Isolation and Healing

Jesus Heals a Man with Leprosy

A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said.

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. Then Jesus sent him on his way with a stern warning: “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

But the man went and spread the word, proclaiming to everyone what had happened. As a result, large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and he couldn’t publicly enter a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to him. NLT

Jesus is on the move from Capernaum. He travels to the nearby villages of Galilee, wanting to preach there as well. A man with leprosy comes and falls at the feet of Jesus crying out with a pitiable plea. For lepers in that society are not only pitied but greatly feared.

People did not know what caused this wide range of diseases which included what we today call leprosy — but they knew that they were contagious — so the only solution was to isolate the victims and not allow them to have any contact with other people. Although the disease caused an appalling physical disintegration of body and limbs, the real pain of the disease was the resulting social isolation. It is also tragic that many of the people who were forced to be ostracized may not have even had the disease but some other non-contagious skin complaint.

The response of Jesus today is odd. Jesus is deeply moved by the leper – some translations say with compassion or pity, but others say with anger. The Greek word can be translated either way. But once he heals him in a very matter-of-fact way, then Jesus warns him sternly not to say anything about the healing. Perhaps this is simply because before the man can be reintegrated into society, he has to be seen to be clean by making the appropriate offering that is prescribed in the Book of Leviticus.

Perhaps we can take great courage from the Gospel today, knowing that when we bring any of our complaints and diseases before the Lord, he will respond to us in the same way that he responds to this man: “Of course I want to, be made clean.” Jesus is never constrained by social conventions or legalities that prevent him from being part of our lives.

+ Lord Jesus, if we have isolated ourselves away from family and friends, call us to reconnect with our church family or offer your healing touch to someone we know. Amen.

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Sunday 06B. (Bishop-elect Brian Mascord delivered his Lenten Message in place of the homily today)

Choose Good

One of the great dangers of modern life is our obsession with proving how valuable we are. This is seen in the busyness with which we surround ourselves. Being “so busy” becomes this strange and perverted badge of honour. Even though Jesus may well have been extremely busy – and we see it very clearly in the continuing description of the first day in the public life of Jesus that the opening chapter of Mark describes. Yet, even though he is healing and driving our demons in the synagogue, in private homes, in the crowded streets – he never loses his primary focus. As this first crazy Sabbath day concludes and the next day begins with the descent of darkness, Jesus escapes from the house while it is still dark to find a deserted place where he could be alone with his Father. If Jesus needs to find this space in his life to pray – and each Gospel is very clear on the strength of the personal prayer life of Jesus – how much more do we need to do the same.

The prayer of Jesus is interrupted by the disciples who come searching for Jesus, telling him that “everyone is searching for you” wanting more of that special Jesus touch and his unique teaching authority. But even though it would make logical sense to go back to the synagogue in Capernaum, he announces that it is time to move on. Jesus has this strong orientation towards the ultimate good in his life – God. All of his focus is directed at God and the goodness that life in God offers. He is not distracted by the crowds who only want the signs and wonders and not the deeper call to life in God that discipleship provides. Se he moves on. And he invites us to do the same. To recognise that often all of the seemingly good things that we crowd our life with can sometimes crowd out the only truly good thing that matters.

+ Jesus, help us to make space in a deserted place to be alone with you in prayer, that we may reaffirm our fundamental yes to life with you.

Sunday 05, Year B. Mark 1:29-39

Education Mass – darkness transformed by Jesus’s authority

As we begin a new education year today, it is interesting that the readings of the day provide significant guidance. The first reading (from 2 Samuel 15-16) provides the odd description of David discovering that his son Absolom has now won over the majority of the people and was gathering troops against the King – so David flees in sadness to avoid a bloodbath in the city of Jerusalem. While on his way on the Mount of Olives, a member of Saul’s clan comes out and begins to curse him and throw stones at him. Charming behaviour! But rather than allowing one of his soldiers to kill Shimei, David takes the criticism and cursing as being from the Lord. Very noble.

