February 15, 2015, is the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings will be Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; and Mark 1:40-45.
This Sunday’s Gospel reading includes another of Jesus’ healing miracles, a primary focus in Mark’s Gospel. For Mark, these events are significant in revealing the identity of Jesus; they also allow Jesus to teach through actions rather than words. In next Sunday’s passage, Jesus heals a leper, one afflicted with one of many contagious skin diseases referred to in Jesus’ day as leprosy. He is considered “untouchable” and required to live apart from the rest of society. Jesus restores his health and, being a faithful Jew himself, reminds the man to follow the Jewish law requiring a priest to validate his healing and grant him permission to return to society. Jesus also asks the healed leper not to reveal the circumstances of his healing.
This Sunday’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Leviticus provides the background for what we hear in the Gospel. Leviticus is one of the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch. Commentators point out that “Leviticus is a book teaching Israel how to be clean and holy in God’s presence – a major aspect to Israel’s covenantal obligations with God. …much of the material …deals with legal matters around purity…purity laws [address] topics from food to personal hygiene.”
While perhaps necessary to protect the community from disease, the leper’s separation from the community added psychological and emotional pain to the physical pain of the disease. The leper also suffered the spiritual pain associated with the belief at the time that disease was a result of sin. Jesus shows his knowledge and respect for the law, but at the same time places the greatest value on the well-being of the suffering person as he encounters him, even stretching out his hand to offer him the human touch he has gone without.
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