Ordinary Time – Cycle B
1 Cor 10,31-11,1
Jesus announces and makes present in the midst of men the Kingdom of God. In him are present and operative the God’s compassion for human suffering and his power to give life in abundance. He hears the cry of the poor that invokes him, and extends his hand to comfort him and bring him out of the suffering and negative situation where he finds himself. He or she who has had the grace to be touched by him and healed cannot remain inactive, but becomes instantly a witness of the good news that in Jesus, God truly saves us… As Paul, that having met Jesus that transformed him, shares his passion for a longing humanity which longs salvation, and forgetting himself, is preoccupied only with the salvation of others.
The first reading (Lev 13, 1-2.45-46) makes up part of the section of the book of Leviticus that runs from chapter 11 to chapter 15. This is like a manual to know how to distinguish that, which is ritually pure from that which is impure. A person or an animal, or also a contaminated object by contact with an impure person, are declared impure not because of some moral fault, but because in some way contradict the integrity of creation described in Genesis 1. All that is not integral and perfect (not in a moral sense) is excluded from worship because its participation would be out of tune with sanctity, that is with the complete perfection of God (see Lev 15,31). The small code treats four cases of impurity: the distinction between impure and pure animals (11,1-47), childbirth (12,1-8), the leper (13,1-14,57), and sexual impurities (15,1-33).
The verses selected today for the first reading are taken from the section on leprosy. The Hebrew text speaks of sora’at that can mean various sicknesses of the skin; it does not seem to be speaking of leprosy truly itself, but rather of curable and temporary sicknesses. Anyhow, these illnesses were considered contagious and therefore the isolation for those that were infected with them was prescribed (see 13,45-46). It is good to point out thought, that the principle scope of isolation of the Levitic code was not hygienic but religious. The lack of integrity or physical perfection made a person non-suitable to participate in worship. It is the work of the priest to declare that a person is, in effect, hit by sora’at and it is also his prerogative to declare that a person is healed. This the priest does not like a physician but as interpreter of the law. Once that he had declared someone pure, that is healed, the rites of purification could be carried out and the person could be reintegrated into the worshiping community.
The second reading (1 Cor 10,31-11,1) is the final part of the section of the first letter to the Corinthians (7,1-11,1), in which Paul responds to some questions made to him by the Corinthians themselves regarding certain problems they were encountering. The last question treated by Paul (10,21-11,1) regards food: can meat be eaten or not bought in the market but had been sacrificed to idols? Paul responds that in the beginning all could be eaten, but that there are cases in which prudence and charity impede eating this meat to not scandalize others. In the last verses Paul takes up the two parts of his response and proposes them as general principles of Christian behavior. The ultimate criteria to know if something is licit or not is that this gives glory to God or no. However, Paul adds quickly that it is necessary to pay attention to the conscience of others, be it of Christians or others, Jews or pagans, whoever they may be. As “Christ did not look to please himself” (Rm 15,3), so Paul searched always to forget himself and become a servant of all for their salvation (see 1 Cor 9,19-22). The Corinthian Christians, and all Christians with them, are invited to imitate Paul in his consciousness of one’s responsibility for the salvation of all.
In the Gospel (Mk 1,40-45), Mark continues to help us discover gradually who is really Jesus of Nazareth. This brief account of the healing of the leper shows the authority and power of Jesus, in which is manifested the mercy of God that liberates man and destroys all barriers that divide humanity.
The leper finds Jesus in the open, on the street, while he goes to the diverse villages of Galilee. The lepers lived outside the cities, and when they saw someone drawing close to them they had to yell: ‘impure’, ‘impure’, to stop the others from drawing near and becoming also impure. This man, in fact, is excluded from society and religion, and cannot enter in direct contact with others, not participate in worship in the synagogue, separated from communion of life with God as one that has descended into the tomb. Still Jesus allows himself to be found by him because the Kingdom of God and salvation do not know limits of any type and is offered to all men and women without preference. The leper “pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to…you can cure me’” (v. 40). Jesus has the power to heal him and the authority to decide his worthiness. This power and authority are not those of the priest that could declare a leper healed, but certainly could not heal him. To be a leper, is for the Old Testament almost the equivalent to being dead and therefore healing of a leper was considered a work truly marvelous, equated to the resurrection of a dead person. Only God can do it (see Num 12,10-12; 2 K 5,7).
In the face of the suppliant’s suffering “Jesus feeling sorry for him, stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’” (v. 41). The verb “feeling sorry” translates the Greek verb splangnízomai , that indicates the tenderness and love that spring worth from the maternal womb. Jesus acts moved by mercy without limits that God has in the face of man and woman. Then, Jesus “stretched out his hand”. Thinking of this gesture we cannot help but remember that the Old Testament, to indicate God’s power operative in history in favor of his people, particularly in the exodus, says that God has liberated Israel “with powerful hand and outstretched arm” (Dt 7,19; see also Ex 3,19-20; 6,1; Dt 7,19, 9,26; 11,2; 26,8; Js 4,24; Ps 136,12; Dn 9,15). The action of Jesus is a work of liberation in favor of the segregated and destroyed man. Jesus shows himself to have the same divine power that saves healing the leper with the touch of his hand and the word that he pronounces. The words “I want to, be cured” place us in front of the most profound desire of Jesus, that makes itself explicit in a will of healing and purifying, overcoming a Judaism that divides, separates, organizing ritually men and women, margining the impure and reintegrating the healthy, but without being able to purify them. God demonstrates through the desire of Jesus his design regarding every man and woman: being pure, that is capable of entering in relationship with the Holy God and with other men and women, without impediments and in full liberty. Touching a leper one became impure like him. But Jesus, touching this leper, makes him pure and touchable.
Jesus sends the leper to a priest so that he may certify his healing. Then, following the indications of Leviticus, had to offer a sacrifice. Jesus wants to reinsert the healed leper in the community of Israel. But the leper goes beyond that because he commenced quickly to spread the news of that which happened to him: he begins to “proclaim” (Greek: kerissein, from the term kerygma) that which Jesus did. Like Peter’s mother-in-law, just healed, began to serve, so also this leper, just healed, thinks to share with others the gift received. He that has been healed “telling the story everywhere (ton logon)”. In Mark’s Gospel, the term lógos indicates the teaching of Jesus (cf. Mk 2,2; 4,14; 8,32; 13,31). The way that this “purified” man had to walk to Jesus is the way that every disciple has to find: come to him, accept his or her human limitations, experiencing the mercy and liberating power of Jesus that makes every man and woman free, and finally becoming evangelist and witness of the great works of God.