Sunday, February 12, 2012
Jesus heals a leperReintroducing the marginalized into human society
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
The Gospel of this sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time tells us how Jesus receives a leper. In those days, lepers were the most excluded people of society, avoided by all. Lepers could not take part in anything. In olden days, the lack of effective medicines, the fear of contagion and the necessity of defending the life of society, led people to isolate and exclude lepers. Besides, among the people of God whose defence of the gift of life was one of the most sacred duties, they thought that the exclusion of lepers was a divine duty because it was the only way to defend the community from deadly contagion. Thus, in Israel, the leper felt impure and excluded not only by society, but even by God (cfr. Lev 14:1-32). Gradually, however, as better remedies came to light and above all thanks to the deep experience communicated to us by Jesus concerning God our Father, lepers began to be accepted and reintegrated as brothers and sisters in human society.
In spite of two thousand years of Christianity, the exclusion and marginalization of some categories of people goes on even today, whether in society or in the Church. For instance, those suffering from AIDS, migrants, homosexuals, divorced persons, etc. Today, in your society and in the Church, which are categories of excluded and avoided people? With these questions in mind, let us read and meditate the Gospel of this Sunday.
b) A division of the text as a help to our reading:
Mark 1:40: The state of abandonment and exclusion of a leper
Mark 1:41-42: Jesus welcomes and heals the leper
Mark 1:43-44: Reintroducing those excluded into fraternal society
Mark 1:45: The leper proclaims the good Jesus did to him and Jesus becomes an excluded
40 A man suffering from a virulent skin-disease came to him and pleaded on his knees saying, 'If you are willing, you can cleanse me.' 41 Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him and said to him, 'I am willing. Be cleansed.' 42 And at once the skin-disease left him and he was cleansed. 43 And at once Jesus sternly sent him away and said to him, 44 'Mind you tell no one anything, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your cleansing prescribed by Moses as evidence to them.' 45 The man went away, but then started freely proclaiming and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but stayed outside in deserted places. Even so, people from all around kept coming to him.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What did you like best and what touched you most in this text? Why?
b) How does this text express the exclusion of lepers?
c) How does Jesus welcome, heal and reinstate the leper? Try to observe carefully each detail.
d) How can we, today, imitate Jesus’ attitude towards those excluded?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme
A) The context of then and of today:
Whether in the 70’s, when Mark was writing, or today in our times, it was and still is very important to hold to some criteria or models to know how to live and proclaim the Good News of God, and how to carry out our mission as Christians. In verses 16 to 45 of the first chapter, Mark, in gathering together eight episodes, describes how Jesus proclaimed the Good News. Each episode contains a criterion for the community of his time, so that people then could examine their own mission. This Sunday’s text makes concrete the eighth criterion: “reinstating those excluded”. Here is the overall scheme to clarify what follows:
ACTIVITIES OF JESUS
AIM OF THE GOOD NEWS
Jesus calls his first disciples
The people are in amazement of his teaching
creating a critical conscience
Jesus drives out an evil spirit
fighting against the power of evil
The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law
restoring life through service
The healing of the sick and those possessed by devils
welcoming the marginalized
Jesus gets up to pray while it is still dark
staying united with the Father
Jesus goes on proclaiming the Good News
not allowing results to stop us
Jesus heals a leper
reinstating those excluded
b) A commentary on the text:
Mark 1:40: The state of abandonment and exclusion of a leper
A leper approaches Jesus. He was an excluded, impure! He was to be sent away from human society. Anyone who came close to him would also be impure. But the leper had much courage. He broke the rules of religion so as to approach Jesus. He says: If you are willing, you can cleanse me! Or: “There is no need for you to touch me! If you are just willing that is enough to heal me! This sentence reveals to evils: 1) the evil of the disease called leprosy that made him impure; 2) the evil of solitude to which he was condemned by society and religion. It also reveals the great faith people had in the power of Jesus.
Mark 1:41-42: By receiving and healing the leper, Jesus reveals a new face of God
Deeply compassionate, Jesus heals both evils. Firstly, to heal the evil of solitude, he touches the leper. It is as though he said to him: "For me you are not an excluded. I welcome you as a brother!" Secondly, he heals the disease called leprosy saying: I am willing. Be cleansed! In order to come into contact with Jesus, the leper had broken the rules of the law. For Jesus to be able to help this excluded one and thus reveal a new face of God, he broke the laws of his religion and touches the leper. In those days, anyone who touched a leper became impure in the sight of the religious authorities and before the law of that time.
Mark 1:43-44: Reinstating those excluded into fraternal life
Not only does Jesus heal, but he wills that the healed person be able to live with others. Reinstating a person to society. In those days, for a leper to be received within the community, he or she had to have a declaration of healing from a priest. Thus it was written in the law concerning the purification of a leper (Lev. 14: 1-32). This still happens today. The sick person leaves hospital with a letter signed by the doctor of a particular section. Jesus obliges the leper to get the document from the competent authority so that he may be reinstated into normal society. He is thus obliging the authorities to confirm that the man had been healed.
