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. How do you experience God’s compassion towards you?
- 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” Why do you think he does this?
- How has life in the Coronavirus era challenged your attitudes and behaviors about unity and separation?
- Do you think that laws help you grow in holiness? Why or Why not?
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.
We all have bodies, yet at any given moment some bodies are healthy and some are ill. We all have minds, yet some minds are first in the class and the corporation, and some minds are forever catching up or permanently left behind. We all have relationships and social position, yet some relationships are loving and some are indifferent, some social positions are important and some are menial. We are all souls, yet some souls are conscious of their communion with the Divine Source and living in peaceful action, and other souls are unconscious of their connection to the Divine Source and struggling painfully with life. We are both separate and the same, isolated and connected to one another.
This realization of sameness and connection is the first step to cultivating compassion. When the pope gets off an airplane in any country, he kisses the earth. He does this in every land for all the earth is sacred. There is a “sameness” to the different terrains of every country. Although many may think the earth of their country is sacred in a way the earth of other countries is not, this gesture tries to awaken another perception. When the Dalai Lama arrives in a country, he announces to all who are there, “Everyone wants happiness and doesn’t want suffering.” This is true of all, so all are bound together.
Both the pope’s gesture and the Dalai Lama’s sentence could be turned into profound spiritual practices. Although one may seem to be politically inspired and the other to be a throwaway line of a banal philosophy, they are both strenuous efforts to reverse separatist thinking. If you kiss with mindfulness the floor of every house you enter and say internally to every person you meet, “Everyone wants happiness and doesn’t want suffering,” you will be on a path of realizing your neighbor is yourself.
This consciousness of sameness and connection is often a gradual process. In the Middle Ages, Christians were encouraged to meditate on the mystical rose. The meditation began at the top of the rose where the tips of the petals do not touch. At this point they would realize the truth of separateness. Then their eyes would glide down the rose and rest on the overlapping sections of the petals. This sight would encourage consciousness to realize similarities and commonalities among what appeared as separate. When the eyes reached the base of the rose, all the petals came from the same stem. This was the deepest realization of the one source of all things and, therefore, a fundamental communion among all things.
However, getting to the base of the rose is not an easy trip. We are used to identifying with our competitive edges, with the physical, psychological, and social benefits that separate us from others. I am in better health, have a higher I.Q., and have more money than you. But, alas, I am in poorer health, have a lower I.Q-, and have less money than someone else. Within this way of thinking we alternate between being better or worse off; we swing back and forth between pitying those who have less and envying those who have more. In the presence of suffering this mental framework generates inner fear that makes us recoil. The leper is someone worse off who could bring us down to his condition. Avoidance is the strategy and, of course, prayers are made to the protective God to keep us from this fate.
When the consciousness of sameness and connection replaces the consciousness of separation, compassion arises. Compassion is a felt perception of sharing a common world that drives us toward action. We do not recoil, we reach out. Jesus’ compassion is the engine of his in the response, which I’ve seen translated as, “Of course, I want to.” Therefore, to cultivate compassion you can kiss the floor of all houses, interiorly size up each person met with “this person desires to be happy and doesn’t want to suffer,” and spend a longer time with the roses in gardens and flower shops.
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.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.