Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Scripture Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2, 45-46; First Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

As children, at home or school, I can’t remember where, we learned to pray at night, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless this bed that I lay on.” If not the most creative prayer every written, it helped us memorize the names of the Gospel writers. Obviously I haven’t forgotten the little rhyme.

The four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are very careful in their choice of words to describe the miracles that Jesus performed. The phrase, “mighty works” (in Greek, dunameis, from which we derive our words “dynamic” and “dynamite”) and “sign,” predominate in the Gospel texts when describing miracles.

Words that might be more associated with wonder or anything magical in describing the miracles of Jesus are avoided by the four Evangelists. However, in the people’s reactions to Jesus’ deeds, mention is made of their amazement, enthusiasm and praise of God. For example, Saint Mark says, “They were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’” (Mark 2:12).

Another reaction of the witnesses to the Lord’s mighty deeds is to praise the person of Jesus: “He has done everything well” (Mark 7:37). The people are also in awe at what they see: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). This in turn causes the people to seek Jesus and follow him. (see Mark 1:33, 37, 45, also Mark 3:7, 6:53).

On the other hand, the miracles of Jesus seem to present serious challenges to some regarding who Jesus was. In fact the disciples, the closest followers of Jesus and witnesses of miracles, seem to remain blind. Jesus asks them, “Do you have eyes and fail to see…When I broke the five loaves?” (Mark 8:18, 19).

Many misunderstood Jesus’ actions, are scandalized and lacking in faith. They even mock Jesus as possessed by a demonic spirit (Mark 3:22), rather than a holy spirit.

Clearly there were differences of opinion, even polarization, regarding the person of Jesus. Ultimately some disciples recognized Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:27), but failed to perceive the full meaning of Jesus and his deeds until he rose from the dead (Mark 16:13). Some remained unbelieving even after the resurrection.

The miracles of Jesus, such as the one in today’s Gospel passage, are intended to demonstrate and inaugurate the Good News that God has power over Satan and evil, pointing to Jesus as the one whom God has chosen as a special emissary and in fact is God’s Only-Begotten Son.

Over and again the Gospels show not only that Jesus is capable of physical cure, but more importantly and profoundly, he possesses power to forgive sins and even has authority over the Sabbath, as the source of sight and life, the Lord of heaven and earth.
In the face of Jesus’ miracles and forgiving sin, faith is required.

This faith is an energetic reaching out for the healing help of God. “You faith has made you well,” Jesus states more than once to people being cured (see Mark 5:34 and Mark 10:52, for example). Where faith is lacking, Jesus is powerless. But the faith required can be of the relatives or friends of the cured. This is a wonderful reminder that faith is a gift from God, but also brought to us by the good example and faith of those around us.

Perhaps for many of us, it was the faith of our parents, other relatives, friends or sponsors that brought us to the baptismal font as infants or when older, and helped set us on the path to life in Christ. May God reward them all! I was a just few weeks old when baptized, and I surely didn’t drive myself to the ceremony! Rather, it was the faith of my parents and relatives that brought me there.

This “faith of our fathers and mothers” corresponds to the Gospel texts where Jesus also responds to the active seeking of his help with a word from a distance, from someone other than the one seeking healing.
In the Gospels and in our lives, faith looks both to God and to the person of Jesus through whom God acts.

After the Lord’s resurrection, the Church, as she narrates the miracles of Jesus, explains that this faith in Jesus is faith in the Messiah. Faith is best expressed in the free commitment we make to God in Jesus Christ. This interior activity calls forth from God a response, a saving act of love.

The miracles of Jesus are an essential part of the Gospel preaching (what is called the kerygma), the purpose of which was to awaken faith in the power of Jesus Christ to save us from sin and death. This is the essence of the message of salvation in Jesus Christ to all the nations, what we call the Gospel, literally, Good News.

Doctor of the Church Saint Augustine of Hippo (who lived from 354-430 AD) said that the miracles of Jesus are actions of the Word (Jesus Christ) and are words for us. The miracles are not merely like pictures to look at and admire, explains Augustine, but are to be understood as personal letters which we must read and seek to understand.

This reality becomes the basis of the practice of lectio divina, that is, pondering slowly each day the Bible texts, listening to God’s saving words and deeds contained therein, for the life of the world and for each of us.

The Gospel this Sunday is about the curing of a leper, part of the typical work of Jesus. In biblical times the healing of lepers was understood as one of the traits or activities of the age of salvation, which Jesus came to proclaim and bring about. The Church Father Saint Peter Chrysologus (who lived from about 380-490 AD) expressed it thus: “No sickness can stand its ground in the face of the very source of health. Where the Lord of life has entered, there is no room for death” (sermon 18).

Like the first to witness his miracles, we too are left to stand with amazement at the tender compassion of Jesus, touching and curing a leper, an otherwise rejected person in those times, marginalized, excluded and despised, except by other lepers.

We should recount here that Jesus regularly gravitated to the village of Bethany, the place where his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived. What is the significance here? Bethany, which means, “House (Beth) of the lowly (anawim),” is just a few miles east of Jerusalem. Bethany was the closest point that lepers could come to Jerusalem, and from Bethany they could at least see the temple and the holy city. Jesus bridges that gap and goes to where the lepers are and even makes his home at Bethany, House of the lowly.

The One who draws close to us, in our brokenness and need, is calling us to his house. This is the One who can fill us with peace, joy and salvation. Peace, even when we may be unwell, joy when we find healing, salvation from all our distress.

We ask our God to cure us of everything that separates us from a compassionate and loving contact with the Origin and Goal of our very being.

Prior Christian Leisy, OSB, Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico