February 13, 2009

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Leviticus supplies the first reading for this weekend.

As one of the first five books of the Bible, all attributed to Moses, Leviticus is part of the collection that is called “Pentateuch” in Greek and “Torah” in Hebrew.

These five books, comprising the Torah, formed the basic theology and laws of conduct for Jews at the time of Jesus, and even still today the Torah is the basic religious document of Judaism.

This reading is in the style of a report. God speaks to Moses and to Aaron, the brother of Moses. Leprosy is the issue. Both the Old and New Testaments, in many places, refer to persons suffering from leprosy.

Today’s medical historians cannot decide if this malady mentioned often in the Bible was, in fact, Hansen’s disease or some other illness. However, whatever the exact scientific nature of what the ancients called leprosy, the problem was chronic and severe.

It was assumed to be contagious or communicable. For this reason, contacts with persons afflicted with leprosy, as it was called, were avoided at all costs.

Indeed, social customs and even laws made contact difficult. Victims were outcasts. They suffered the psychological injury of being shunned, but they also most often virtually had to forage for food and search for any shelter they could find.

Ancient Jews would never blame God, regarded as good, loving and merciful, for the fact of such a serious malady.

In the minds of ancient Hebrews, human sin was ultimately the cause of all earthly misery so it was reasoned that sin must have caused leprosy. Victims themselves either sinned or their plight was a consequence of their parents’ or ancestors’ sin.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is the source of the second reading.

In this reading, the great Apostle advises the Corinthian Christians to never offend either Jew or Gentile, in the process revealing the fact that both Jews and Gentiles were present within the Christian community in Corinth. This is not surprising. Corinth was a great city with people from many places and backgrounds.

Paul says that he imitates Christ, and he urges the Christians to follow his example.

The Gospel of Mark furnishes the last reading.

The same attitude about leprosy, whatever this disease actually was, applied among Jews at the time of Jesus as it did among Jews at the time of Moses. When a leper approached Jesus, asking for a cure, the poor leper was in an awful condition, ostracized and hopeless.

Jesus, “moved with pity,” cured the man. Then the Lord ordered the man to go to the priests. The man had been exiled from the community because of his illness. The priests could reinstate him, but they had to see that he was free of disease.


These weeks after Christmas, the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord and the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Church continues through these Scriptural readings at Mass to introduce us to the person and ministry of Jesus.

In the readings this weekend, the horror of leprosy, as it was seen among Jews long ago, is critical to understanding the readings. In particular, it is necessary to realize the connection in the ancient mind between sin and death.

Sin indeed leads to death. Furthermore, it separates us from the one community of faith in the Lord. As outcasts, as sinners, we are left to struggle and our efforts are never adequate.

Jesus, always moved by pity, cures us by forgiving our sins when we show sorrow for them. Forgiven, we enter the family of God again. Life, not death, is our destiny.

The key is to have faith, to repent and to live according to the Lord’s model, in every respect, as St. Paul lived after his conversion. †

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