Summary: Jesus today needs replacements in His ministry, saints to live His life, calling men and women and children to repentance, healing, and a new and happier life with His Church.
Sixth Sunday in Course 2021
You may have noticed that not only have we been reading St. Mark’s Gospel since Advent began, but also that this is the sixth week just on chapter 1. He introduced us to John the Baptist, then Jesus came south from Nazareth to be baptized. He was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, and He won. He went to Galilee to begin preaching, chose His first disciples. He exhibited His authority by preaching even more strongly than Moses, and cast out demons. Remember, He already beat Satan in the desert. Last week He healed Simon’s mother-in-law and cast out even more demons. Probably a hundred miracles or more in 45 lines of this Gospel. But Mark isn’t through. This week Jesus cares for the most outcast people in society. He hears the cry, “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean.” A leper comes to Him. He couldn’t legally be around healthy people because they were scared that they might catch the skin disease, a fatal disease we know today as Hansen’s disease. He was banned from the Temple and synagogue. He had lost everything. This miracle worker, Jesus of Nazareth, might heal me. What do I have to lose by asking?
Our reading from Leviticus, specifying how people suspected of leprosy are to be treated, is pretty clinical. They knew that a skin eruption wasn’t always leprosy. They didn’t have microscopes or scientific tests to help diagnose skin problems. So when the priest found a suspect case, he always did the same thing. Send him or her away dressed in tattered clothing and make them cover up and stay away from healthy people until it clears up. And declare yourself “unclean” until you can present yourself healthy to the priest. They dwelt together in squalid camps away from the towns and villages, usually infected each other, and after a few years, they died of disease or starvation.
We don’t see Jesus expressing emotion very often in the Gospels, but when the leprous man moans his plea for healing, Jesus is “moved with pity.” That’s a weak translation of the Greek original. I’d say He was “shaken to the core” by the man’s appearance and plaintive appeal. We call that response empathy. Jesus was supremely empathetic. But we are all made in the image and likeness of God. Is it too much to imagine that our empathy is a weak imitation of God’s? Thus the God-man, Jesus, felt in His inmost being both a divine and human response of compassion for this leper. The response is immediate: He does what nobody else would do by stretching out His hand to touch the man and says “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the One who created all things good at the beginning of time made this sick man good, good enough to go to the priest and be pronounced “clean.” Good enough to dress in real clothes and labor for a wage and marry and have children and worship in the synagogue and. . .not tell anybody about Jesus? That’s what Jesus told Him not to do. Are you kidding? He went off and made Jesus so much in demand that he couldn’t go into a town without being mobbed by those needing healing.
The Son of God didn’t assume a human nature just to heal lepers, or the blind, or the physically disabled. When we say He drove out demons or raised at least three dead people back to life, we get closer to His ultimate mission. The priest Zechariah said it best in a canticle we pray every day: “to give His people knowledge of salvation, by the forgiveness of sins.” The common, deadly and real problem with us humans is not skin disease or creaky joints or COVID-19 or even cancer. The problem we all have is knowing what not to do and doing it anyway, of knowing what TO do and avoiding it. Those are problems that can take us to eternal death, not just in the first century but every one before and after that, and it seems especially in the culture of this day. Fraud, perversity masquerading as marriage, lying to obtain an advantage, even murder of the innocent, especially before birth, are tickets to perdition.
But Jesus no longer walks the earth as He did in the year 33, does He? He today needs replacements, saints to live His life, calling men and women and children to repentance, healing, and a new and happier life with His Church. He needs us to be saints, calling not just the folks who come to Church on Sunday but especially the ones who do not. He needs us to remind pregnant women to choose life, with something as simple and inexpensive as a license plate on our cars. Yes, we need Him to forgive and feed and confirm and teach us, but He needs us, all of us, without giving offense, to find those who need His grace and lovingly share it with them.