Tag Archives: purity laws

Spirit, open our hearts (17 August, 2014: Year A)

Readings
Isaiah 56.1–8
Matthew 15.10–28

 

When we began our service this morning, we sang

Gather us in, the lost and forsaken;
Gather us in, the blind and the lame…

Our lectionary scriptures today prompt us to ask some very important questions: How far do we go in gathering people in? Where do we stop?

Isaiah 56 relates to a time when the exiles are returning from Babylon and being gathered into Jerusalem. Remember, the Temple had been demolished and Jerusalem left in ruins in 587BC, and much of the population had been taken into captivity in Babylon. Today, the once-mighty Babylon is a pile of ruins about 85km south of Baghdad.

We say the exiles ‘returned’ to Jerusalem, but most if not all of them had never been there; it was their grandparents and great-grandparents who had been taken away. They knew Babylon, it was where they were born; they’d grown up on tales of the wonders of Jerusalem, but when they were gathered back in they didn’t like what Jerusalem had become.

Jerusalem was in ruins but worse still, it was full of foreigners! (I think the irony that they’d never seen the place before would’ve been lost on them.)

How did the returnees deal with the foreigners who had occupied their houses and land? They were divided about that.

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The Sacrament of Touch: Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time/Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B, 12 February 2012)

The sacrament of touch

Readings
2 Kings 5.1-14
Mark 1.40-45

Let’s start with the Book of Leviticus (13.45-46; from The Message):

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean”. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

‘Leprosy’ was not a good diagnosis to get back in biblical times. It meant you were ‘unclean’. You had to live in isolation, away from human contact. The irony is that these ‘lepers’ didn’t necessarily have what we call leprosy. Today, ‘leprosy’ is the name we give to Hansen’s Disease, an infectious condition  caused by certain bacteria. But in biblical times, ‘lepers’ were a mixed bag of people: some may have had fungal infections; others weren’t even infectious, having things like psoriasis or eczema. But they were expelled from the community anyway.

Leprosy was a disease ‘of biblical proportions’. Even today we know what it means to be treated as a leper. And we don’t like it.

A leper comes to Jesus in today’s Gospel story. Whatever he had, whether we’d call it leprosy or eczema, his wasn’t an ordinary illness. His was an illness that made him ‘unclean’—

  • unfit for normal human company;
  • unable to approach God;
  • unsuitable for the companionship of anyone—except those who were also unclean.

Despite what the Book of Leviticus says he should do, we don’t read that the leper cried ‘Unclean’, or that he covered his lip. What he did say was,

If you choose, you can make me clean.

Jesus’ response is

I do choose. Be made clean!

Be made clean.

Well of course, we’re sophisticated, we’re not like those people thousands of years ago. We understand germs and stuff. You can’t help getting sick. We can deal with Hansen’s Disease. We have quick-acting drugs with fancy names like rifampicin and dapsone. We also know that something over 95% of people are naturally immune to Hansen’s Disease. It’s hard to catch it.

We don’t call lepers ‘unclean’. Nothing and no one is unclean to us.

If that’s what you think, stop now! Don’t you believe it.

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