiative as daring as the leper’s move towards him. He went as far as any human being could go to deliver this man from his isolation. What the Lord did for the leper he wishes to continue doing through each one of us in our own day. There are many isolated and lonely people among us. #We can take the kind of step that Jesus took towards the leper. [MH]


Imitating Paul

Today’s reading from St. Paul contains only three sentences but it has great things for us to consider. First of all, it says much about St. Paul himself. We should address something that sounds curious in that first line, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Just before these lines, Paul had been dealing with the question of the dietary laws of the Jews and how they pertain to Christians.
The problem arose from the pagan practice of offering food to idols and then serving it to the worshipers as an extension of the sacrifice. In principle, such offerings would be offensive to Jew and Christian alike. But Paul had a great practical sense which came from his loving spirit. He explained that everything on earth belongs to God and so there is no food that is of itself unclean. Eat what is put before you and do not offend whoever invited you to dinner. But if some Christian less understanding than you should point out that it has been offered to idols, for the sake of that person and not for yourself, abstain from eating it.

Then he launches into this passage about doing everything for the glory of God. He says, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” Think for a moment about the personality of Paul, who can say that. This is not someone who had an easy life in pleasant circumstances. In his second letter to the Corinthians he says of himself, “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles.” (2 Cor 11:24)

He wasn’t exaggerating the dangers and hardship he had faced.
Through all these travels and even while he stayed is a city preaching, he paid his own way working at his trade of leather-craft. During his travels he probably slept on the ground more often than in a bed and eat what meager provisions he could afford and carry with him. But it was not just physical hardships he faced. Whoever has visited the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey marvels at how these majestic buildings must have reflected the sophistication and culture of the Greeks and Romans who lived there. Then you picture this travelling Jew carrying everything he owns in his knapsack, who starts talking at the street corner about some prophet whom the Romans crucified and who came to save the world. You have to be brave as well as highly motivated to do that.

Why did Paul do it? He wasn’t just a rustic craftsman who somehow got religion. He was a well educated Jew who was scrupulous about the practice of his faith. He was also fluent, not only in the Greek language but Greek philosophy as well. When he spoke to Jews, he was conversant with the Old Testament and when he spoke to Greeks he quoted their philosophers. He must have been well connected with the religious authorities in Jerusalem so he had a comfortable life ahead of him if he wanted. Understanding what Christ had done for all of us changed his outlook. As a Jew he was convinced that God loved them. Had he not influenced the course of history so many times in their favor?

In Christ, God died out of love for each of us. As Paul said in Second Corinthians, “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all… And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them..” (2 Cor 5:14) And to the Galatians he said, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20) Paul was overcome by a love of Christ and that was translated into a love for all around him. If God’s love is recognized in the self-giving of Christ, how could he show his love of God except by his self-giving to others. Thus, for Paul, even working at his leather trade to earn enough for food and passage to the next town in which he intended to preach was done out of love of God and neighbour.

When we read Paul’s letters, we learn almost as much about Paul himself as we do about our relationship with God. His personality shines through these words and it is an inspiring picture. When he tells us how to act, it is because he himself was already living that way. This is why he can say what he does in this passage today. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Shouldn’t we be able to say that as well? (WJH)


Is féidir leat mé a dhéanamh glan

Tá úmhlaíocht in iarratas a chuir an duine tinn le luibhre ar Íosa, “Más mian leat, is féidir leat mo leigheas.” Mothaíonn Íosa trua leis an achomharc seo, mar a dúirt St Mark. Chuaigh sé níos faide, ag síneadh amach a lámh agus ag baint leis an leper, rud a chiallaíonn gur rinne sé é féin neamhghlan de réir an dlí. Go gairid ina dhiaidh sin, “ní fhéadfadh Íosa a thuilleadh dul go hoscailte isteach i mbaile ar bith, ach níor mhór dó fanacht taobh amuigh in áiteanna faoin dtuaigh.” Tháinig méadú ar dhaoine níos mó agus níos mó ag teacht leis. Fiú sa lá atá inniu tá lámha Mac Dé Dé sínte amach ar an gcrois ag tabhairt cuireadh do pheacaigh le dídean a lorg. Tar éis a leigheas níorbh éigean don leper a bheith ina chónaí i bhfad ó daoine eile. Nuair a thaispeáinsé é féin don sagart, admhaíodh é arís mar bhall den phobal.

