6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading for this weekend comes from the Book of Leviticus. In sequence, Leviticus is the fourth book in modern translations of the Bible. As such, it is part of the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch includes the five books of the Bible attributed to Moses. These five books are the Torah.
The Pentateuch forms the fundamental law, and philosophy, of Judaism, both in current understandings and in ancient practices as well.
In this reading, God speaks to Moses and to Aaron, the brother of Moses. The topic is leprosy. Today it is not known whether these references to leprosy in the Scriptures referred to Hansen’s disease, or to some other illness. However, regardless of the exact scientific nature of what the ancients called leprosy, the problem was chronic and severe.
An entire social system developed around the disease. Victims were outcasts. They suffered being shunned, but they also most often virtually had to forage for food and search for any shelter they could find.
Ancient Jews would never blame God for the fact of such a serious malady. God was regarded as good, loving and merciful. The ancient Hebrews saw human sin as ultimately the cause of all earthly misery.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians furnishes this liturgy with its second reading. In this reading, the great Apostle counsels the Christians of Corinth never to offend either Jew or Gentile. This advice reveals that the Corinthian Christian community involved both Jews and Gentiles. Jews actually lived in places throughout the Roman Empire, not just in the Holy Land.
Paul urges that the Christians follow his example, because Paul says that he imitates Christ.
For its last reading, the Church gives us a passage from the Gospel of Mark.
In this reading, a leper approaches Jesus, asking for a cure. The same attitude about leprosy, whatever this disease actually was, applied among Jews at the time of Jesus as it did among Jews at the time of Moses.
Jesus cured the man, the Lord being “moved with pity,” according to Mark. This cure came when Jesus touched the man. Symbolic touching is very important in the liturgy. It represents contact and transferal. In Ordinations, the ordaining bishop lays his hands upon the candidates to be ordained bishop, priest or deacon. At weddings, the bride and bridegroom hold each other’s hands.
Jesus transmitted the healing power of God to the man through this touch. Then, Jesus spoke the miraculous words of healing.
The Lord ordered the man to go to the priests. The man had been exiled from the community because of his illness. The priests could reinstate him. But, the priests had to see that he was free of disease.
These weeks after Christmas, the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, and the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Church continues through these Scriptural readings at Mass to introduce us to the person and ministry of Jesus.
In the readings this weekend, the horror of leprosy, as it was seen among Jews long ago, is critical to understanding the readings. It is necessary to apply the circumstances to ourselves.
As did leprosy, sin leads to death. Furthermore, it separates us from the one community of faith in the Lord. We sinners are outcasts and strangers, left to struggle in any way we can, and this is the problem.
Living in sin is to be in a world in which selfishness is supreme. Jesus, always moved by love, cures us by forgiving our sins. Forgiven, we enter again the family of God. Life, not death, is our destiny.
The key is to have faith, repent and live according to the Lord’s model, as Paul lived. This model means living with Jesus.
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