Leviticus is the central book of the Torah or Pentateuch. It is concerned, overall, with holiness. Approaching holiness is like approaching fire; without proper precautions, it can lead to injury. The many prescriptions in the book are designed to enable an unholy people to safely approach and worship a holy God.
With the above context, the skin diseases described in this portion of Leviticus are declared unclean not in a moral sense but in a ritual sense.
From a practical standpoint, these regulations prevented the spread of contagious and (at the time) incurable diseases in a society which had little understanding of medicine.
Psalm: Psalm 31(32):1-2, 5, 11
This psalm speaks of the transformation brought about by repentance; the psalmist begins by acknowledging sin and confessing it to the Lord and finishes by joining the ranks of the just.
The forgiveness brought about by repentance engenders joy in the psalmist. Elsewhere in the psalms, the psalmist encourages his soul to stir up faith in God; in what ways can we stir up joy in the forgiveness offered to us in Christ?
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
This section follows on from Paul’s discussion of food offered in sacrifice to idols at pagan temples. Paul’s overriding concern is to be sensitive to people’s consciences, as we see here in that he avoids giving offence. Consider how we can be sensitive in our witness so as not to give offence to others.
Paul offered himself to the Corinthians as a trustworthy model because he faithfully modelled his life on Christ. In this vein, we also have the examples of the saints and of holy men and women we know today; who do you know that you consider a model of the Christian way of life?
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
The astonishing thing in this gospel is that Jesus touched the person with leprosy. Ordinarily, this would have made Jesus ritually unclean. However, because Jesus is himself the source of holiness, his touch rather rendered the leper ritually clean. This had the effect of not only restoring the person to health but also restoring the possibility of community relationships and of being able to worship God. Notice how Jesus immediately calls on him to obey the Law so that he can now live more fully.
The person with leprosy displayed faith and a bold humility in approaching Jesus; he did not ask or demand to be healed, but he rather surrendered himself to God’s will: “if you want to, you can cure me”. In this way, he is an echo of Jesus’ own surrender to the Father’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus’ response to the leper: “Of course I want to!” is direct and compassionate. In what ways is this a model for our relationship with the Lord?
Today, we come to the end of our reflections on 1 Corinthians with a pithy little passage, which packs quite a punch!
In some ways, the last few weeks have been like holding the Christian life in our hands like a diamond and allowing St. Paul to point out different facets of that diamond to focus on, from how to live in the body to the fundamental orientation of life, to the need to be a missionary disciple. Today, though, St. Paul takes the diamond into his hand and sums up the whole point: the glory of God.
The words in Hebrew and Greek that become ‘glory’ in English mean weight, dignity, fame, and praise: we might sum it up as something like ‘majesty’. But glory has many different meanings in the Scriptures; that in itself is testimony to the reality that the Bible is dominated by this term ‘glory’. It pops up everywhere!
In St. Paul’s use of the word in today’s passage, we are drawn to a constellation of meanings that orbit around the idea of glory as the purpose, the end goal of God’s actions in the world. God’s actions have the ultimate goal of magnifying and exalting his majesty.
Here are a few examples of that type of use:
“he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6)
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
“But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)
There are many other examples. To our modern minds, this might seem egotistical or pompous. But it’s worth asking the question: if total goodness, love, and light aren’t worth praising, what is?
Paul’s call to us today is that everything we do, from such mundane everyday activities as eating and drinking, should be done for the glory of God; that is to praise, worship, and honour God. And when we come to eat and drink at Mass, the glory of God is certainly centre stage. At the culmination of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest lifts up the Host and the Chalice and says, in words that might as well have come from Paul’s pen: “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, forever and ever. Amen.”