February 14, 2021
Sunday Between February 11 and February 17 Inclusive
Not used if assigned date follows Ash Wednesday.
May be replaced by Transfiguration Sunday if the assigned date is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 1:40-45, The Message or Mark 1:40-45, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials. Acknowledgement in oral presentations is not required. Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart, www.holytextures.com."
It is now believed that the disease we call leprosy was rare or non-existent in Palestine at the time of Jesus. However, since that was the translation adopted in the King James Version, that is still widely used even in modern translations.
The exact nature of the disease does not really concern us, because whatever the illness, a person with this disease was outcast from the community, forced to wear torn clothes, let their hair hang loose and uncared for, and warn approaching people by crying out, "Unclean! Unclean!"
Any person healed of the disease also needed to be declared by a priest to be free of the ban of social isolation - that is, to be declared "Clean."
Thus, in the New Testament, "healing" is often a two-step process: recovery from the physical illness or symptoms; then, being declared "clean" and accepted back into the community. (See Leviticus 13 and 14)
It is difficult for me to know how much I am reading back into the text my modern concern for the importance of the self - the importance of personal, willing, participation - voluntary consent - but I find it extra-ordinary that so many of the healing stories involve a conversation about naming one's desires / one's willingness.
The leper does not simply beg, "Please heal me." Rather, there is an affirmation of Jesus' authority that also requires his willingness:
If you choose, you can make me clean.
The verb translated as "you can make me clean," and "be made clean," also means "declare to be clean."
"Moved with pity" - other manuscripts have, "Moved with anger."
When Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the leper, he violates the social ban imposed on the leper - Jesus touches an "Untouchable."
Note the two steps: the leprosy leaves the man, and secondly, he is made clean.
All that remains now is for the priest to declare the man clean so that he can be formally restored to his community. This is what Jesus tells him to go and do.
At the time of Jesus it was dishonourable and shameless to boast, to claim a higher status or honour for oneself.
Others could praise you. Could gossip about you; could spread the word about what great things you could do. Could make it impossible for you to go into towns because the crowds attracted to see you would be too great.
But you? You yourself could NOT be seen as seeking this fame. Seeking fame - or even publically agreeing to it - would be shameful, and therefore would prove that you were not truly worthy of the honour others were giving you.
This text is rich with possibilities for reflecting on social isolation and the touching willingness that heals and restores community.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, page 151; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
Mark 1:40-45 (NRSV)
40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying 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 word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 1:40-45 (The Message)
40 A leper came to him, begging on his knees, "If you want to, you can cleanse me."
41 Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, "I want to. Be clean." 42 Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy. 43 Jesus dismissed him with strict orders: 44 "Say nothing to anyone. Take the offering for cleansing that Moses prescribed and present yourself to the priest. This will validate your healing to the people." 45 But as soon as the man was out of earshot, he told everyone he met what had happened, spreading the news all over town. So Jesus kept to out-of-the-way places, no longer able to move freely in and out of the city. But people found him, and came from all over.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.