2/9/2012 9:30:00 AM WORD OF FAITH Breaking the image
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
FROM A READING FOR FEB. 12, SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 'Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone....Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.' - I Cor 10:33-11:1
Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann recently remarked that he's convinced people don't know how to integrate chaos into their lives. He believes all of us have an image of a perfect world in the back of our minds.
But Sunday's readings show us that, throughout history, there have been people who have wreaked havoc with our perfect worldview. During Jesus' ministry, lepers were near the top of everyone's exclusion list.
Our Leviticus (13:1-2,44-46) reading demonstrates that the consequences of being a leper were so horrendous that a person's whole life could be destroyed simply by a "whispering campaign." Only a priest, trained in what was and wasn't leprosy, could legally declare someone a leper, not a leper or cured. (Notice how often Jesus, after curing a leper, sent the individual to "the priests." Until the latter completed the "paperwork," the cure wasn't official.)
Lepers, keep out
Lepers were forced to "keep their garments rent and their heads bare;" to "muffle their beards and cry out, 'Unclean!'" Worst of all, they had to "dwell apart, making their abode outside the camp." The disturbing movie scenes in "Ben Hur's" first-century CE Jerusalem leper colony were probably close to accurate.
Because of Mark's theology, it's no accident that one of Jesus' first miracles is the cure of a leper (Mark 1:40-45). Evangelists employ miracles not to prove Jesus is God - something their readers already believe - but to show what kind of a God He is.
It's clear that Mark's convinced Jesus is a God who constantly reaches out to those who live outside the perimeters of our perfect world. Beyond the obvious, two things are especially significant in this narrative: first, Jesus touches the man before He heals him.
According to Jewish law, it's permissible to touch him after the cure, but not before. Those who touch lepers are expected to suffer the same social consequences as lepers. Jesus' action makes Him one with someone who inhabits the space outside our ideal world.
Second, the best ancient Marcan manuscripts don't have the words "moved with pity." They read, "He angrily stretched out His hand." Probably, some well-meaning scribe changed Jesus' anger to "pity."
Anger fits Mark's Jesus. The evangelist frequently depicts Him as being angry. In this situation, His anger seems to spring from the exclusion this leper suffers.
Many experts believe Jesus' personality trait which most bugged His historical enemies was His refusal to operate from a list of "ins and outs." For him, everyone was "in." Religious authorities simply didn't know how to deal with such complete inclusion.
This characteristic was part of Paul's "other Christ" personality. Sunday's I Corinthians (10:31-11:1) reading occurs at the end of the Apostles' plea that those in the community who operate from "strong consciences" accept those who have "weak consciences."
As the Body of Christ, one group can't "excommunicate" the other. Both represent the risen Jesus.
Our sacred authors force us to examine our conscience: Who among us tests our image of a perfect world? If our biblical writers are correct, it's the aggravating people who bring chaos into our lives with whom the risen Jesus most identifies.