A promise of wholeness
- 2 Kings 5:1-15
- Psalm 30
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
- Mark 1:40-45
God’s power to offer both healing and wholeness is witnessed through the stories of two lepers – Naaman in the Old Testament and the unnamed man in Mark’s gospel. Both are compelling stories that provide further lessons.
The Greek word for leprosy does not necessarily mean the disease we now know by that name (also known as Hansen’s Disease). A variety of skin diseases went by the name “leprosy” and were the most dreaded of all diseases.
In ancient cultures, illnesses and misfortune were seen as a punishment for God and/or the work of evil powers. Such affliction was believed to be a result of the sine committed by the sufferer or his or her parents. The terror of leprosy lay in the diminished physical changes that inevitably came and in the social and spiritual rejection associated with it. The leper lived apart from the community and, when encountering other people, yelled out “Unclean! Unclean!” so that others could avoid contact. Worst of all, no leper could participate in worship or join the community in any religious activities. No one had less dignity or hope than a leper.
The account of the healing of the Syrian army commander, Naaman, is a colorful episode that begins wit the faith of an Israelite slave girl who offered a way that her master might be healed of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:2f). She recognized that Naaman was a decent man, and she wished to see him free from his affliction. In Luke 4:27, Jesus refers to the healing of Naaman as an example of a non-Israelite who was the recipient of Divine healing when the lepers of Israel rejected God’s saving help.
By calling out for help, coming close and kneeling at Jesus’ feet, this leper breaks the law. When Jesus reaches out and touches him, he, too, breaks the Levitical law. Jesus obeys instead the higher law of a compassionate heart. By cleansing this man’s disease, Jesus reconciles the leper to his community and to God. The priest’s declaration of ritual cleanliness reinstates the outcast in his family and in the society. The theologically trained scribes wonder how Jesus can superseded God’s wrath and punishment (3:22, 30)
In an echo of what the lepers might have cried to God, we read the Psalmist’s plea: “I cried to you for help, and you have healed me” (30:2). In both of today’s stories, recovery marks the end of God’s wrath and acknowledges that God’s favor endures for a lifetime. Weeping in the night has been transformed into joy in the morning. The sackcloth of mourning has been replaced with clothes of joy.
The healing power of Jesus’ love and word is an instrument of healing that we too can share as Christians. We experience a cleansing power in the sacrament of absolution and experience of the Eucharist. As we see our healing mission as disciples, we too can spread the light of God’s healing love.
- Today’s Gospel is also found in Matthew 8:1-4 and Luke 5:12-16. What are the similarities and differences of the three versions?
- What faith and doubt does the leper experience? How is this like your own faith and doubt?
- Why do you think Jesus is so insistent about the secrecy of their encounter and for him to go immediately to see the priest?
- How does the leper benefit by showing himself to the priest? How does the community benefit? What might this say about the ministry goals of the Church today?
- What are some human conditions and taboos today that cause people to be as ostracized and feel as unacceptable as lepers did in Jesus’ day?
- When have you felt like a leper?
- Who or what are we expected not to touch?
- Name a taboo that your compassion has caused you to break.
- What groups today are treated like lepers (e.g., AIDS victims, the homeless)?
- Epiphany’s Epistle: Corinthians continued (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)
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