SUNDAY, SIXTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
First Reading: Lev 13:1-2, 44-46 This describes how lepers were considered ritually unclean and were compelled to live apart from the community.
Second Reading: 1 Cor 10:31-11:1 St Paul urges us never to do anything offensive to anyone.
Gospel: Mk 1:40-45 This tells how Jesus cured a leper by touching him.
LIVING FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
The first reading, from the book of Leviticus which is the book that contains all the laws given by Moses that the Jews of the Old Testament had to follow, can be taken as the background for Jesus’ healing in the gospel passage of today. Leprosy infects the soft bones known as the cartilage and then disfigures the person. Therefore, the regulations prescribed in Leviticus were, with good reason, designed to prevent contagion. In biblical times, a lack of precise diagnosis, led to other skin diseases, such as psoriasis and even acne, being lumped together with leprosy. So, the worst thing about many of the lesser forms of ‘leprosy’ would have been the isolation, for ‘lepers’ were cut off from all human society. The priests were involved not so much as sacred ministers but as reliable persons to judge the symptoms, though of course, the sacrifice of thanksgiving for disappearance of the disease was a genuine religious thanksgiving.
In the Gospel passage, Mark shows the warmth of Jesus’ humanity and his concern for the leper. The leper had no right even to approach Jesus, but he did so because he must have felt that he would get a favourable response, and not a word of reproach. The expression “Jesus felt sorry for him” is a weak one; the original in Greek has a far stronger connotation: colloquially, it is literally translated as, ‘was gutted’; Jesus felt the pain of the leper to the depths of his being. Then Jesus touched him, He was fully aware that touching a leper would render him ritually impure and was risking the infection.
There have been famous repetitions of this brave and heartfelt gesture, such as Francis of Assisi kissing a leper’s hand. One can imagine the horror of the bystanders at this outrageous expression of love and sympathy. Why, then, does Jesus ‘sternly send him away’? A more faithful rendering would be not ‘sternly’ but ‘in anger’. It is possible that the anger is directed at the leprosy, considered as an exterior invasion, so Jesus ‘sent it away’. At least Jesus’ whole-hearted emotional involvement with the sufferer is palpable.
The second reading, from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians, could be taken as the extension of the Gospel passage, as Jesus was least interested in blowing his trumpet after a miracle; rather, he did everything that God might be glorified. The Corinthians thought that everything was permissible in the new way of Christianity. This was the conclusion they drew from the abolition of the restrictions of the Jewish Law that was preached by Paul. Paul’s principle was that the Spirit was an inner guide, so that no external restrictions were necessary. With their misguided slogan however, the Corinthians jumped to the conclusion that they could do what they wanted and there were no limits or boundaries.
Paul, therefore, writes to them words of guidance to true Christian living: “Do everything you do for the glory of God.” If the glory of God is always before our minds, we can hardly go wrong. “Never be the cause of offence”, that is, never lead anyone else into sin. It is easy sometimes to put people in a situation in which they are bound to fail, through fear or anger or frustration, or just because they are unequal to the task. “Take me as your pattern, as I take Christ for mine.” To us, this may sound arrogant and boastful, but Paul regarded himself as the servant of the Lord Jesus, just as Jesus regarded himself as the servant of God. Hence, Paul is encouraging the self-confident Corinthians to put themselves in a position of servants, serving the community for the glory of God. No matter what our position, we can always do something more for the community, and for the world.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 32:1-2, 5,11 You are a hiding place for me; you surround me with cries of deliverance.
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