February 9, 2018

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading for Mass this weekend comes from the Book of Leviticus. In sequence, Leviticus is the fourth book in modern translations of the Bible. As such, it is part of the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch includes the five books of the Bible attributed to Moses. These five books are what the Jews call the Torah.

The Pentateuch forms the fundamental law and philosophy of Judaism, both in current understandings and in ancient practices as well.

In this reading, God speaks to Moses and to Aaron, his brother. The topic is leprosy. Today it is not known whether these references to leprosy in the Scriptures referred to Hansen’s disease, or to some other illness. Regardless of the exact scientific nature of what the ancients called leprosy, however, the problem was chronic and severe.

An entire social system developed around the disease. Victims were outcasts. They totally were shunned, so most often they virtually had to forage, or steal, for food and search for any shelter they could find.

Ancient Jews would never blame God for the fact of such a serious malady. God was regarded as good, loving and merciful. The ancient Hebrews saw human sin as ultimately the cause of all earthly misery.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, this weekend’s second reading, includes the great Apostle’s counsel that Christians should do everything with the intention of glorifying God.

He admonished the Christians of Corinth never to offend either Jew or Gentile. Paul urges Christians to follow his example because he says that he imitates Christ.

The reading therefore sets Christ as the example and insists that believers must follow the example of the Lord in their lives.

For its last reading, the Church gives us a passage from the Gospel of St. Mark. In this reading, a leper approaches Jesus, pleading for a cure. Jesus cured the man, the Lord being “moved with pity,” according to Mark (Mk 1:41).

This cure came when Jesus touched the man. (As an aside, but nevertheless instructive, symbolic touching is very important in the liturgy. Touch creates contact and enables transference. In ordinations, the ordaining bishop lays his hands upon the candidates to be ordained. At weddings, the bride and bridegroom hold each other’s hands during the exchange of their marriage vows.)

Jesus miraculously healed the man through the power of God by touching him.

The Lord ordered the man to go to the priests. The man had been exiled from the community because of his illness. If the priests saw that he was free of disease, they would re-admit him to society.

The reading closes by noting that great crowds pursued Jesus.

Reflection

Strong in the reading from Mark is the image of desperation on the part of the leper. It is no wonder. While modern scientists debate exactly what the Bible means when it refers to leprosy, this is clear: it was an awful disease and people avoided to the extreme anyone suffering from it. It brought utter isolation and want.

In the minds of the ancient Hebrew people, it somehow resulted from sin.

Mark recalls that Jesus, moved by pity, cured the man. He accepted the man who had been completely banished from society.

An interesting consideration in these miracle narratives from Mark’s Gospel is that people so yearn for Jesus. Several weeks ago, a paralytic so wanted to find Jesus that others let him through the very roof of the house where Jesus was in order to get their afflicted friend to him. When Jesus withdrew into the desert to pray, the Apostles spontaneously followed, unwilling to be without him. This reading says people came to Jesus from everywhere.

These reports all reveal something basic and true: Jesus alone is the source of life and peace, and, blessedly, Jesus lovingly imparts life and peace. †

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