Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we open with the first reading from Leviticus in which we see the procedure for dealing with the skin disease of leprosy. While this may not seem like a random passage to read, it becomes an important back drop for the New Testament and Gospel reading where we learn that whole-hearted obedience to which Jesus calls His followers.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from the Book of Leviticus, this provides some insight into the incident between Jesus and a man afflicted with leprosy that we will see later in the Gospel lesson.
(Leviticus 13:1-2) 1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 "When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or a scab or a bright spot, and it becomes an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.
(Leviticus 13:44-46) 44 he is a leprous man, he is unclean. The priest shall surely pronounce him unclean; his infection is on his head. 45 "As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!' 46 "He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
The Old Testament law gave specific regulations for the well-being of a community. One such regulation was that of infectious diseases. The disease of leprosy was could devastate a community, so God gave them instructions on how to deal with this problem. The person who had leprosy had to be inspected by the priest and separate himself from the rest of the people. This would be a dire diagnosis. The law also provided instructions for what a leprous person would do if they became healed. They must present themselves to the priest and offer a sacrifice (Lev. 14:1-32). This information will be important as we move toward the Gospel, since Jesus healed a man of leprosy. The priests would have had to dig out their law books to put this into practice, since being healed of leprosy was uncommon until Jesus came onto the scene.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The second reading is from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In the context of this passage, Saint Paul addresses many issues that were perplexing the new believers in Corinth who had to make many decisions in a pagan culture. One of the decisions had to do with eating food that had been previously sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 10:18-19). He says that the food does not inherently have anything sacrilegious about it, but one’s motive was really the determining factor in all decisions for a godly life.
(1 Corinthians 10:31 - 11:1) 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. 1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
Paul teaches that the underlying motive of the heart needs to be God’s glory, no matter what we do. It’s hard for us to imagine how eating or drinking can even have religious connotations, but he affirms that all of life can be sacred if done with God and His glory in mind. Part of God’s glory is when we surrender our wants and demands in order to bring others to know Him. Paul laid down his Jewish food purity laws to reach the Gentiles living in a pagan culture. We may not have this same backdrop, but we can still be challenged by this to consider how our lives lived for God can be useful for ministering to others who are different than us. That is how we can imitate Paul and so imitate Christ.
An example of this very thing happened a few summers ago when we were in France on a cultural discovery trip for our local college. After church, we were invited over for a very culturally French tradition called “aperitif.” This tradition is a rare invitation to foreigners, so we felt honored to be invited to a French person’s home, and were glad that the students did not come along. We were not normally used to imbibing in strong drink in the middle of the day, especially right after church. We drank and enjoyed their hospitality with a clear conscience because of Paul’s teaching. We were building bridges with people who needed to see the light of Christ in our lives and we met them on their turf for God’s glory.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
The Gospel lesson is from Mark Chapter one which continues from last week. The context is the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry in his adopted home town of Capernaum, where He first met Saint Peter. From there He left and went to a secluded place to pray where Simon and his companions began looking for Him (Mark 1:35-36). Next, Jesus traveled to another city (see Luke 5:12) and continued His miraculous healing ministry there.
(Mark 1:40-45) 40 And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and *said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed." 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. 43 And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.
We see in this story the fulfillment of the Old Testament passage on leprosy we studied in the first reading. In those days there was no known cure for leprosy so you can imagine the desperation of anyone afflicted with the awful, skin eating disease. Several insights can be observed from this interaction. First, the leper knew he had a problem that he couldn’t fix on his own. Second, he came humbly to Jesus, falling on his knees and asking him for healing. Even this early on in Jesus’ ministry the man knew that Jesus offered a potential cure for his disease. Third, we see that Jesus had compassion on this desperate man and was willing to heal him. Fourth, in all probability the priests had never in all of Jewish history ever had the need to exercise the provisions in the Law for the confirmation of a leper’s healing. Jesus instructed the man to go to the priest as commanded in the Law of Moses (v. 44). Mark may have included this interaction in order to confirm the evidence that Jesus was the promised Messiah, fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.
Unfortunately, the man failed to follow Jesus’ order to not proclaim the source of his healing, but rather went and widely spread the news about this miraculous event. This story set the tone for Jesus’ subsequent ministry in which throngs of people came to him for healing but at the same time neglected the weightier matters of the heart (Matthew 23:23).
What does this mean for us today? Like the leprous man, we too can be tempted to turn to God in times of crisis to heal our temporal circumstances, without being willing to completely follow Him in trusting obedience. It is easy for us to think we know better than Jesus in other matters of our lives that don’t seem to be so desperate or even “spiritual.” But as we saw in 1 Cor. 10:31, everything can be considered spiritual and done for God’s glory. Having a trusting obedience is what glorifies God. In Luke’s Gospel we find a circumstance where Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one of them returned to Jesus and thanked Him (Luke 17:11-19). Although God stands ready to help deliver us from our temporary circumstance, we need to be willing to look beyond them to see what God could be doing through them, so that He can be glorified in our lives.
When I was a teenager, I used to go out and party with my friends, and then drag myself to Mass the next morning. This type of compartmentalization was a subtle way for me to justify doing my own thing and still trying to be in good with God. I felt that by going to Mass I was earning points with Him to make up for the bad things that I did. Since then, I’ve come to understand that Jesus calls us to live an integrated life. I realized that I could not live an obedient life without God’s help. I came to Jesus like the leper and fell on my knees and asked Jesus to heal me of the corruption and discontinuity within my own heart. He was willing, just as with the leprous man. When we come to Him and ask Him to save us, He gives us His Spirit to help us live a unified life (John 14:16). We don’t have to end up like the leprous man, who merely used Jesus to get his way. Instead, we can surrender to God and let Him have His way in and through us. This is the way of Christianity.
1. In what ways can you relate to my story of how I lived during my teenage years? Are there still ways you are tempted to live a “compartmentalized” faith? What are the root issues that need to be confronted and confessed to Jesus, our one mediator (1 Tim. 2:5)?
2. How can you see your life choices fall under the umbrella of God’s glory? We may not be able to do “spiritual” things all day, but if we are surrendered to God, everything we do can be spiritual and give Him glory. Are there ways that you can have this mindset at your job, in your family responsibilities and even as you interact with people who are different from you? How might your week look different if you sacrificed your preferences to serve others so that others might see Christ in you?