In the Gospel (Mark 5) we have the powerful story of Jesus arriving on the south-eastern shore of the Sea in pagan territory and being greeted by a demon-possessed man. He is so deranged that he spends his life (day and night) without clothes, howling and cutting himself with stones. Jesus begins to free the man, while the demons protest. When asked to identify itself, the demon names itself as Legion “for there are many of us.” It could be a reference to the presence in that land of the Tenth Legion (which has the Boar as its emblem). A Roman Legion contained between 2000 and 4000 soldiers. The presence of Jesus in this pagan land is still bringing cleansing to the land by bringing dehumanised people to freedom. When the now clothed and calm man asks Jesus to follow him, Jesus tells him instead to stay in his local community and be a witness there to the mighty works of God.

Monday in Week 4, Year II.

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Amazed and astonished at Authority

Over the last few weeks during the readings from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, we have heard of the first teaching and preaching of Jesus in his call to repentance because of the breaking in of the kingdom of God. Last Sunday we heard the call of the first four disciples. Today, Mark takes us to the beginning of his actual ministry on the first day in the life of Jesus. He goes, on a Sabbath day, to the local synagogue in the town that becomes his new home base, K’far Nahum (Capernaum), and begins to teach. The Synagogue was a relatively new reality in Judaism, beginning most likely during the period of the Exile, after the destruction of the temple of King Solomon, and before the exiles began to return to Jerusalem under the Persian King Cyrus and the building of a new temple. Many Jews did not return and remained in the diaspora, perhaps because life was better and more stable there, and perhaps because they found the synagogue service to satisfy their religious needs.

Synagogues could be buildings, but their basic reality was the coming together of a community, which could meet anywhere, including in private homes. The service was somewhat fluid, but it generally was comprised of only three components: a time of prayer, a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Tanakh (most commonly from the Torah), and then an interpretation of the reading. As a teaching institution, the focus was on the instruction that was offered. Usually, there was no music and no songs were sung, and no sacrifices were offered. Each synagogue (and at the time of Jesus there were as many as 480 in the city of Jerusalem) would have three positions: a leader or ruler who ensured the orderly running of the service, a collector and distributor of alms, and a minister (Chazzan) who cared for the Tanakh scrolls and made them available. There was no regular teacher or preacher. It was up to the leader to find someone to teach each week, or invite someone to teach during the service. That person could be a member of the congregation, or a visitor; they might be a recognised scribe or rabbi, or someone who seems to have the necessary teaching gifts, like Jesus. Scribes taught the Hebrew scriptures, but did so based on earlier interpretations – either written in the Tanakh, or in the body of oral teaching such as the Mishnah, or the oral teaching of earlier Rabbis or scribes. What Jesus brought to this teaching was personal authority: “you have heard how it was said, but I say to you…”

Mark wants us to know that the healing ministry of Jesus when he displayed his mighty works and authority was constitutive of his whole ministry. In fact, more than half of the public ministry of Jesus in Mark is comprised of miracle stories. A significant example of these are the release and healing of people possessed by demonic powers – with four major sections of his gospel taken up with these stories – see Mark 1:23-26; Mark 1:39; Mark 5:1-20; Mark 7:24-30; Mark 9:14-29. In a typical account of an exorcism, there are six stages:

  • The meeting of Jesus and the possessed person
  • The resistance of divine power
  • Powerful response of Jesus (‘Be muzzled’ or ‘Shut up!’)
  • A Command to leave
  • The Departure of the demon
  • The Reactions of the witness – usually astonished, amazed or afraid.

Jesus still has authority over our lives and every area of sin, darkness, addiction, shame and evil in our lives. As we pray for our country on this long weekend, let us allow the authority of Jesus to bring healing into every area that needs his love and mercy.

