Year B: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Cleansing of a Leper
Mark 1: 40-45
A leper came to him [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
- Jesus is always driven by compassion for others. What would you say is your primary driver?
- In what ways are you present to, or avoiding the suffering of others?
- After performing a miracle, Jesus is often heard saying; “See that you tell no one anything” What would be the spiritual significance for holding religious experiences privately for a time?
- When have you experienced the feeling of being cut off from the community or witnessed the isolation of others? How did you respond?
Mark 1: 40-45
Margaret Nutting Ralph
When we read the story of Jesus healing a leper without knowing anything about the social context within which this event took place, we miss a good deal of what we are being taught. Certainly, it is apparent that Jesus has once more exhibited his healing power. But the story tells us much more about Jesus’ ministry than that.
As we will see when we discuss today’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Leviticus, a leper was supposed to stay away from other people and warn others of his presence by crying out, “Unclean, Unclean!” The leper in today’s Gospel is simply not obeying the law: “A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus had every right to be furious with the man for endangering Jesus’ health. The man could have kept his distance and still asked Jesus to heal him. He didn’t need to come so close.
Having set this alarming scene, Mark then describes Jesus’ reaction: “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.” He touched him! Although Jesus often touches people when he heals them, he doesn’t always. He doesn’t have to. To touch this man was an extraordinary act of kindness. At this point Jesus did not say one word about the man disobeying the law. He touched him and healed him.
Notice as we discuss this story, we are looking carefully at the way Mark chooses to describe an event. How do we know that there is an event underlying Mark’s account? How do we know that Mark didn’t make the story up out of whole cloth in order to teach a lesson?
This question leads directly to a discussion of literary form. The story of the healing of the leper is in the form of a miracle story. When we are reading a miracle story, we will read that a problem is brought to Jesus’ attention (i.e., a man has leprosy), that Jesus is explicitly described as doing something in response to the problem. That Jesus’ actions solve the problem, and that the crowd reacts to this mighty act. All of those elements are present here. When an author uses this form the author is claiming that what we now call a miracle has occurred. Mark would have called it an act of power. As we Continue to read Mark’s Gospel we will find stories that don’t fit this form. When that happens, we will once again ask, “What is the author teaching by telling the story in this way?”
After Jesus heals the man, he does direct him to obey the law in order to be received back into the community. However, in addition, Jesus says, “See that you tell no one anything….” When discussing last Sunday’s Gospel, we mentioned this pattern in Mark of Jesus telling people not to speak. Last week it was during an exorcism. This week it is during a healing. Why did Jesus say this? The man obviously couldn’t keep the healing secret for any length of time because he would soon be reentering society.
Perhaps Mark is giving us a hint when he describes the effect of the man’s telling everyone: “He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. As we saw in last Sunday’s reading, Jesus did not want the crowd to center in just on the healing. Once more Jesus withdraws from the crowd, but that does not discourage the people from seeking him out just the same.
God is Compassion and Love
Cardinal Basil Hume
Compassion, where it is truest, noblest, most beautiful, most loving, is in God himself. There we find the example, the model, the inspiration.
One day I discovered in the Bible the word “mercy,” the mercy of God. I learned that God is love, and if God is love, then God is compassion—the two terms are interchangeable.
There is no finer way of showing compassion than to give yourself to others, and at the heart of that giving there will always be acceptance of the other. The compassion which we show to other people has to be modeled on and inspired by the compassion which God first shows to us. Indeed, the truth is deeper. We become the vehicles, the instruments of God’s compassion. Every time we open ourselves to the needs of others, he uses us to show them the meaning of love. That is at the heart of everything; that is the Good News that we have to spread. God, who is love, has compassion, and orders us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
In practice, we have to learn to be compassionate when we are young. It starts in the home. That is where we learn to be compassionate: to be concerned for those who are aging, sick, handicapped, poor, marginal. They are not “over there,” but next door or in our own home. We have to show compassion there, too. It starts in the home.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.
Reflection from Give Us This Day, Cardinal Basil Hume, adapted from A Turning to God
George Basil Hume, OSB (1923–1999), was Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey before being appointed Archbishop of Westminster. He was one of the most beloved religious figures in the United Kingdom.