 

2 Responses

  1. Brian Fahy

    The healing of the leper

    Mark 1:40-45

    Jesus told the leper, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone.’

    We live in a world of public stories
    We hear tales and get impressions of what goes on
    We form opinions from what we hear
    We have views on everything under the sun
    In our modern media world
    But this is not life

    Life is personal connection
    When I look at you and you look at me
    When we converse
    When we connect
    Then life happens

    I have the power to affect your life
    With every look and every thing I say
    With how I smile and bring sunshine in your life
    With how I pause and stay the thoughtless comment
    With how I care that you and I should live

    Our personal sorrows cause us to live
    Outside the community
    Grief can bring us down
    And we are helpless to help ourselves alone

    But you Lord can cure me
    And I won’t shout
    About what you have done
    I will use my healing to bring sunshine on others
    By every look
    And every word I say

    Brian Fahy
    10 February 2018

    • Pádraig McCarthy

      Mark 1:40-45
      We have two law-breakers here: The man with leprosy, and Jesus.
      The man was forbidden to approach “clean” people. (Presumably he could approach others with the same condition.) And Jesus could have sent him away, condemned him for his wickedness.
      “Unclean” referred in the first instance to the man’s physical condition, but, more important, it referred to his perceived status with God. Only the unblemished could approach the divine. Whatever the cause of the sickness (unlikely to be leprosy as we diagnose it today), the most difficult burden was being cut off from his community; and being cut off from the gatherings of his people in synagogue or temple. Sickness isolates. The man was untouchable. Far more so than any advice given to us to be cautious so as not to spread the flu.
      Where there is visible disfigurement, others are repelled. I remember visiting a child seriously ill in hospital, a child I had known since she was very young; we were close. She had been given medication to which she had a bad reaction, and her face was covered with flaky scales. As soon as I entered the room she saw me and welcomed me with open arms: she needed a hug. I was surprised at my own reaction, a temptation to keep my distance; but I also knew that that would be the very worst thing I could do. Her love for me, more than my love for her, made it possible.
      The man must have been terrified. But Jesus touched him. Jesus was “moved with pity, compassion; but the Greek word is graphic: his guts were stirred up. Perhaps Jesus, fully human, experienced fear, even revulsion. The man with leprosy perhaps had not felt human touch for weeks or months or longer. His trust in Jesus drew the response: Jesus touched him.
      Then Jesus told him to do the impossible: show yourself to the priest. Their encounter is in Galilee. There would be local rabbis at local synagogues; but a priest? Not like our parishes spread over the countryside. The temple was in Jerusalem, more than two days’ walk away. I don’t know whether there was a priest living in Galilee at the time.
      So now the man had two or more days to get to a priest. How could he possibly stay quiet? Put yourself in his shoes. To me there’s humour here. He could not contain himself. He could re-enter everyday life, the synagogue, the temple again! Winning the lottery was nothing to it. And now, from the man who was banished for human company, Jesus becomes the one who cannot enter a town openly! Opening our hearts to the rejected has its price, but the consolation prize is beyond measure.
      Is there anyone at Mass today who feels untouchable? Whom nobody has said a word to yet today? Who may look glum and unfriendly of off-putting? Who looks as if you’d get your nose bitten off if you dare interrupt their prayer? Is it worth the risk? Even if you only get a growl in reply? Sometimes we need to step beyond the letter of the law to unleash the spirit. Even a word of greeting is a way of touching. You might find it’s the hem of the cloak of Jesus you touch.
      Or maybe it’s you who is having a really bad day and feeling untouchable. Like the man who approached Jesus, let it not be your prison.
      And what about the “shut-ins” as they used to be called on the other side of the Atlantic (or maybe not any more)? Those confined to home. If the sickness lasts a long time, even close neighbours begin to “lose touch”, not deliberately, but just as a natural result of not seeing them around. “I must drop in some day …”
      Wouldn’t it be great if, going off home from Mass today, we just couldn’t contain ourselves? Our encounter in faith with the real presence of Jesus in his living body, the gathered church, and in the bread of life which creates a bond of unity which no uncleanliness can shatter. Come looking for good news, and it could be good news that you could never have anticipated. Even discover that you are the good news.

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