Sunday 04, Year B. Mark 1:21-26

Call and Response

Last Sunday we were invited by Jesus in the Gospel of John to “Come and See” and this week when we resume in the Gospel of Mark and hear the first words of Jesus in this Gospel, we are invited to “repent and believe the Good News” and to join with Jesus as he walks along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, inviting two sets of two brothers to “Follow me.” All four of the men immediately leave their possessions, their trade and their families to follow Jesus.

The first reading from the Book of Jonah provides a counter example of this immediate response. Although Jonah is included in the collection of the 12 Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, the book is not a collection of his sayings (thankfully) but rather a satirical story of his call and ongoing failure to fully respond to the call and word of the Lord. This short book with only 4 chapters and 48 verses provides comical relief to us in those times when we struggle to respond to the Lord and his call to be faithful to his word, and invites us to reflect more deeply on our own response to pagan enemies and their conversion to God.

Sunday 03, Year B. Jonah 3:1-5,10; Mark 1:14-20

Come and See

The first Gospel that we hear as we plunge back into the season of the year with Mark in year B is not from the Gospel of Mark, but from the first chapter of the Gospel of John (John 1:35-42). The Gospel opens with John seeing Jesus walking by and John declares to two of his disciples “behold, the lamb of God” – and they began to follow Jesus, instead of John. When Jesus sees them following after him, he turns to them and asks them a brilliant question: “What are you looking for?” I like their answer – in part because it seems like a very awkward question and not the one that they are really wanting to ask – “Rabbi, where are you staying?” I guess that they really want to ask something like – “Can we become your followers?” Jesus responds to their question, not with a direct answer, but he doesn’t ask them another question – which as a good Rabbi, Jesus is very good at. No he offers a lovely invitation to “Come and See.” It is an invitation that leads to life with Jesus, and it is the beginning of an answer to the first question of Jesus (which are also the first words of Jesus in the Gospel of John). The invitation to life with Jesus opens the door for one of the disciples, Andrew, to then invite someone else. The Gospel is never really experienced until we extend the encounter that is central to the gospel to another person. So Andrew invites his brother, Simon, to also come and see the one the one who is the Messiah. Simon comes into the circle of Jesus’s influence and into the gaze of his love. When Jesus gazes at Simon, he doesn’t only see what has happened in the past, he also sees the full potential of the person who stands there before him, and Simon is no longer only the son of John, he is now called by his future destiny to be Cephas (in Aramaic), or Peter (in Greek).

Sunday 02, Year B. John 1:35-42; 1 Sam 3:3-10,19; 1 Cor 6:13-20.

Christ, the King of Justice

Justice is something that we learn very early as children. We have this strong instinct for when something doesn’t just seem to be fair. Perhaps as a result, justice is one of the most profound longings of the human race. When there is no justice, then we know that something is wrong from deep within ourselves. Justice is both hard to define and hard to enact. This has never stopped humans from seeking it, praying for it, and working hard to find better ways of doing it. Justice means bringing the world back into balance.

The scene of the last judgement that is presented in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 25 has burned itself deeply into our consciousness – not least because of its depiction in many paintings. The Son of Man is identified as the king who sits on his glorious throne admitting on one side the righteous to the final kingdom of God – prepared from the foundation of the world. In contrast is the other side with the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. The common image of a shepherd separating the sheep from the similarly coloured goats is used.

In this present moment, these two kingdoms are interwoven and confused through the ambiguities of history. But the kingdom of God is the only true kingdom. What appears to be the present struggle between the two kingdoms will not last forever, because ultimately only God is King!

Part of what is proclaimed in this gospel is that in the coming of the son of man, justice will at last be done. This passage comes as the climax of a whole series where Jesus has denounced his own people and especially the leaders for their failure to live as God’s people should.

What Jesus wants the church to know is that he is already ruling the whole world as its rightful Lord. This is especially true where the kingdoms of this world treat many of our brothers and sisters with contempt, torture, abuse and too often with death. Then, as now, this passage provides great encouragement for all who work for justice in the name of the kingdom of God.

