Our readings for this coming Sunday:This Sunday marks the end of our brief winter’s journey through Ordinary Time, and our readings serve as an appropriate transition to the Lenten season by addressing the issue of how we treat those who are sick and in need. While we have an obligation to protect the greater population by separating out those who are sick, we sometimes forget that we also have an obligation to care for those in need. Our readings this week give us the opportunity to examine these issues.
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Our first reading comes from the Book of Leviticus. This second book of Moses takes its name from the priestly tribe of the Levites, for whom this book is a handbook for serving the Hebrew people. Since this book is often referred to as “priestly law,” it is easy for us confuse this book as dealing with strictly religious matters. On the contrary, the ancient Hebrews didn’t have any concept of “religious law” separate from “secular law.” Levite priests not only dealt with matters of spirituality and worship, but they dealt with all issues of daily life, from preparing food, to business conduct, to healthcare and personal hygiene.
This Sunday’s passage from Leviticus describes how those who are sick should be dealt with in the community. In this case, a person with skin sores must be checked by the priest, and if determined to be leprosy, that person must make that known to the community (rending of garments, covering their face) and live apart from the community (making his abode outside the camp). This wasn’t done to humiliate the individual, but rather to protect the remainder of the population. It is a particularly interesting reading in light of our recent measles outbreak and discussion of childhood vaccination.
Though our first reading would seem to be harsh for the individual who is sick, our Psalm response is meant to be a “prescription” by reminding us that in times of trouble, we need to turn to the Lord.
Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. In this week’s short passage, Paul’s message is simple… don’t offend anyone, and live as imitators of Christ. It is by living this way, Paul tells us, that we give glory to God.
Our Gospel from Mark picks up where we left off last week and brings Chapter 4 to a close. Last week we saw Jesus preaching and healing a number of people, and realizing that he needed to head out to other towns and do the same. This week we see Jesus meeting someone with leprosy, whom he cures. Then, in keeping with Mosaic Law, instructs the person to go to the priest so that he can be certified as “clean” and rejoin the community. Here we also see the beginning of what will be a running theme in Mark’s gospel: Although Jesus gives the cured leper a warning not to tell anyone, the word gets out, bringing even larger crowds. At this Jesus tries to seek refuge, yet the people still find him.
While the Mosaic Law had every good intention for keeping the greater population free from disease, their law had some unfortunate side effects. The application of that law, as practiced over the centuries, focused too much on separating the sick from the rest of the population while not focusing enough on the care of those who were sick. Over time this created a marginalized underclass who were ostracized from the community and left to fend for themselves. By curing these people, Jesus not only demonstrated his power from God, but reminds us that we must reach out to those in need. Even today this is a challenge for us, as we strive to work with those suffering with illnesses like cancer and HIV. Like Paul reminds us in our second reading, we need to imitate Christ, and show God’s love to those most in need.