The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark Church in Norman, OK
February 16, 2003
Leviticus 13:1, 2,44-46 + 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1 + Mark 1:40-45
The ancient world lived a much more integrated life than we have. The dichotomy between the natural and spiritual was not so clearly drawn. God was not shoved off to heaven. Demons were not shoved into hell. Illness was not nearly as clinical as it is now. The ancient culture in which we find Jesus experienced the body and the soul as more interdependent than we would like. Our “post modern” even “post-Christian” culture is more comfortable with a fragmented view of self. I say, “post-Christian” because I believe that this very separated, broken existence where the human and the divine are pulled apart, where the body and soul are distinct, where the sacred and the secular are clearly different is the very antithesis, the very undoing, or opposite of what the Incarnation is all about.
There is a way of seeing the work of Jesus as a work of integration, a work of confirming the wholeness of life and the unity of that life in the source of life, God. The Gospel Mark puts before us today is just such a ministry. It is a ministry of restoration, a ministry of healing. He sends the man to the priest. The deliberate connection of healing, cleansing, and faith are not incidental to this event. The details in this story have sacramental implications. The healing and cleansing of this man is a spiritual event just as much as it is a physical one. In fact, we are left to wonder if it could have been possible had one of these elements been absent.
What good would it have been to be free of this disease, if the man’s relationship to the community had not been restored by the priest he was sent to see. None of the miracles, none of the healing ministry of Jesus happened without faith and talk of salvation. The body and the soul for Jesus are always one. It strikes me as somehow very revealing when I hear people praying for the sick or praying for their own deliverance from illness who given so little thought toward their soul’s illness in sin. We are becoming a people without soul, and therefore without sin.
Moving deep into this Gospel reveals that the issue here is more than a physical malady. The “condition” is human sin in all its forms and all its consequences. Just as much as leprosy can destroy, separate, isolate, and cripple, so does sin. They saw that clearly in the ancient cultures. Yet, we don’t quite get it. In our fragmented existence, keeping the soul and the body apart, we live in denial: denial of our dis-ease with sin, and our ill health as well. Yet we spend billions a year on health-care, and we see doctor after doctor, get our shots (even at church), and see Pharmacies being built faster than banks. We want the body strong and healthy, and we want to live long and happy lives while the soul’s condition is ignored, forgotten, or just left till “later” when we have time or else have nothing better to do.
Given the lengths to which many will go to be cured of a disease such as cancer through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, it occurs to me that we might be just as challenged to make comparable efforts to be healed and forgiven of sin. The details of this gospel give us the critical outline of a miracle story: (1) the petitioner approaches Jesus requesting healing; (2) Jesus responds with a touch and a word; (3) the cure is affirmed. This is the consistent framework of healing miracles, and the consistent ritual of “Reconciliation”, a Sacrament. We fail to see and recognize this because of our fragmented lives. We fail to see sin as a malady that is destroying our lives just as much as any other illness – because we have lost our sense of wholeness affirmed by the Incarnation. This rift in our selves allows deep denial over the illness of sin. We have reduced sin to issues of sexual desires and behavior, and pretended that violence, greed, fear that holds us back from doing good, and the seductions of power and wealth are not really sins. They’re just not “nice.” Lent is coming, my friends: the time for cleansing and healing. On the very first Monday of Lent we will gather here to begin those days of healing. Every Wednesday of Lent in the evening, and every Friday of Lent at noon there will be an opportunity for you to imitate the faith of the man in this Gospel. Just as he dared to approach Jesus and declare, “If you will, to do so, you can cure me”, so should every one of us be so bold and so full of faith.