Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The OT reading is from Leviticus and is heartbreaking. The Lord requires that the leper be cast out.

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.

I’ve thought it was understood that so much of the rules of the ancients that to us today seem weirdly arbitrary are in fact rooted in commonsensical ideas for their time. Mostly I’ve thought this is terms of the Jewish dietary laws, what makes certain things kosher or not kosher. Similar the halal as well. Prohibitions against eating certain foods or requirements that foods be prepared a certain way — to us today merely quaint, charming, arbitrary — were in ancient times quite necessary to avoid serious illness and death.

Clearly related to this then are, as described above, laws relating to the cleanliness or uncleanliness not of food but of people. The Lord says that the leper will be brought before the priest, and the priest shall declare the leper unclean. And the leper must rend his garments and cry out that he is unclean, to warn away others. So, again, it’s understood that in order to protect the public health from an otherwise not understood physical affliction, both contagious and horribly disfiguring, the religious orthodoxy states that God himself declares that those with the disease are to be cast out. Basic triage and sensible public health policy. But how heart-wrenchingly sad for the afflicted.

So, happily, the Gospel of Mark, where the leper is not dragged before the priest, but comes to Jesus on his own. And Jesus very simply cures him.

Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”

I love the beauty and poetry of this passage, so very different from the dry rulemaking of Leviticus.

And how different too is pretty much everything now that the Messiah has arrived. Here we see him even breaking the law, out of pity and kindness. So much for all those dry rules. Hey, from now on, let’s just go with loving God and loving our neighbor. Even the outcast. Heck, especially the outcasts.