6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: God Restores Us
In the Old Testament a person suffering from the contagious condition of leprosy was declared unfit for living within the community, and unfit for offering sacrifice and worship in the Jerusalem Temple (First Reading).  In a similar way, an unconfessed and unrepentant sinner becomes spiritually separated from the community of believers and is unfit to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:27-29). 

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus stretches out His hand, pronounces His divine word, and a leper is cleansed and restored to his community and to worship in the Temple.  The same miracle happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance).  We confess our sins to the Lord, and through the outstretched hand and divine word spoken by the priest in Jesus' name, the Lord God takes away the "uncleanness" of our sins and restores us to fellowship with God and the covenant community.  Like the repentant sinner in our Psalm Reading, we should rejoice in the Lord because He has forgiven us, and like the leper in the Gospel Reading, we should share the good news of His mercy and forgiveness.  We should testify to our spiritual healing by living in holiness, renouncing sin, and demonstrating in our actions our love for God and our love for our neighbor (Mt 22:36-40).  As St. Paul writes in the Second Reading, we should show our gratitude to the Lord by doing even the littlest acts that give glory to God so that others who see our example might believe and be saved.

The First Reading Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 ~ The Law Concerning Leprosy
1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2 "If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch which appears to be the sore of leprosy, he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest, or to one of the priests among his descendants." 
44 "If the man is leprous and unclean, the priest shall declare him unclean by reason of the sore on his head.  45 The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, 'Unclean, unclean!'  46 As long as the sore is on him, he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean.  He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp."

The main duty of the priests of the Sinai Covenant was to preside over the sacrifices in the liturgical worship services, but they also had other duties to perform for the community which are recorded in this section of the Book of Leviticus, including duties associated with public health.  They were to examine and make decisions on health issues that had the potential of becoming hazardous to the entire community. The procedure for suspicious skin conditions consisted of examination and isolation for seven day periods before the priest reached a final determination.  The main concern in these public health examinations was, of course, the very dangerous skin disease, leprosy.  Today there are medications that can contain and control the disease, but in the ancient world this disease condemned a person to a life of miserable isolation and a slow and disfiguring death.  It was a tragedy for a covenant member to be diagnosed with a contagious skin disease like leprosy.  They were expelled from the community and forced to live alone or in groups with others in the same physically "unclean" state (Lk 17:12).  They were required to show physical signs of their forced separation by shaving their heads, wearing torn garments and covering their beards; all signs of death, penance and mourning (Lev 10:6; Ez 24:17).  They could not offer sacrifice in the desert Sanctuary, nor, in Jesus' time, could they join the congregations of the local Synagogues or worship in the Jerusalem Temple, because their unclean condition made them "unfit" for worship. 

In 2 Kings 5:8 the prophet Elijah invoked God's divine name and healed a Gentile leper named Naaman.  His act proved that Israel's God was stronger than any human contagion whether it was leprosy or sin.  The miracle also prefigured the healing and restoring of the Gentile peoples of the earth to fellowship with God.  Elijah's deed, under the power of the Holy Spirit, proved he was God's holy prophet.  Jesus also healed lepers (today's Gospel Reading).  But He is far more than a prophet—Jesus is God visiting His people (Ez 34:11-12, 15-16), to heal them, restore them, and to raise them up to an internal purity through the Sacrament Baptism in His death and resurrection, to make them fit for worship in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Responsorial Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11 ~ Turn to God for Restoration from Sin
Response: "I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation."
1 Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered.  2 Blessed the man to whom the LORD imputes not guilt, in whose spirit there is no guile.
Response:
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not.  I said, "I confess my faults to the LORD," and you took away the guilt of my sin.
Response:
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart.
Response:

This psalm, attributed to King David after being forgiven of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam chapter 11 and 12:13), is the second of the seven Penitential Psalms of the Church (see Pss 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130 and 143).  The psalmist does not claim to be innocent of his sin.  He expresses his repentance and the covering of his guilt through the sacrificial blood rite of the sin sacrifice (Lev 4:27-35), offered to God through His priest who makes atonement for the covenant member's sin and in God's name offers forgiveness (Lev 4:35b).  The sin is both the sinful act and its injurious consequences. The forgiveness comes not through the sacrifice of the animal itself, but through the humble contrition of the penitent sinner (Ps 51:18-19), and blessed is the man who experiences God's mercy and forgiveness (verses 1-2) which allows him to approach God with a sincere heart (verses 5, 11). 

In the Church's use of the Penitential Psalms, we celebrate the happiness of the person who acknowledges that his sins have been forgiven through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Christ's blood, however, does not merely cover the sin but washes us clean and restores us to fellowship with God and the community of the faithful.  In this connection, St. John Chrysostom (c. 344/354-407) wrote, quoting from Psalm 32:5 ~ "Shall I remind you of the different paths of repentance?  For there are many, each distinct and different, and they all lead to heaven.  The first way of penance consists in the accusation and acknowledgement of sin ... For this reason the psalmist says: 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.'  Therefore, if you condemn in yourself the deed by which you gave offence, the confession will obtain your pardon before the Lord; for the one who condemns his offence makes it more difficult for himself to commit that sin again.  Ensure that your conscience is always alert: it will be your private prosecutor, and then there will be no one else to accuse you before the tribunal of God.  This is the first and best path of penitence" (De diabolo tentatore, 6).

