6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
02/15/2009
Readings
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

When the early Church was determining the canon of Scripture – which books belonged in the Christian Bible – one of their most momentous decisions was to include four separate accounts of the life of Jesus. This was not an obvious choice; in fact it seems more likely from a human perspective that they would have chosen just one Gospel or would have combined multiple Gospels into one account (ideas which both had some support). Instead they decided to place four distinct Gospels side-by-side without attempting harmonize them.

Having four separate accounts, however, has led to many attempts to find the differences between the accounts and exploit them in an attack on their veracity. But like any lawyer will tell you, multiple eyewitnesses can give you distinct accounts without their underlying stories conflicting. Each is simply emphasizing what they feel is most important and what most impresses them.

One of the underlying themes in Mark’s Gospel is the touch of Jesus. In this account of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, he states that Jesus “grasped her hand” and “the fever left her” (Mark 1:31). Luke, on the other hand, states only that Jesus leaned over her when curing her (Luke 4:39). Jesus’ touch continues to appear in Mark’s Gospel: the woman with a hemorrhage is healed by touching Jesus, Jarius’ daughter is brought back to life when Jesus takes her by the hand, and Mark at one point states that the people “begged [Jesus] that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed” (Mark 6:56). But perhaps the most striking scene involving the touch of Jesus is the healing of the leper in today’s Gospel. Mark writes,
“A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean (Mark 1:40-42).
Mark reports this scene in a matter-of-fact fashion, but it was anything but ordinary. In the Jewish culture, leprosy was a terrible disease that required total exclusion from the community (see Leviticus 13-14). No fate could be worse, and no one came near to a leprous person for fear of catching the disease. Yet Jesus has no qualms about touching this leprous man to heal him. His power is greater than any disease or sickness. With his touch, he overcomes anything that afflicts the human person. No wonder people “begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak” (Mark 6:56).

Although Jesus has now ascended to the Father, he is still able to touch us. His touch now primarily occurs through the sacraments; through these physical signs, Jesus is able to heal us of any afflictions of the spirit, freeing us from isolation from God or our fellow man. Mark rightly emphasizes the power of the touch of Jesus: it is a power that – through the sacraments – still has the ability to heal and restore.


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