February 11, 2024 –
The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year B]
Fr. Michael Brungardt
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45
I think we have all heard of leprosy once or twice. For most of us, though, I think it wasn’t until COVID that any of us really appreciated what this “leprosy” business was all about. For example: (1) COVID damages one’s taste and smell, vital organs and such. Leprosy damages one’s central nervous system and the largest organ of the body, the skin. (2) COVID demanded social isolation, quarantine. Leprosy too forced one out of the community into quarantine. (3) COVID forced one to cover up, wear a mask. Leprosy forced one to cover themself, too. (4) If one got COVID, he had to tell all close-contacts he contracted it. Leprosy (as we hear in the first reading) forced one to go around shouting to anyone in close-contact, “Unclean! Unclean!” (5) When one finally recovered from COVID, one had to “prove it” by going symptomless for a certain time. With leprosy, one cured had to have this verified by the priests—that’s why Jesus tells the man to go and show himself to the priest. (6) And my favorite: both COVID and leprosy are spread through airborne water droplets.
In Scripture, the disease of leprosy is symbolic of Sin. It shows that Sin is a contagion. In fact, this is how the Rite of Baptism describes Sin: a “contagion”; Sin spreads like a disease. Sins are bad things we do, yes. But Sin, capital “S,” is a disease, a contagion. Think of the COVID time-lapse maps: a blank map was overrun with the “red” of the disease. Same thing with Sin.
So what is the solution? The people of Israel had all of the famous—or should I say infamous—laws and rules about holiness and purity, like we find in the book of Leviticus. Leviticus is full of laws and rules about washings, and not touching dead animals, and bodily fluids, skin diseases, and so on and so forth. And those sound so strange and cultic and rigid to us! But why did they exist? Because the people felt this condition of Sin that tainted them, and these laws were so that people could be sure they were ritually pure, clean, disease free and “holy,” so that they could approach God in the Temple, in worship. Leviticus is full of all of these ways you can make yourself pure. But these didn’t address the real problem, only the ritual one. No matter how many rules and guidelines and advice the people had, it didn’t fix the problem. The disease of Sin was still around. So now what?
The prophet Ezekiel had a crazy vision where he saw water trickling out of the Temple (Ezekiel 47). This water then became a stream. And then a deep river flowing through the desert until it reached the Dead Sea, making the salty water of the Dead Sea fresh enough for it to be full of fish and life. So notice: this water flows out of the Temple and heals the earth and all of creation, makes everything come to life. Ezekiel’s vision is such that instead of us trying to become pure and perfect so that we can go into God’s presence in the Temple and be renewed and healed and strengthened—instead, Ezekiel has a vision where God’s presence comes out of the Temple and makes us pure and holy, it comes to heal and build us up.
No one had any clue what this meant or what this would look like until this Jesus guy from Nazareth shows up. And Jesus goes around healing people. Why? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not to go around saying, “Ta-da! I’m God!” In the Gospel of Mark, the word we translate as “miracle” or “signs and wonders”—the word Mark uses to describe these actions literally means, “works of power” (δυνάμεις c.f., Mark 6:2). In other words, these healings aren’t Jesus’ attempt to prove he is God, as much as they are proof of the power at work in and through Jesus. These are works that show the presence and power of the Spirit, of God’s own presence, a presence known to the people as existing only in the Temple.
What’s the point? Jesus is the Temple of Ezekiel’s vision, and out of him flows this stream of living water, water that heals and purifies and renews everything it touches. Think: how does Jesus heal people? He does it by touching them. Why? It’s to show that while Jesus should become impure by touching them, while Jesus should contract this disease by getting in close-contact with them—what happens instead is the exact opposite: these people are made whole, they’re cleansed, they’re healed.
So what? What does this have to do with us? Jesus describes himself and his followers as God’s new Temple, so that though them God’s holy presence would go out into the world and bring life and healing and hope. In Baptism and Confirmation and, most especially, the Eucharist, we enter into this synergy; we becomes these Temples of God’s presence throughout the world, with streams of living water flowing out from us to renew the world.
In other words, our life becomes mission. Our “job” as Christians, the “work” we do, the “mission” we have isn’t to avoid certain sins, or to ascribe to a certain political agenda or set of values. Our “job,” our mission in life, is to be the living embodiment of the Temple of God, the living embodiment of Jesus Christ—we house the holy presence of God himself, and carry that out into the world, wherever we go. That’s what this leper did in our Gospel today: “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad” (Mark 10:45).