December 01, 2006

Mark 1:40-41

A leper came to him (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."

Two interesting things about this reading ... one is that there's some question about the Greek word used to describe Jesus' emotion when he heals the leper ... the other is that Jesus touched the leper, when doing so would have made him "unclean" as well.

Here's some of a Sermonwriter article ...

V. 41 presents us with a difficult translation problem. Most manuscripts say that Jesus was filled with pity or compassion (Greek: splanchistheis), but others say that he was angry (Greek: orgistheis). Compassion makes more sense in this context, and some good manuscripts use splanchistheis. However, there are also reasons to read anger (orgistheis) here .... Jesus is trying to maintain a proper balance between teaching and healing, the two primary forms of his ministry in the first half of this Gospel. For the most part, people are drawn to him by his healing miracles, and often fail to see his deeper spiritual dimension .... The leper's plea forces him to choose between mission and compassion − to compromise one or the other ...

And ...

If Jesus can heal the man by touch, presumably he could also heal him without touching him. His touch seems reckless, because touching the leper should contaminate Jesus (both medically and spiritually). However, in this case, it is not the leper who is contagious, but Jesus. The leper does not transmit his uncleanness to Jesus, but Jesus transmits his wholeness and holiness to the leper and makes him clean (medically, spiritually, and socially) .... In this Gospel, we will read about Jesus touching or associating with other people in ways that would potentially defile him − tombs and swine (5:1-20); a hemorrhaging woman (5:25-27); a corpse (5:41); Gentiles and unclean spirits (7:24-26). In each instance, he transmits his wholeness and holiness rather than the other way around ...

7 Comments:

At 5:26 AM, Blogger david said...

In each instance, he transmits his wholeness and holiness rather than the other way around

I would rather say, in order to transmit wholeness and holiness we must risk uncurring the other's brokeness. Jesus did so incur. And so do we.

A minister who performs a marraige for a gay or lesbian couple is putting her career at risk. I Christian who becomes involved in justice issues will get labelled a trouble maker -- told they're neglecting the spiritual message of the gospel.

Most Christians I know who insiste scripture must be read literally, refuse to accept my literal reading of the Lord's Prayer -- that we are to prayer for daily bread -- "No no," they say, "that's talking about spiritual nourishment."

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger forrest said...

As Jesus is (among other things) a prophet and an all-around intelligent person, he may very well see what sort of trouble this is likely to bring him. He says "Don't tell anyone," but this is like "Don't eat that apple," and no doubt he's got an idea how well he can count on that.

In another sense, he is in a state where calculations of risk and thoughts of what's socially acceptable are so utterly off-point that they might as well not be there.

That spiritual interpretation of "daily bread"--as an additional meaning--came to me suddenly in the midst of an unrelated class; I have no doubt that we should pray for (and thus expect!) spiritual nourishment appropriate to our capacity. But most of Jesus' audience were probably much more nutritionally-challenged than David's literalists--who no doubt give ample thought to their treasures on earth.

Jesus (in the prayer, in those other two gospels) is addressing people in the midst of a campaign to take actual power over the nation of Israel. People who take part will necessarily be depending on God's provision for their sustenance; if food is their main concern they'd better just stay home.

But even for a farmer who takes a less active role in Jesus' political effort, one who each year will be planting or harvesting literally sunup to sundown on occasion, will still need to rely on God for his daily bread. And the reliance on God's concrete help, not on our calculations and provisions for "financial security", is a clear part of Jesus' message.

 
At 12:00 PM, Blogger david said...

Daily Bread. Enough to live on.

When a poor person asks for daily bread; they ask for more. When a rich person asks for dialy bread they ask to be given less.

Interpreting this line as "spiritual nourishment" undermines this.

 
At 4:47 PM, Blogger forrest said...

Both interpretations seem valid, in terms of God providing for our needs.

The point is really, Why should people who want to be "literal" favor a figurative interpretation in this case? Maybe depending on God for real would imply not depending so much on Mammon?

 
At 7:26 AM, Blogger david said...

I'm suddenly struck by the possibility that Jesus cured the leper out of anger at the leper's situation rather than out of compassion for him.

I kind of like it in an odd sort of way -- as one who struggles with anger and not knowing how to channel in helpfully -- pushes it down to seethe and burst out elsewhere.

 
At 12:49 PM, Blogger forrest said...

"You have the right to remain angry. Should you choose to remain angry, anything you say can and will be used against you..."

but aside from that, there are different flavors of anger--depending partly on what one thinks to protect by it: one's own pretensions, or the proper treatment of people and other sacred things.

William Blake quotes a prophet as saying, "The voice of honest indignation is the voice of God." If Jesus is angry here, that is the kind of anger we're talking about. It's not clear to me, what he's angry about--maybe all the lepers he would want healed, if only they could imagine the possibility? Or maybe the priests have been somehow misusing their authority, to diagnose who is "clean" and who isn't? I dunno.

Really, no one but God is worthy of our anger. (And aside from the practical difficulties, that anger is likely to be mistaken!) Is Jesus angry that God has made leprosy?--or angry that people persist in ways that God treats with disease?

It isn't helplessness that makes me rage; it's discovering my helplessness where I'd imagined myself more in control.

 
At 6:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Jesus was angry at the circumstances in which such a person (the leper) had been forced to live. A leper had no right to expect, not only medical care, but the embrace of a loving community. Such sinners (the mentality at that time said that only terrible sinners would be afflicted with such a disease) were beyond God's embrace. Jesus must have been revolted by the whole notion.

 

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