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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott


The readings for Sunday, February 12, 2012:

First Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-14

Psalm: Psalm 30

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Gospel: Mark 1:40-45

Today's readings revolve around healings. The Old Testament reading shows Naaman, who almost refuses a healing experience, because it involves a simple bath in a humble river. He wanted something grander and glorious. We might think about how many times we get in the way of our own health and wholeness by refusing to believe that the process can be so easy.

The Gospel lesson shows Jesus healing a leper. Those of us in the 21st century forget what Jesus is doing by this healing. We aren’t familiar with the complicated purity laws of the ancient world. By touching the leper, and by the leper telling everyone, Jesus effectively exiles himself. He cannot stay in town because by touching the impure, he makes himself impure—at least, that is what the Law would dictate.

This story of Jesus gives us an interesting view of contamination and defilement. Jesus will address our very human ideas of what defiles throughout his career. He will remind us again and again that we focus on the wrong things. We worry about contamination from things that cannot hurt us while not paying attention to the beliefs and behaviors that endanger our very souls.

It’s easy for us to scoff at purity laws from 2000 years away. It’s worth considering our modern conflicts through the lens of purity laws. What tears our communities apart? What takes people away from community? Why do we exile people?

I love this vision of God that Jesus shows us. God doesn't take on human form in order to tell us how icky we are. God comes to us in the form of Jesus and chooses to be with the most outcast of the outcast. When presented with a choice, Jesus makes it clear that God chooses to be with the lowly and the exile.

And here, in this Gospel story, the people leave their human communities to go be with Jesus. I wonder if that should be a lesson to us as well. We are not likely to find God in the hallways filled by powerful people. We will find God in the outposts of civilization, in the crumbling corners of human empires.

That doesn't mean that we're forbidden to hang out with the powerful. Indeed, some of us might see it as our mission to hang out with the powerful, to remind them of their duty to the poor and downtrodden. One wonders how this current economic crisis might have turned out differently, had we not left Wall Street to the powerful men. I've read lots of interesting articles about how women might have made a difference, had they been a presence on Wall Street. I wonder the same about Christians. If more of us made our way to the highest places of power, could we affect the course of human history? To use the language of Martin Luther King, could we arc that history towards justice?

Or would we become like Naaman, who has leprosy but doesn’t have to leave the community because he’s powerful. His arrogance flowers out of that power. He almost walks away from the gift of wholeness because of that arrogance.

The outcast of civilization have a gift that doesn't come to the rest of us so easily. The rest of us find it easy to believe that we have accomplished all that we have and accumulated all that we have because of our skills, talents, and gifts. We don't like to admit that much of our present status has to do with luck--we were born to the right parents at the right time or we had other advantages that others didn't. We like to think that we have a certain power--and if we're not careful, we come to think of ourselves as gods--and then why bother to have a relationship with God, if we're so fabulous?

The dispossessed labor under no delusions. They have seen the underside of power. They understand that humans who rely on their own power can do dreadful harm. They know that they need God.

The words of Psalm 30 offer all of us consolation: we may weep all night, but eventually joy will come to us. That’s the good news that we hear again and again in our Scriptures. Most of us need that vision, that promise, as we suffer through all sorts of defilements and exiles. God promises that it will be so.

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