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1 ~ For the Glory of God
31 Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.  32 Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.  11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Every Christian is morally responsible not only for his own actions but also for the negative or positive influence his actions might have on others.  It is the right use of Christian freedom expressed first negatively (verse 32), and then positively, as exemplified in Paul's life (verse 33), and finally as grounded in Christ (11:1).  All actions should give glory to God by living "in imitation of Christ."  In this way, others who view your life as sanctified to God may be encouraged to follow your example which may lead them to salvation. 

Such small actions as wearing a cross or offering a prayer before meals in a public place give a witness to others of your faith in Christ Jesus.  St. Basil the Great (c. 330/357-379) commented on this passage from 1 Corinthians by writing: "When you sit down to eat bread, do so thanking him for being so generous to you.  If you drink wine, be mindful of him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness.  When you dress, thank him for his kindness in providing you with clothes.  When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God's feet and adore him who in his wisdom has arranged things in this way.  Similarly, when the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise the Creator" (Hom. in Julittam, martyrem).

The Gospel of Mark 1:40-45 ~ Jesus Heals and Cleanses a Leper
40 A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean."  41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it.  Be made clean."  42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.  43 Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.  44 Then he said to him, "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."  45 The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.  He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.  He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

We read about the Law concerning a person diagnosed with leprosy in the First Reading.  Those persons were virtually excommunicated from the community and doomed to live in poverty and isolation.  They had to wear torn garments with an uncovered head, they had to cry out "unclean" wherever they went, and they had to remain outside the community in deserted places.  The life of a leper was like a living death.  Not only was a leper ritually unclean but anyone who came in contact with a leper was also considered unclean.  A leper could not worship in the Temple until he or she had been pronounced healed, and anyone who was in contact with a leper could not worship in the Temple until he or she had undergone ritual purification. 

The leper in the Gospel story makes a bold move in coming to Jesus.  He takes the risk because he has confidence that Jesus can heal him (Mk 1:40).  Jesus feels compassion for the man, and He is not made "unclean" by coming into contact with the leper.  Instead, the leper was "made clean" by contact with Jesus just as we are "cleansed" by contact with Jesus in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.   

Notice that there is a sacramental quality to Jesus healing the man: Jesus stretches out his hand (verse 41), just as God, by His "outstretched hand" performed mighty acts to save the Israelites in the Exodus experience and in other mighty deeds in the history of the covenant people (Ex 13:9; 14, 16; 15:6; etc., and as Jesus' disciples prayed in Acts 4:30).  This ritual sign is accompanied by His divine word: "I will do it.  Be made clean."  And like God's divine word in the Creation event, Jesus' word brings about what He commands (see Ps 33:9).

44 Then he said to him, "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."
Jesus asks the man to keep secret the source of his healing.  This is the first instance of what Biblical scholars call the "messianic secret" in Mark's Gospel, where Jesus insists on concealing His true identity until the time He chooses to make the revelation.  Notice that Jesus tells the man to show himself to a priest (see Lev 14:1-20).  The old Sinai Covenant and its laws are still in place and will remain in place until Jesus fulfills the old and replaces it with the New Covenant (Lk 22:20; Heb 8:7, 13).  In the meantime, Jesus is obedient to the Law of the old covenant (Mt 5:17-20).  Jesus told the man to show himself to a priest who had the power under the Law to confirm that he was healed.  Then, under the priest's direction, on the eighth day after his examination, the man could return to the Temple to perform the ritual of purification, offer the necessary sacrifices, be restored to the community, and returned to fellowship with God (Lev 14:10).  It is significant that the ritual of purification for a leper is on the "eighth day" when the man is restored to the community and to fellowship with God in the Sanctuary.  The significant "eighth day" is symbolically the day of the person's "resurrection" to a new life.  The number eight in the significance of numbers in Scripture is symbolic of salvation, regeneration, and new life.  It will be the day Jesus Christ will be resurrection from the dead on the day after the seventh day Jewish Sabbath (see CCC 349).

45 The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.  He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.  He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
Jesus cautioned the man He healed not to reveal the miracle (verse 44).  Jesus' true identity must not be revealed too soon; He must fulfill the words of the prophets before the opposition to His ministry climaxes in His Passion.  The healed leper is, however, unable to keep quiet in his joy over his healing and restoration to his family and community (verse 45a).  The former leper is restored to the community, but as for Jesus, it becomes impossible for Him to enter the town because of the crowds of people who want to see Him (verse 45b).  Ironically Jesus and the man have traded places.  Jesus has healed the man at a personal cost and has taken on the leper's previous status of being outside the towns.  But Jesus is not isolated because the people kept coming to Him as news continued to spread about His miraculous healings and His teachings. 

Catechism References:
Psalm 32 (CCC 304); 32:5 (CCC 1502)
Mark 1:40-41 (CCC 2616); 1:41 (CCC 1504)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015