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Scripture Study: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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By Marc Massery (Feb 9, 2018)
Sunday, Feb. 11 — Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
• Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
• 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
• Mark 1:40-45


Before the LIVESTRONG bracelet fad took hold of our culture in the early 2000s, another accessory with a message was wrapped around the wrists of thousands of Christians: adjustable bracelets with the letters W.W.J.D. Just about everyone in my Catholic elementary school in the 1990s had one. W.W.J.D., of course, stands for "What would Jesus do?" a simple, pious platitude, but nevertheless, a message that cuts to the core of the Gospel message and the readings for this weekend.

In the first reading from the book of Leviticus, God gives detailed instructions on what to do when someone develops leprosy. Anyone with an ominous looking "scab or pustle or blotch" (Lev 13:2) would have to show himself to a priest. If the priest determined it was leprosy, he would deem the patient "unclean." The unclean would have to rent or rip their garments, shave their heads, and wear a cover over their mouths. Wherever they went, they would have to cry out "unclean" repeatedly to warn others that they were present. The leper was banished from society, and though alive, he was considered worse than dead.

If a leper were ever cured, he would have to submit to a priest's examination and undergo a complicated ceremony (Lev 14: 1-57). This ceremony involved animal sacrifices and rituals involving blood and oil. Only a priest could declare a former leper "clean."

The story from the Gospel this weekend would have been considered a scandal in ancient Jewish culture. It says, "A leper came to Jesus 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'" (Mk 1:40-41).

If a leper approached any one of us, we would likely try to keep our distance. Leprosy often distorted the victim's face. Their bodies were covered in ulcers, which would ooze a foul discharge. But the Gospel does not say that Jesus showed signs of disgust. Instead, He goes out of His way to touch the leper and heal him. It's easy to act with love and compassion toward those whom we like to be around. But Jesus calls us to love those we don't like, even those who may inspire feelings of revulsion in us.

Not only does Jesus overcome any sense of disgust to heal the leper, He also challenges Jewish law. Judging by what we read in Leviticus, Jesus should not have interacted with the leper at all. But for Christ, healing this man was more important than following this law.

After the healing, Jesus asks the leper not to tell anyone about their interaction and to "offer for [his] cleansing what Moses prescribed" (Mk 1:44). Even though Jesus and the leper had just broken the law, He asks the healed leper to follow through with the ritual cleansing that the law demanded. Jesus never broke any laws simply for the sake of causing scandal. He challenged the rule of law only when He thought it absolutely necessary. Though He was God, Jesus respected earthly authority.

Christians have been challenging unjust laws for the sake of the faith since the beginning of the Church. Though for the most part we enjoy freedom today in the United States, in many places around the world Christians fear for their rights and even for their lives. Though some laws in our society may be immoral, Christ calls us to respect the rule of law as long as they do not conflict with the teachings of the Church. Whenever we face uncertainty, all we have to do is ask the Lord for grace to discern the best course of action. Usually, we can't go wrong if we act in answer to the question, "What would Jesus do?"

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