+ Jesus, as this year draws to a close, help us to rest in your amazing love. Take away any fear or anxiety, because we know that you’ve got this whole world under your care and protection. Amen.

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Sunday 34, Year A. Christ the King. Matthew 25:31-46

** This month I am in Jerusalem as part of my sabbatical program. Please pray for me! **

Hidden Talents

When you get to the end of the year, there are always tests and exams and assignments for students. Some of these may be less serious – merely serving to help teachers know what they will need to spend more time revising in the new year. But for others, these tests will assess everything that the student has learnt over the whole of their schooling and the results will shape much of the life for the student for some years.

Some people think that God has given us a syllabus to study, rules to follow, and lessons to learn. They think that when God returns he’ll set a test to work out who will fail and who will pass. We might imagine that the really good people will get a special award; the really bad ones a decent kick up the pants.

Jesus today tells a parable about a rich man heading abroad, who entrusts his property with three of his servants. A talent was a measure of money – equivalent to what a worker would earn over the course of 15 years – think of it as a million dollars. God wants us to be wise and shrewd in using the talents that he has given us. But this is not a parable that encourages capitalism or becoming an investment banker. The treasure that is spoken of is the good news about the love of the Lord.

While we must read this parable – like all of them – in the light of all that Jesus says about coming for the sick and the sinner, this parable is certainly making a positive judgement on the first two servants who have heard the message of Jesus and have responded to all that God has given to bring about something new. The parable also judges the ones who have hidden their light and kept it for themselves – the worthless servants who do not share the good news of God’s love with others.

+ Jesus, you are such a treasure for us. Help us to freely share the abundance of your love with all those around us. Amen.

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Sunday 33, Year A.

** This month I am in Jerusalem as part of my sabbatical program. Please pray for me! **

The reality of heaven

What we come to when we wish to ponder the place where Jesus has gone, and where our beloved dead have gone to – it is not another where, not another place, but another way of being. Heaven is not some place elsewhere, but it is a different way of being – the place where God is and where the will of God is always done. It is important in this month of November that we spend time reflecting on the nature and reality of heaven. Using the beautiful writings of Pope Emeritus Benedict in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, and reflecting on the images that St Paul uses in the second reading today, we can reflect upon purgatory, hell and heaven as part of our hope for ourselves and all our brothers and sisters who have gone before us.

** I am currently away in Jerusalem on sabbatical leave. This recording is from the Archives (recorded in 2011) **

Practice your Preaching

When you are setting out on a great adventure, you want the guide who is helping you to choose all the gear, plan your route, and help you train to have hiked the same planned journey – not just watched a video about it on YouTube or Discovery Channel. All too often we have guides and teachers who are more concerned about their outward show and appearances than authentic practice.

The reading today begins the fifth and final section of teaching that you find in Matthew’s gospel. This section, which runs for the next three chapters, is full of woes and judgements and the last things. Which makes sense for it takes place during the final week in the life of Jesus, only days before he dies.

Jesus offers three criticisms: that the leaders and teachers say but do not do; second, that they burden others but do not act; and third, that they act for the wrong reasons – to make an impression. So, Jesus says what they teach is good – but they need to practice what they preach.

The warnings that Jesus makes in this chapter certainly apply to the leaders in the church – the Rabbis, Fathers and Teachers ­– but it also applies from top to bottom of all modern societies. No one is completely immune from the criticisms that Jesus levels here. All of us are social creatures who want to be known and liked and accepted by our peers.

When Jesus makes these criticisms, he wasn’t sitting on a great throne. He says these things when the cross that will kill him is already looming large. On the cross he will humble himself and be the servant to all, carrying the heaviest burden of all, so that his people would no longer have to be weighed down by all our garbage.

+ Jesus, help us to get over our little show and appearance. Help us to see that you call us to live an authentic life of service, and to follow you each day along the way of the cross. Amen.

Grace and peace.

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Sunday 31, Year A.

** This month I am in Jerusalem as part of my sabbatical program. Please pray for me! **