A Commentary and Reflection on the Readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46, 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, Mark 1:40-45.
We are All Lepers who the Liturgy and the Sacraments Heal Through Communion
For the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B, the First Reading from Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46, and the Gospel Reading from Mark 1:40-45 gives us the opportunity to hear two different accounts of how God dealt with His people suffering from the skin condition the Bible calls ‘leprosy,’ which is one of the most mentioned diseases in sacred Scripture. The term ‘leprosy’ and its variant nerve and skin bacterial diseases are mentioned around sixty-eight times in the Bible (55 in the Old Testament and 13 in the New Testament). Leprosy was such an obvious deformity of the skin that many people feared it as a contagion or a sign of personal impurity and sin, and as a result, social laws required that people with evidence of having leprosy be isolated from the community (i.e., excommunicated) and deemed spiritually unclean.
The verses in Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 are part of the laws God gave to Israel’s people in the Old Testament. These verses talk about how to identify and deal with a skin problem that is not the same as the disease we know today as leprosy or Hansen’s disease. The skin condition in Leviticus might have been more closely related to what today we call psoriasis.
While today’s Catholic priests are charged with administering the sacraments of healing for the body and the soul, such as the Sacraments of Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, Penance and Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick, the Old Covenant priests had a dual role of religious and medical leaders. They had the authority to isolate those who had spiritual or physical problems by declaring them unclean and banishing them from the camp. Some of the conditions that made a person unclean were genital discharges, menstruation, and childbirth until the woman completed the purification ritual. The laws in Leviticus reflect the Israelites’ understanding of purity and holiness. They believed that any bodily defect or disorder made them unholy because God commanded them to “be holy as the Lord your God is holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Therefore, anyone who had “leprosy” had to “live alone – his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:46); again, excommunicated.
Through this context, we better understand the leper we encounter in today’s Gospel Reading. Not only has this man been excommunicated from the community of God’s people, but he has been declared untouchable. Yet, he breaks the law to enter the community and then kneels down to beg Jesus to break the law to heal him, saying, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” The fact that Jesus touches the untouchable and heals the unhealable demonstrates that He must have believed that this particular Mosaic law was beneath the mercy of God. When Jesus then tells the man, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them,” it rubs us as being humorous because this is a lawless man. Given the number of laws he has broken in this text alone, no evidence suggests he has any regard for law, authority, or tradition. So, rather than heeding Jesus’ demand that he keep quiet about the matter until he obeys the law by showing himself to the priests, the text tells us that the lawless man “went away and began to publicize the whole matter.”
There will always be tension between what man deems to be the subjective common good for all versus what is objectively good and pleasing to God. It may have been the sensible, practical, and common good for those perceived as being physically or sinfully contagious to be excommunicated. However, according to the Apostle Paul in today’s Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, our calling is not to pursue the common good for many but the divine good for all, which is won by doing “everything for the glory of God” pleasing “everyone in every way,” not seeing the benefit of self “but that of many that they may be saved.” Therefore, while excommunication and leaving people to die alone might be a common good, the higher and divine good is their salvation.
The paradox is that as sinners against God’s love, we are all lepers and not worthy of communion with Him. However, at the same time, we are the leper who gets down on our knees at Mass for communion with Him.
One of our faith’s most beautiful and profound truths is that we are called to communion with God and one another. Through the liturgy of the Mass and the sacraments, we encounter the real living presence of Christ, who invites us to share in His life and love. The liturgy is the source and summit of our Christian life, where we worship God in spirit and truth and receive His grace and mercy. The sacraments are the signs and instruments of God’s saving action, where we are cleansed, healed, nourished, strengthened, and sent forth from the Mass to be His witnesses in the world. Through the liturgy and the sacraments, we are drawn into a deeper relationship with Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the one who leads us to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who makes us part of His mystical body, the Church. He is the one who offers us the hope of eternal life. We are called to communion because we are made for communion. We are created in the image and likeness of God, who is a communion of persons. We are destined to share in the divine life a communion of love. We are redeemed by Christ, who died and rose for us to restore our communion with God and with one another. We are called to communion because we are loved by God, who desires nothing more than our happiness and holiness.
This is just one way the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us in how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.