| Lv 13:1-2, 44-46
|| Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11
|| 1 Cor 10:31-11:1
|| Mk 1:40-45
Who may join the believing community?
During Ordinary time, the Lectionary readings invite us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. Today’s readings ask the believing community and RCIA participants to think about separation and healing.
In the first reading from the book of Leviticus, the priestly author describes the ritual process for evaluating serious skin diseases (often mistranslated as “leprosy.”) With little understanding of medical conditions, causes, and correlations, the ancient Jews considered those affected to be ritually unclean. Striving to be holy like God, they sought ritual and moral purity in their lives, separating those who were unclean. When the person’s unclean skin condition cleared up, a priest ritually restored the person to the community. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to provide the religious and social context for today’s gospel.
In the second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul continues answering the Corinthians’ questions. They ask if they can eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 10:25-30). Today’s reading begins immediately after Paul’s detailed answer. Paul now offers a general teaching, telling the Corinthians that they must look at the big picture to avoid offending others. Paul’s goal is to bring Jesus’ saving message to all (Jews and Greeks). Paul humbles himself to please everyone, and invites the Corinthians to follow his example.
In Mark’s gospel, a man with a serious skin condition seeks Jesus out and is healed.
- The man’s request. The man comes to Jesus. As we learn from the first reading, the man violates Mosaic law by entering the village and not calling out “Unclean!” In his words (“begging”) and actions (“kneeling”) he shows his faith in Jesus. He says, “If you want to cleanse me, you have the power.” The Greek verb δύναμαι (DOO-nah-mah-ee), meaning “to have power,” is the root of the English word dynamite. This word reminds us that the Baptizer’s promised “one more powerful is coming” (Mk 1:7).
- Jesus’ response. Jesus responds with compassion: “Of course I want to! Let your healing be done,” and touches the man. The man’s healing is immediate. Jesus, following the law, instructs the man to present himself to a priest so the man could be fully restored to community life.
- A theology within the story. Through his compassionate, healing gesture of touching the man, Jesus makes himself ritually unclean. In some way, Jesus and the man trade places. Mark tells us that, because of the man’s proclamations, Jesus is unable to enter the town and has to stay outside in the empty places (v 45).
The readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider inclusion and exclusion. To protect the community’s holiness, the Jewish priests had the authority to exclude those whose outward appearance indicated spiritual illness. The man in today’s gospel seeks wholeness. He knows Jesus has the power to heal him, if Jesus wishes. Of course Jesus wants to! What about us? We have the power to exclude those who look or act differently. We also have the power to heal by including those who ask to join us. Whom do we exclude or separate? When have we been included and healed? Who still remains in the empty places, waiting?
||Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
||1 Cor 2:6-10
The law, the kingdom, and the challenge of discipleship
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. The gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings focus on the need of a disciple’s attitudes and actions to surpass the Law.
In the first reading, the wisdom writer Sirach links free will with human responsibility. God gives everyone a choice to choose good or evil; the wise person chooses to follow the Law (commandments), and therefore to choose life. Christian hearers also understand God has given us a model to follow (Jesus, God’s son). Jesus’ own choices provide a template for actions and attitudes that exceed the Law (see today’s gospel).
The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, Paul urged the Corinthians to search for something wiser than human wisdom. This week, Paul tells the Corinthians that they can grasp God’s wisdom only if they become open to the Spirit and the language that the Spirit teaches.
Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today Jesus challenges his disciples to go beyond the Law’s requirements and so to become more intimately aligned with God’s kingdom. The reading has three parts:
- Jesus and the Law. Jesus makes it clear both to his disciples and to his opponents that the Law–which reveals God–stands forever. To describe his role, Jesus uses the Greek word πληρόω (play-ROH-oh), which means not only “to make complete” but “to fill or fulfill abundantly.” Jesus’ attitudes and actions complete or fulfill the picture of God already revealed in the Law.
- Jesus’ challenge to disciples. Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees not for their desire to follow the Law, but for their focus on the Law’s proscriptions rather than its intent. The scribes and Pharisees study and follow the Law to make themselves righteous before God. Jesus’ disciples must seek God first, then live the Law.
- Jesus’ examples of greater righteousness. Jesus corrects and expands the Law to further reveal God. He introduces each teaching with the formula: “You have heard it said…, but I say to you;” he speaks with more authority than Moses and (as God’s son) with the legal force of God. He reveals the human attitudes behind murder (anger), adultery (selfish desire), divorce (defending one’s honor/avoiding shame), and oaths (deceit). He then challenges disciples to actions that are beyond the Law’s requirements: replace anger with love and forgiveness; replace selfish desire with love; replace honor/shame with forgiveness and love; replace deceit with plain-spoken truth. Only when disciples exceed the Law’s requirements can they enter God’s kingdom.
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how we, as disciples, encounter God in the Law. Choosing the Law over evil is our first step. Observing the Law makes us better people. Seeking God revealed in the Law and living the beatitudes makes us disciples worthy of the kingdom. Do we see the Law as a limit to personal freedom? Do we find the Law a burden because there are too many rules? Do we encounter God in the Law by seeing our human weaknesses? Do we see the Father’s love and caring in those attitudes and actions that exceed the Law?