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Tag Archive: Gospel of Mark

Leprosy: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2009 (2:02 pm), by John W Gillis


healing-leper One of the themes that emerge from this week’s readings is the importance of communion, that is: the role of the Church in not only embracing all people in brotherhood, but doing so by means of bringing all people to a place of graced renewal, for the end, as Paul says in the second reading, “that they may be saved.” The device that is used to characterize this is the ancient scourge of leprosy.

The first reading, from Leviticus, skips over an extensive middle section of the Biblical text on the details of the disease, including regulations on distinguishing forms of the disease that would render a person ritually unclean (cutting them off from the community) from superficial skin diseases such as eczema. While in uncertain cases, one or more seven-day periods of quarantine were called for to see how the situation developed before a judgment of cleanness or uncleanness could be made, once someone was declared unclean, the law demanded that “he shall dwell apart” (Lev 13:46).

The Old Testament tells us of only two people cleansed of leprosy. Miriam, the sister of Moses, was stricken with leprosy when she enlisted Aaron to rebel with her against the supremacy of Moses (Numbers 12). Moses prayed for her recovery, that she “not be as one dead” (Num 12:12), and she was subject only to a seven day quarantine to repent in shame, and not a permanent exile. The other person cleansed was Naaman the Syrian, commander of the Syrian army, who is cleansed by the prophet Elisha (2Kgs 5.1-14). Naaman is mentioned by Jesus in Lk 4.27 as an example of how God’s gifts have always been available to gentiles.

Based on the way they read the Israelite King Joram’s reaction to the request from the Syrian King Ben-hadad to cure Naaman’s leprosy ("Am I a god with power over life and death, that this man should send someone to me to be cured of leprosy?” 2Kgs 5.7), the rabbis considered the cleansing of leprosy to be as difficult as raising the dead. This explains, at least in part, the expectation that the cleansing of lepers would be a symbolic manifestation of the messianic age. So, when John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he was the “one to come,” Jesus answered him:

"Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Lk 7.22)

As important a symbolic place the cleansing of leprosy might occupy in the Gospel (and it is surely no coincidence that Christ sends his disciples out to cleanse lepers in Mat 10:8), only a couple occasions of cleansing are actually related in the New Testament: the leper in today’s readings (the story being retold with somewhat less detail in Luke and in Matthew), and the ten lepers outside the gates in Luke 17.12-19 (only one of which returns to thank Jesus). Interestingly, they each present some kind of challenge to the Messianic mission.

In the cleansing of the ten, it is only a Samaritan (whom Jesus refers to as a foreigner) who returns to give thanks to God, which prefigures the rejection of Jesus as the Christ by the Jews, and the extension of the Messianic promise to foreigners (“Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Lk 17:17).

On the other hand, the leper in today’s reading was not particularly well behaved. He was not keeping himself apart as the law instructed, but, audaciously, came up to Jesus. After Jesus “sternly” told him not to tell anyone about his healing, but to go show himself to the priest, the man began telling everyone (and there is no evidence in the story of his going to the priest). This caused Jesus to have to avoid going into the towns – despite Jesus having said two just verses before this story: "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out." Mark 1:38 (RSV). So, while the leper who would not remain apart publicized his healing, Jesus “remained outside in deserted places” (Mk 1:45).

It’s well worth considering how we use our gifts from the Lord, and it’s sobering to consider that we may choose to use them in such as way as to be an obstacle to the work of Christ, even as we focus on our own giftedness. It’s great to be brought back from exile and embraced, but Christ’s work doesn’t end with me.

Comfort Without Complacency

Posted: Sunday, December 7, 2008 (9:52 pm), by John W Gillis


Comfort, comfort my people.

2nd Sunday in Advent, Year B

1 Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; Indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! 4 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; The rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. 5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. 9 Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! 10 Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; Here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. 11 Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, Carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out. 11 Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought (you) to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. 13 But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God). 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. 3 A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ ” 4 John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. 6 John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. 7 And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”

If Advent is a time of hopeful waiting, the readings for the second Sunday give a good indication of what kind of waiting it is. I dare say that it has little in common with the sentiment of cherub-faced children seen peering out of frosted windows in wondrous winter anticipation that is such common stock on the covers of catalogs that fill the mailbox at this time of year. The “comfort” called for (naham ) is that which is often offered to mourners. It is often used as a messianic promise as well, but not with the idea of making people feel better so much as to transform them. In fact, in certain forms, the word is widely translated as “repent.” We could say that this comforting refers to an act of being moved with pity or compassion.

