The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – 14 February 2021
Lectionary Readings: Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps 32:2, 5, 11; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45
Theme: The Early Church: Jewish and Gentile
The readings for this Sunday expose the issue of unity that challenged the faith communities in which they were written; together they can enrich our transition toward a deeper understanding of “Church.” A 5th century Mosaic in the Church of Santa Sabina in Rome portrays two women, the “Church from the Circumcision” and the “Church from the Gentiles,” each holding her sacred scriptures – the Hebrew Bible and the Greek/Latin New Testament. The codification of the biblical canon in the 4th-5th centuries conveyed the importance of ecclesial unity which is depicted in the mosaic. Yet, the horror of division lurks behind our texts, as pretexts for exclusion, symbolized by leprosy and the law.
Moved with compassion/pity, Jesus stretches out his hand to the leper and says “Be made clean!” We can’t begin to imagine the liberation that that gesture of healing and inclusion held for him. Leviticus discloses that this man’s life had been doomed to: “live alone, with a dwelling outside the camp, as long as the disease persists” (v. 46). Levine clarifies that leprosy today refers to Hansen’s disease, a serious, disfiguring, contagious illness, but the Hebrew word Tzaraat (Greek lepros, meaning scaly, rough) more likely indicates psoriasis, eczema, or a fungal infection, minor skin problems that were considered forms of ritual impurity. Whichever his situation, the man is healed!
Sherman takes the discussion to another level; he refers to a Midrash which suggested that Tzaraat is divine retribution for slander, blood-shed, false oaths, sexual immorality, etc., in which God isolates the person from society, to experience the pain he has imposed on others, and to heal himself through repentance.
Bobertz recalls the story of Naaman (the Syrian general in 2 Kings 5, who was cured of leprosy) and proposes that the unnamed man of our gospel account is also a Gentile, and a man of great faith, as his reverent approach to Jesus indicates. A rhetorical question emerges here: does Jesus wish to include Gentiles in the Lord’s Supper/the Christian community/and the Reign of God? The gospel’s next step is pivotal: Jesus asks the healed man to show himself to the priest for the usual ritual confirmation of his healing, but there is no indication that the man acted on that. In Bobertz’s view, that is because there is no need for the Christian mission to be authorized by the ritual authority of the temple. However, Jesus’ very request is perceived as a gesture of respect for the temple priesthood.
In the passage from 1 Corinthians, Paul focuses on food-related challenges, which the early Jewish Christians faced, in living their new freedom to relinquish the laws of kosher, as a means to realize the unity of the Jewish and Gentile Christian community, in gathering to celebrate its faith.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. In our time, what might be the “leprosy” that excludes? Reflect on the consequences of that. 2. Here Jesus’ compassion enables healing. Have you experienced or observed something similar in a time of tension? Share your experience.
Bibliography: Sherman, N., Tanach, The Stone Edition,Mesorah (New York: 1998); Bobertz, C. A., The Gospel of Mark, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 2016) Levine A-J. and Brettler, M. Z., The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Second Edition, Oxford University Press (Oxford/New York: 2017).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Diane Willey, nds, Saskatoon, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2005, 2006