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

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.

Days of Darkness

Peace_for_ParisThe darkness of the readings today appropriately match the mood of despair and darkness after yet more senseless and violent attacks over the past few days in Beirut and especially in the city of light – Paris. The Gospel is taken from the longest discourse in the Gospel of Mark – the whole of the thirteenth chapter features a single discussion by Jesus and four of his disciples about the looming destruction of the temple and the days of darkness that would follow. It should be obvious that although this chapter is sometimes called a mini-apocalypse, the form is very different from the book of Daniel (our first reading) or Revelation. The predictions that Jesus is making relate to the immediate events that lie ahead for the community as relations between the Jewish people and the Roman occupiers would continue to deteriorate leading into the Jewish war of 66-70 CE, which would result in the siege of Jerusalem and the utter destruction of the city including the temple with an incredible loss of life. As the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus points out, the large death toll can only be partly blamed upon the Romans – infighting between the various factions led to more deaths than those inflicted directly by the brutal Roman soldiers. It is no wonder that Jesus encourages his followers to flee into the hills to escape such carnage.

Such predictions and the events overseas cause us to ponder deeply upon the meaning and reality of evil. There is never an adequate answer to such horrors. The best that we can do is remember that freedom brings with it certain responsibilities. The fact that we are free means that we can at any stage choose to exercise our freedom to cooperate with God’s invitation to the good or instead to choose to do evil.

Let us pray with great fervour for a true and lasting peace built in a genuine experience of mercy – for only in this will the wounds of past evil begin to be healed.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am. Vigil Mass also available.
Sunday 33, Year B. Mark 13:24-32

Despair and Providence

Elijah-WidowBoth the first reading and Gospel feature widows – one of the most vulnerable groups in Israel and the ancient world. When there is no social safety net, widows relied on other family members and the wider community to provide the sustenance that they could not earn themselves. Their lot was even worse when times were bad – such as during the ninth century BC famine that is the setting of I Kings 17 and the general destitution of life under the Roman Empire in the early first century AD.

At the end of I Kings 16, we are told that Ahab, the son of the evil king Omri comes to the throne of Israel in Samaria, and he also does what is evil in the eyes of the Eternal One. Not only that he is in fact the most wicked King of all the wicked kings who went before him. To make matters worse, he marries the even more wicked Jezebel, daughter of the Phoenician king Ethbaal. One of the first acts that Ahab does is to make a shrine to the god Ba’al Hadad in Samaria. Soon afterwards a drought occurs resulting in widespread famine which spreads beyond the borders of Israel to include parts of Phoenicia. Chapter 17 opens with Elijah escaping to the Wadi Cherith east of the Jordan River, where he finds refuge and is able to sustain himself with water from a spring and food provided by ravens – bread and meat both in the morning and the evening. It is interesting that the Lord chooses to use an unclean bird to sustain Elijah: crows and ravens are listed among the many unclean animals in the Torah in Deuteronomy 14:14 and Leviticus 11:15. When the water runs dry he falls into a depression (a common state for our hero Elijah). Verse 8 opens with the word of the Lord being addressed to the prophet: “Arise, go to Zarephath in Sidon and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman there, a widow, to sustain you.” So, in response to this word from the Lord, Elijah travels into the foreign territory of the Ba’al worshipping Sidonians, where he encounters an unnamed widow gathering sticks near the gate of the town, to prepare a final meal with the last of her meagre food supplies before her inevitable death from starvation.

Elijah bizarrely asks this woman for two things – rather than offering her assistance. First, in a request that we hear as an echo of the one that Jesus makes to another foreigner, the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4), Elijah asks for a drink of water. Then, in an act of black Jewish comedy, he asks her to bake him a small cake after she announces that she only has enough food for her son and herself to ward off starvation for a few more hours. The fact that the woman responds in generosity shows something of her true character. Although she has nothing to give, she is prepared to make this incredible sacrifice, trusting somehow in the graciousness of a God that perhaps she has only just met through the words of this strange prophet of the God of Israel.