The idea clearly is that the coming of God is for the purpose of saving His people from tangible distress. There’s no escaping that our waiting is a period of trial – at least if we take the Scriptures seriously. We see a sign of this in the lifestyle of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the long-awaited Comfort, or Consolation, of Israel, as Simeon shows us in Luke’s Gospel (c.f. Lk 2:25).And yet, like Simeon, we too await the Consolation. Even though we live under the Seal of the Promise, we too await the Lord’s patient wish that “all should come to repentance” and consolation.

The picture Peter paints is one that seems to me to be quite thoroughly ignored – the picture of everything being dissolved by fire in the Lord’s return. There is a popular tendency to equate heaven with eternity, and to overlook the material aspect of the promise (a new earth). Scripture is quite clear that the end is a new heavens and a new earth; that “Heaven and earth shall pass away” (Mt 24:35).

And so I wonder exactly what it is that we await. On the one hand, it seems exciting, but then I recall that the Lord saw fit to call his followers to vigilance (Mt 25:13, Mk 13:33; Lk 12:37; etc.), which would hardly seem necessary if the waiting was just wide-eyed expectancy. Nor would it seem necessary if the outcome were a certainty. Advent is nothing if not an invitation to shed any complacency.

Walking on Water

Posted: Sunday, August 10, 2008 (2:10 am), by John W Gillis


I love the readings for this week. The Gospel reading is one of those stories that even unbelievers are familiar with – Jesus walking on the water. It has become a cultural reference, and the phrase “he walks on water” has come to have an immediately identifiable meaning. The Gospel story, for its part, is taken as evidence of (or at least a claim for) the Divinity of Christ.

But, interestingly, in this Matthean version, unlike the parallel in Mark, Peter also walks on water, if only briefly. This suggests some magnificent things about the Church, much like some of the other miracle stories: about how the Church is invited to participate in the transformative power that God reveals in Christ. But the wind caused Peter to become frightened.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
1Kgs 19.9a,11-13; Rom 9.1-5; Mt 14.22-33

He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Matthew 14:29-30 (NAB)

The wind (Gk anemos) is never something good to encounter in the New Testament (the “roaring like a wind” at Pentecost is a different word in the Greek). Whether frightening the disciples at different times on the lake (c.f Mt 8.23-27), driving Paul and his captors toward shipwreck (c.f. Acts 27.14ff), representing the dangers of clever heresy in every wind of doctrine (Eph 4.14, c.f. the reference to John the Baptist not being a reed shaken by the wind in Lk 7.24), or acting as the force that works to topple the houses built on the two foundations of rock and sand (Mt 7.24-27), the wind seems to encompass all those forces in life that press against us in so many directions, and would divert us from our goals – even our walk toward the Lord.

The thing that most fascinates me these days about this story is that Matthew, but not Mark, includes the subtext of Peter also walking on the water. This episode directly follows the miracle of the disciples feeding a “great throng” (Mt 14.14), including 5,000 men, with 5 loaves and 2 fish (Mt 14.15-21, Mk 6.35-44).

As I said, Mark doesn’t mention Peter’s escapade on the sea, and his ending of the pericope seems, at least on the surface, very different from Matthew’s. In Matthew: Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” whereas in Mark: They were (completely) astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened. (Mk 6.51b-52)

This appears contradictory, as if one writer is saying that the disciples really “got it,” while the other writer is saying that they really didn’t. But I think what Mark is saying in his ending is basically the same thing Matthew says in his Peter subtext.

The disciples were not prepared to accept that the power of God is intended to be manifest in the disciples themselves, as lowly and plain and ordinary as they were (and are). We see a similar truth expressed in the Elijah reading: God doesn’t come to the world in the earthquake (or in the wind), He comes in the humble, the lowly, the ordinary, the still small voice. Even in the bread and wine.

In the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus blessed the food and gave it to the disciples, but it was up to them to step out and hand it out to thousands of people – and this happened upon their return from their mission of preaching and healing (Mk 6.7-13). Even so, they would shortly thereafter be perplexed as to how they could get enough food to feed a smaller crowd, when they had even more loaves and fish! (Mt 15.32-39) Likewise, Peter stepped out of the boat and walked toward Jesus, doing something no other sinner had ever done or has done since. But the wind confounded him.

Peter and the disciples had no idea at this point how much Jesus had in store for them – for they themselves to be a blessing for the people. First, they had to learn to ignore the wind, and allow God to be manifest to them, and through them – in the humble and the ordinary.

We live this story still today, and He is with us in the humble and ordinary. It’s not that we couldn’t manifest the very power of God on earth if we were up for it, but we too often become frightened in the wind – even when He bids us “come.”

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.