Mark 1:45: The leper proclaims the good that Jesus worked for him and Jesus becomes an excluded
Jesus had forbidden the leper from speaking of his healing. But the leper did speak. The leper started freely proclaiming and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but stayed away in desert places. Why did Jesus stay away in desert places? Jesus had touched the leper. Thus, according to opinion in those days, now he was impure and had to live away from all. He could not enter any city. But Mark implies that people did not much care about official rules, because people from all around kept coming to him! A complete turn over!
The double news that Mark conveys to the communities of his time and to all of us is: 1) that proclaiming the Good News means witnessing to the concrete experience that one has of Jesus. What does the leper proclaim? He proclaims to others the good that Jesus did to him. That’s all! And it is precisely this witness that drives others to accept the Good News of God that Jesus proclaims. Anyone who has no experience of Jesus will have little to proclaim to others. 2) To take the Good News to others one need not fear breaking religious rules that are contrary to God’s plan and that render communication, dialogue and a life of love difficult. Even if such an attitude may create difficulties for people as it did for Jesus!
c) Further information:
The eight criteria for evaluating the mission of the Community
A double slavery marked the situation of people at the time of Jesus: the slavery of the official religion, upheld by the religious authorities of the time, and the slavery of Herod’s politics, upheld by the Roman Empire and supported by the whole organized system of exploitation and repression. Because of all this, many of the people were excluded by religion and by society. The contrary, therefore, of the fraternity that God dreamt of for all! And it is precisely in this context that Jesus begins to carry out his mission of proclaiming the Good News of God.
This Sunday’s Gospel is part of a broader literary unity (Mk 1:16-45). Apart from the description of the preparation of the Good News (Mk 1:1-13) and of the proclamation (Mk 1:14-15), Mark brings together eight activities of Jesus to describe his mission of proclamation of the Good News and to describe how the mission of the community should be (Mk 1:16-45). This is the same mission that Jesus received from the Father (Jn 20:21). Mark puts together these episodes, which were passed on orally in the communities, and links them together like old bricks in a new wall. These eight episodes are eight criteria that serve the community to revise and check whether they are carrying out their mission well. Let us see:
i) Mk 1:16-20: Creating community.
The first thing that Jesus does is to call people to follow him. A fundamental task of mission is to gather people around Jesus in order to create community.
ii) Mk 1:21-22: Creating a critical conscience.
The first thing that people see is the difference between the teaching of Jesus and that of the Scribes. Part of mission is to create a critical conscience in people, even in the face of the official religion.
iii) Mk 1:23-28: Fighting the power of evil.
Jesus’ first miracle is the driving out of an impure spirit. Part of mission is fighting the power of evil that destroys life and alienates people from themselves.
iv) Mk 1:29-31: Restoring life through service.
Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and she gets up and begins to serve. Part of mission is the care of the sick so that they may be able to get up and once more serve others.
v) Mk 1:32-34: Welcoming the marginalized
After the Sabbath, people bring to Jesus the sick and the possessed that he may heal them, and, by laying his hands, he heals them all. Part of mission is to welcome the marginalized.
vi) Mk 1:35: Staying united with the Father through prayer.
After a day of labour that extends far into the night, Jesus gets up quickly so that he may pray in a desert place. Part of mission is staying united with the source of the Good News, that is the Father, through prayer.
vii) Mk 1:36-39: Keeping up an awareness of mission.
The disciples were happy with the results and wanted Jesus to return. But he carried on with his journey. Part of mission is not to be content with results, but to keep alive an awareness of mission.
viii) Mk 1:40-45: Reinstating the marginalized into human society.
Jesus heals a leper and asks him to present himself to a priest so that he may be declared healed and may be able to live among people. Part of mission is reinstating the excluded to human society.
These eight points so well chosen by Mark, indicate the purpose of the mission of Jesus: “I came that all may have life, and may have it abundantly!” (Jn 10:10). These same eight points may serve to evaluate our own community. Thus we can see how Mark built up his Gospel. A beautiful structure that keeps in mind two thins at once: (1) it informs people of what Jesus did and taught; (2) and it forms the community and people to the mission of proclaimers and proclaimers of the Good News of God.
6. Praying a Psalm: Psalm 125 (124)
Anyone who trusts in the Lord will not waver!
Whoever trusts in Yahweh is like Mount Zion:
unshakeable, it stands for ever.
Jerusalem! The mountains encircle her:
so Yahweh encircles his people,
henceforth and for ever.
The sceptre of the wicked will not come to rest
over the heritage of the upright;
or the upright might set their own hands to evil.
Do good, Yahweh,
to those who are good,
to the sincere at heart.
But the crooked, the twisted, turn them away,
Yahweh, with evil-doers. Peace to Israel!
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.