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This Sunday's Programme

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6th Sunday Year B

Sunday 11th February 2024

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mk 1:40-45

A leper came towards Jesus, begging him, and falling on his knees, saying, ‘If you are willing, you can cure me.’ Jesus’, his heart churning with compassion, reached out his hand, touched the man and said, ‘I will it. Be clean!’ As soon as he said this, the man was clean. Straightaway, Jesus fiercely told the man to leave, saying ‘Look here now, say nothing to anybody but go to the priest and offer the sacrifice for your cleansing that Moses ordered, as a sign to them.’

But coming away, the man cried out everywhere to everyone what had happened, so much so that Jesus couldn’t appear to come into the city but had to stay out in a desolate place. Even so the people came to him from everywhere.

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 31:1-2, 5, 11

Happy is the person lifted out of the quagmire of sin,
whose sin is forgiven.
O how happy is the person God deems clean from sin
whose heart is pure.

I realise that I am a sinner.
I admit the evil in me.
I confess my sin to you, O God
and you have forgiven me.

Rejoice in God, exult.
All good people sing and rejoice.

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, at times we each in our differing ways feel as though we are outcasts – alienated from you and each other. When that darkness comes upon us, send us your Spirit to help us turn to Jesus. He knows our pain and isolation. May his love touch and heal us. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

On first reading, this story can appear to be quite straightforward but a little study and some reflection makes us realise how complex it is. The leprosy that the man had was not what we call leprosy, Hansen’s disease. Rather it was a skin condition that was interpreted as a sign of the man’s sinfulness. Given the strictures for isolating such afflicted people, this man took an enormous risk in approaching Jesus. The man does not so much make a request as state a fact: “If you want to…” The way this is said implies that Jesus has divine power. The Gospel manuscripts offer two different verbs for Jesus’ response: anger or a heart churning with compassion. Whichever interpretation you take, Jesus responds strongly. While his word alone heals, he reaches out and touches the man who couldn’t be touched without incurring his uncleanness. Rather than becoming unclean, he brings healing, cleanness and inclusion to the outcast.

It was held that curing a leper was almost as difficult as raising the dead so why does Jesus so strictly order the man to be silent concerning his cure? This is part of the Messianic secret that runs through Mark’s Gospel. While the miraculous can point to the presence of the divine in Jesus, faith based on miracles can fall short of true faith. The experience of a miracle is only the beginning of a journey to recognising the presence of God, not only in the ordinary, not only in the difficulties of life but also in Jesus as he dies on the cross, the ultimate outcaste.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Leprosy was a shocking disease for a person in New Testament times. The disease was not what we call leprosy but a cluster of skin diseases, the sufferers of which were rigorously excluded from social and religious society – not because of the risk of physical, but rather, moral contagion. It was reasoned that if you had these physical symptoms it was a sign that you had committed sin. The list of possible sins was pretty comprehensive: malicious gossip, murder, a vain oath, illicit sexual intercourse, pride, theft, miserly behaviour. Well, that pretty well covers everyone! The fact that the majority of the population didn’t have leprosy didn’t seem to raise questions regarding this explanation of sin. So long as they didn’t belong to the excluded, despised group scrounging an existence outside the villages and cities, the rules and their interpretation were not challenged.

But not for Jesus. He is surging with emotion throughout this scene. The verbs in the Greek are very strong, with the English translations largely failing to capture the passion erupting out of him at this man’s situation. He ‘churns’ with compassion and ‘growls’ out the orders for the man to fulfil the ritual purifications. How this man has been treated is one of the very things he has come to destroy: judgement according to human distinctions, the separation of people into good and bad, which leads invariably to them and us. At the end of the Gospel, we see who he identifies himself with as he hangs between two thieves, dying an ignominious death.

 

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

Taken any risks with your faith lately? My own tendency is to think that faith is something that should make us feel safe and with a well-developed faith we look to God for protection. But a genuine trust in God can make us act in other ways, ways that can led us to risk all that we have, even if it appears to be little.

The leper in this Sunday’s Gospel was an outcast. Yes, he had a skin disease but the people of his time understood this not as an illness but as a sign of his sinfulness. I can imagine him sitting destitute and despised on the fringes of his society, not allowed to come any closer than two metres to anyone, wondering what he had done to deserve this. Was he such a greater sinner than all his family and friends? Out there wondering, he well could have gone to the wild places of the spirit that questioned the interpretation of the law that had caused his situation. Hearing of this healer, Jesus, he would have pondered long and hard. Healing a leper was considered almost as great a feat as raising the dead. Then he came to his decision: he took the risk; he came back into society and found Jesus. What was truly amazing is that he did not ask Jesus for a cure. His words: “If you want to…” imply that he believed Jesus to have divine power. Sitting on the margins, taking the risk of coming back, had loosened his mind and heart to be open to the person of Jesus in a way that those comfortable in society were not.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

The Healing of the Leper  from a  16th Century Arabic Gospel manuscript.

 

The Healing of the Leper  by Cosimo Rosselli.

– Sketch by Rembrandt of the Healing of the Leper.

– This painting by Ron Cianni shows the despair and alienation the leper must have felt and the transformation that Jesus offers.  These comments come from the host’s site.

“A simple story told over only a few verses packs an enormous message for anyone who ever came to the Savior needing His touch. Ron DiCianni gives viewers a glimpse into those verses and how the life of one of society’s cast outs was changed forever. While studying The Leper, notice the position the leper took when he confronted Christ. He fell on his face. He had no options left in his life, no bargaining power – he assumed the only position left. His need made him realize the Savior was his only hope. Also, see the Savior doing what every hopeless case longs for. He did the unthinkable in that day and age…He touched the leper. That would have been a giant mistake for any human not just because of the law, but for the simple reason that this dreaded disease was highly contagious. No problem though for the one who holds in His hands the “sun of righteousness…with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). Lastly, note the hand that Jesus is holding. New, healthy skin is starting to spread over his body. The leper reached out to the One who heals, and he was a leper no more.” Artist’s note: “The Leper is a mostly literal interpretation of that moment of healing with a couple of twists. I purposely avoided showing Christ’s face because I don’t want to bring Christ down to a merely human level. It is the “Spirit” of Christ I wanted to represent in my work and not just the historical. The little “stars” appearing at Christ’s touch heralds the magical moment of healing. Notice the difference of color in the healed hand from his other, as the healing begins to travel throughout his body. The clouds in back of Jesus are beginning to spread out to form a cross – the ever-present reminder of the price of this leper’s healing. The small spray of flowers poking out of the hard ground is symbolic of the new life emerging from the leper’s diseased body.”

 

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

In this coming week, mull over how people are excluded amongst the various groups in which you live, family, neighbours, workplace.  Ask yourself, what are the reasons and question whether they are valid.  If not, consider what you could do to offer gestures of friendship and care.  Then ask for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and courage to put them into action.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest in the love of your God.

Consider the various aspects of your personality, your strengths and weakness. As you look over who you are, notice the aspects of yourself that you are ashamed of, the parts you would like to cut off, to ignore, exclude. You will notice these aspects because they make you feel ashamed and you find it uncomfortable to look at them squarely.

When you have recognised these aspects, take the risk, bring them to Jesus and remind him of his power and grace. Then sit quietly with Jesus and see what he does.

Rest in the love of you God.