This week the first and third readings give us a picture of the human condition and its remedy. Through the centuries, leprosy was used as a general term for many skin illnesses and conditions that were considered dangerous, contagious, unclean and often a punishment for sin. In the bible leprosy is often symbolic of sin. The traditional view was that by touching somebody who is unclean one becomes unclean too. In Jesus’ case it works backwards; the leper that He touches becomes clean. The same kind of compassion is supposed to be exhibited by us who form the body of Christ in the world today. Who are the lepers that I avoid in my life ? Do I avoid reaching out to them with the love of Christ? Paul, in the second reading, urges his readers to be considerate of others. How well do I avoid giving offense?
First Reading: Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46
1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2 “If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch which appears to be the sore of leprosy, he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest, or to one of the priests among his descendants. 44 (If) the man is leprous and unclean, and the priest shall declare him unclean by reason of the sore on his head. 45 “The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ 46 As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 13:2-46 This section deals with many types of skin blemishes and diseases which were not contagious but simply disqualified their victims from association with others, especially in public worship, until they were declared ritually clean. These diseases were lumped together with others which were contagious under the name of leprosy. The Hebrew term usually did not refer to Hansen’s disease which currently is the only illness that is properly called leprosy.
In ancient Israel, there was no public health service. In the case of these skin diseases this function was filled, to some extent, by the priests. In doing so however, they did not act as physicians but as judges and interpreters of the law. In the Old Testament there are only two cases of someone being cured of leprosy. One was Naaman who was healed by God through the ministry of Elisha (2 Kings 5:1-27) and the other was Miriam, Moses’ sister who was healed by God when Moses prayed for her (Num 12:9-15).
* 13:44 The word “if”, at the beginning of the verse has been added by the Lectionary due to the verses (3-43) that were left out.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. 32 Avoid giving offense, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.
11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 10:31 This verse parallels the exhortation of 6:20.
* 10:32 The community has a missionary responsibility to enable conversion not simply avoid creating stumbling blocks.
* 10:33 This verse summarizes Paul’s missionary stance. It does not really contradict Gal 1:10 or 1 Thes 2:4 although it may appear to at first. One cannot reach out to those who are running away from him.
* 11:1 Christ is the ideal of humanity that all should strive to imitate but since He is not visible, Paul must mirror the “life of Jesus” (2 Cor 4:10)so that those to whom he preaches may imitate him whom they can see. This is a common theme in Paul (1 Cor 4:16; Gal 4:12; Phil 3:17; 4:9; 1 Thes 1:6; 2:14).
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:40-45
40 A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” 42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. 43 Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. 44 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.” 45 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.
NOTES on Gospel:
* 1:40 For a leper to approach a Rabbi was a violation of the Law as given in Lev 13:45-46. The leper approaches Jesus and acknowledges that Jesus can make him clean. It is likely that he is asking for a cure and not simply a declaration that he is clean. The ambiguity may be intended in order to implicate Jesus in the role of the priests.
* 1:41 The same law forbidding the leper to be among the people also forbid Jesus from reaching out to touch the leper but Jesus did just that. The word used for “moved with compassion” is one associated with a bowel wrenching reaction. Much more vivid than simple compassion. Something akin to anger. It is a very strong emotion. Same word is used of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb when he wept. It may be that the evil, death or illness or sin, causes this reaction in Jesus because it is not compatible with His presence and so He always removes it.
* 1:44 This may be part of Mark’s device of a Messianic Secret. Or Jesus may simply have meant for the man to lose no time on his way to the priests but to go without stopping to talk to everyone on the way. Jewish rites of hospitality were long and complex. The procedure for sacrifice and reentry into society after leprosy are given in Lev 13:9-17, 13:1-32.
* 1:45 Jesus’ movements become as restricted as the leper’s movements had been before the cure. Nevertheless His work continues because the people come to Him.
The rabbis of the time considered the cure of a leper to be as great a miracle as raising the dead. That is why everyone got so excited. In the Old Testament there were only two healings of leprosy: Num 12:10-15, 2 Kings 5:1-14.</font