Gospel Thoughts 12 February 2012
In today’s Gospel Story (Mark 1:40-45) Jesus heals a leper. The religious establishment of those days had declared that a person with leprosy was an outcast, ritually unclean, and anyone who touched a leper also was ritually unclean. Jesus, in an effort to bring his Father’s love to the leper, touched him, thereby freely choosing to make himself ritually unclean so he could live his Father’s love for the leper. The restrictions laid down by the system did not seem to bother him. Throughout the Gospels there are many Stories of Jesus reaching out in any number of ways to the very folks that the religious establishment deemed unworthy. In this Story, depending on which translation is used, Jesus reaches out to the leper either in pity for his condition, or in anger at how the established religious structure has treated him.
This Story offers ground for some musings. The “lepers” and the “unclean” of our own day might be those whose lifestyle and perspective offend the contemporary religious establishment. Some possibilities might be, but are not limited to, homosexuals, folks who are involved with abortions, couples who are married “outside the church” for any number of reasons, folks who do not agree with the church leadership on any number of issues. A given system might deny these folks access to itself unless they meet certain requirements. All this, of course, is done in the name of a loving and compassionate God, who sent his Son among us as a living sign of his love and compassion. It would seem that, instead of pointing out God’s love and compassion happening among us, some systems see themselves as unique agents and channels of Christ controlling folks’ access to Christ.
In his day Jesus reached out in love to the lepers and the unclean, the alienated. He did not hurl threats at them, or throw them out. He loved them, often healed and forgave them, urged them to get their act together. He placed no conditions on the folks he was with. He offered them his love, and respected their decision whether or not to accept it. If they were doing what he thought was not right, he offered them in love a better way, but left their decision up to them. He did not demand that civil government accept what he was teaching and incorporate it into civil law. He reached out in love to whomever he met, and did not do anything to cause them fear. In the end this cost him his life. The religious establishment could not abide his teaching, forgiving, and healing because they saw it as a threat to their own power and control. They had set themselves up as the only ones who knew how to approach G-d. It was their way or no way.
There might be a question as to what this Story could be saying to folks involved in the religious establishment of today. If an establishment or organization who claims uniquely to speak for God creates an atmosphere of threats and fear, making demands and conditions that Jesus did not make, one might wonder if there is something amiss. Jesus did not bring fear to folks. He simply met them where they were, offered his love and healing, and encouraged them. In contemporary terms, he proposed his teaching, he did not impose it. He did not give them question and answers, tell them what and how to think, control what they were allowed to talk about. He did not place conditions on who could or could not draw near to him. When he was questioned or abused by members of the establishment, even when he was being tortured and condemned to death, he did not complain that his rights were being violated. Perhaps today’s establishment knows something about dealing with folks that Jesus did not know. Perhaps this really is how Jesus would act if he had all the facts. So many questions, so many concerns, so many wonderings. Just sayin . . .
There are persons involved with implementing the values and practices of a religious establishment who have a sense that there is something amiss. They feel both compassion for folks who are deemed by the religious establishment to be unworthy, outside the pale, or somehow ineligible, and anger at the way the religious establishment treats these folks. But what are they to do? This is a tough one, especially if the predominant atmosphere in a given local system is fear. The local systems control so much of what its folks can do. The mere threat of withholding things, eg, job, livelihood, benefits, retirement, can generate a great deal of fear. In some cases if a member of a system does not follow exactly the words of a rite, they are relieved of their position and livelihood. The system treats people this way because it can.
I firmly believe the Holy Spirit is involved and active these days. A sign of this is, I think, the quality and dedication of the folks involved in working for change.
Entry filed under: Catholic, Church Leadership, Current Church, Gospel thoughts, Priest, Uncategorized. Tags: church leadership, compassionate god, gospel story, jesus heals, religious establishment, religious structure.