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Daily Gospel Reading - January 14, 2010 PDF Print E-mail

Mark 1:40-45

The Cleansing of a Leper

40A leper came to [Jesus] [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” 41Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” 42The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. 43Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. 44Then 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.” 45The 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' Healing and Cleansing Touch

Leprosy which we refer to as Hansen’s disease today (after the Norwegian scientist Gerhard Hansen who discovered the biomedical cause of the disease in 1868) is not the biblical leprosy that is discussed in Leviticus 13-14 nor the disease of the leper that Jesus cures in today’s Gospel. The Hebrew term for it—zeraat—contains the idea of being struck or afflicted with an eruptive skin disease. The Greek rendering lepra signifies an ailment characterized by the appearance of rough, scaly patches of the skin.

The concern of the ancient peoples was not so much the contagion of the “biblical” leprosy as the impurity or uncleanness that it brought. Lepers would not “infect” the community; they would “pollute” it, rendering the people unfit to approach God. After all, the “holiness” required of the people encompassed not just moral uprightness, but, to a large degree, bodily wholeness and integrity. Leprous skins would pollute the person and render others unclean. And so, a leper was ordered to “live alone; his dwellings shall be outside the camp” (Lv 13:46).

To be a leper in Jesus’ time is to be among the “living dead.” The ailment corrupts both body and spirit. In the gregarious and group-centered culture of the Mediterranean peoples, to live separated from the community is like to be a fish out of water. People could die of seclusion before they died of leprosy itself.
What is important in the Gospel incident is the fact that Jesus touches the leper. By so doing, he challenges his culture’s judgment. He does not become polluted; rather he heals the leper, restoring the person to full membership in God’s community and to solidarity with other men and women.

Daily Gospel Reading - January 13, 2010 PDF Print E-mail

Mark 3:20-21

Jesus and His Relatives

20[Jesus] came home. Again [the] crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. 21When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

His Relatives

The culture of the Mediterranean world places high value upon the kin-group to which one belongs, to one’s family and relatives. The family is the person’s “world,” that which gives him or her identity and role. It not only was the source of a person’s status in the community but also functioned as the primary economic, religious, educational, and social network.

Aside from Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ family includes his “brothers and sisters” (Mk 3:32). These have been variously understood as blood relatives, step-siblings, or cousins. Some scholars, mostly Protestants, while admitting that Jesus was born of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, say that Mary and Joseph had other children, and these are Jesus’ brothers and sisters.  Roman Catholic scholars have espoused that the “brothers and sisters” are cousins in view of the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s “perpetual virginity” (Jesus was born of the divine conception and Mary never had sexual relations after Jesus’ birth).

Today’s Gospel echoes a tradition that Jesus’ immediate family was hostile to his cause in the beginning (Luke [2:19] and John [2:4-5] paint Mary as siding with Jesus). His “relatives” (Greek hoi par’ auto, literally “those belonging to him”) think he is out of his mind. This has to do not just with his not having time for himself, his failure to eat and sleep, but with his choice of life. Jesus’ family expects him to live in Nazareth and to carry on Joseph’s occupation as a carpenter, to marry and to raise a family. But Jesus prefers to be a “marginal Jew”—to live as a itinerant preacher, and make other people his “family,” even those of dubious character. His zeal for his mission makes people close to him question his very sanity.

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