Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Lv 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11
2) 1 Cor 10:31-11:1
Gospel: Mk 1:40-45
Today’s first reading is disturbing. We hear about scabs, pustules and blotches. There’s a place for talking about skin ailments, but isn’t that the dermatology clinic, not the church? More off-putting is the extreme social distancing imposed on those who present such symptoms. Sufferers are told to leave town and stay away from other people.
Strange and unpleasant as it is, the passage nevertheless has something to say to us.
A couple of clarifications may help. The word “leprosy” is used in the translation, but the Hebrew word means more precisely “scale disease.” It seems the biblical authors have various skin problems in view: psoriasis, vitiligo, fungal infection, others.
The authors are not concerned with the medical aspects. There were lots of diseases in the ancient world, and the authors could have established protocols for dealing with all of them if they wished. They focused on skin diseases not because those were a particular threat to public health but because, in their minds, they symbolized something.
What they symbolized was death. Because they knew God as the creator of life, the authors thought it inappropriate for people whose bodies carried a symbol of death to come into his presence in the community and the temple.
This way of thinking was not unusual in the ancient Near East. God was not making it up. But he was using it to shape the Israelites’ understanding of him — to impress on them that he really is the God of life and light; in him there is no darkness or death. Elsewhere in the Old Testament we see God making use of other elements of ancient cultures. With his OK, the ancestors of Israel practiced polygamy. Their descendants engaged in animal sacrifice.
A message here, it seems to me, is that God is willing to use imperfect things to move us along toward his purposes.
I’ve experienced this. God used my parents, my schools, the charismatic community I belonged to for a long time — all imperfect — to move me along and help me grow in knowing him. He has used imperfect me — as husband, parent, friend, writer, teacher — to help some people in my life move forward in his plans for them.
In a humble way, God enters into our far less than perfect lives and situations to accompany us and let us share in the coming of his kingdom.
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Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.