Likewise, when the praiseworthy widow in our Gospel is reduced to two lepta – the smallest of the coins in circulation in that day – she chooses to offer them to the Lord as an act of worship. Although her small offering cannot compare to the large and noisy contributions that the rich men are making, the Lord observes that they are giving from their excess and abundance, but she is giving all that she has to live on even though it is so insignificant, meagre and pathetic.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am; 7.30am
Sunday 32, Year B
I Kings 17:10-16; Mark 12:38-44

Saints and Blessings

sinaiWhen we hear the eight beatitudes that begin the Gospel of Matthew’s sermon on the mount in chapter 5, we can easily drift into very well-known territory. Every Christian is very familiar with these sayings, and this gospel or one of its many sung forms is used at weddings and funerals, graduations and dedications. Some dear soul has embroidered the text of the 12 verses and they are placed in our church next to a similar frame containing the ten commandments. But these blessings that accompany our remembrance of this day of all the saints are not new Christian commandments. These declarations are only good news for us if we realise that a beatitude is a statement that declares that certain people are fortunate, or are privileged, or are simply in a great place – because God’s future kingdom is beginning to break into our present reality now.

Beatitudes are unconditional. They do not simply describe something that you hope will one day be true. They do not take the form of ‘if you will do x, then y will happen’ but unconditionally declare that those who are x will be y. In this sense, a beatitude is a prophetic declaration, because it effects what it says and brings into being what it states. So they are nothing like mere laws, because to declare a beatitude is to announce the gospel.

For the beatitudes to be true depends on the truthfulness and authority of the speaker. In this case the speaker is no mere prophet, but our Lord and Saviour himself, and it is on his authority that the church can continue to proclaim and declare the blessedness of anyone who finds themselves already to be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for justice, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers or being persecuted because of righteousness.

The declarations that accompany these beatitudes do not make much sense according to simple human wisdom. Rather they pronounce blessing on any authentic disciples who are living in Christian community. As such, these beatitudes do not apply to eight distinct groups of good people or individuals who will be going to heaven, but to the whole group of Christians together in the church who are striving and struggling to be authentic disciples and indeed saints.

Happy feast day.

Grace and peace.

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Journey Radio Program; Sunday Message now also available

 

Blind Faith

Although the idea of journey is not as strong in the Gospel of Mark as it is in Luke, the disciples have still been following Jesus along the way for many kilometres now. And still they are struggling to make sense of who Jesus is and what it means to follow him on the road. Now that their journey is almost ended, they meet another blind beggar outside of the town. This man is called Bartimaeus and he manages to attract the wrong kind of attention by shouting out after Jesus for mercy. It is enough to make Jesus stop and call the man to him. The voices of the crowd that had been asking him to be quiet now change to voices of affirmation and courage.

The faith of Bartimaeus becomes clear. He doesn’t wait for the healing to throw off his protection as a beggar from the cold and the elements – and indeed his whole identity and purpose. No more waiting, no more confusion: he throws aside the cloak and jumps up and runs to Jesus, perhaps still with the cry for mercy upon his lips.

Jesus wants to know what his deepest desire is – so even if it is abundantly clear what this man’s need really is, Jesus takes the time to ask him the obvious question: what do you want me to do for you? Perhaps the question is necessary because Jesus knows that if he does this for Bartimaeus that his whole life will change. Perhaps his question is really – do you want to give up begging and find a completely new way to live, a new job, new friends, a new place to live?

Bartimaeus becomes in his simple determination to see and follow the Lord an example of faith and discipleship. Unlike the disciples who in their blindness wanted glory, prestige and power, this man wants to know the only one who can save him. He is able to give the right answer to this question. What about us? What do you want Jesus to do for you?

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Journey Radio Program
Sunday 30, Year B. Mark 10:46-52

Cross of Glory

cross-sunsetA few verses before our passage today we read that “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” (Mark 10:32, RSV) Then Jesus takes the twelve aside and announces to them what is about to happen when they arrive in Jerusalem – being handed over to the Jewish authorities, who will condemn him to death, deliver him to the Gentiles (Romans) who will mock him, spit on him, scourge and kill him; and on the third day he will rise again. So this is the background to the question that James and John request of Jesus – to sit on his left and right when he comes into his glory. Amazed and afraid. And stupid!

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Recorded at St Paul’s.
Sunday 29, Year B. Mark 10:35-45.