Sermons 2006

"Jesus, leprosy, and the law of Moses", Epiphany 6B, 12 February 2006, Mark 1:40-45

Home | "Light and Darkness", Christmas 2C, 31 December 2006, John 1:1-18 | Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2006 | "What then shall we do?", Advent 3C , 17 December 2006, Luke 3:7-18 | "Luke's Gospel", Advent 1C, 3 Dec 2006, Luke 21:25-31 | Which Jesus? Proper 29B 2006, 26 November 2006, John 18:33-37 | Apocalypticism and Fundamentalism, Proper 28B, 19 Nov 2006, Daniel12; Mark 13:14-23 | "The Widow's Mite: All and Everything", Proper 27B, 12 November 2006, Mark 12:38-44 | "The Commandments to love God, Neighbor, One Another" Proper 26B, 5 November 2006, Mark 12:28-34 | "Sight -- and Seeing" Proper 25B, 29 October 2006, Mark 10:46-52 | "Baptism: Overwhelming Washing", Proper 24B, 22 October 2006 Mark 10:35-45 | "God's Transforming Love", Proper 23B, 15 October 2006, Mark 10:17-31 | "Divorce", Proper 22B, 8 February 2006, Mark 10: 2-9 | "Hard Sayings and Sharp Words", Proper 21B, 1 October 2006, Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 | "First or Last?" Proper 20B, 24 September 2006, Mark 9:30-37 | "Unintended Consequences", Proper 19B, 17 September 2006, Mark 8:27-38 | "Ephphatha! Open up!" Proper 18B, 10 September 2006, Mark 7:31-37 | "Rituals", Proper 17B, 3 September 2006, Deuteronomy 4:1-9; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 | "Choices." Proper 16B, 30 August 2006, Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-25; John 6:60-69 | "Come to the Table." Proper 15B, 20 August 2006, John 6:53-59 | "Do not be afraid." Proper 12B, 30 July 2006, Mark6:45-52 | "General Convention and Jesus' Compassion", Proper 11B, 23 July 2006, Mark 6: 30-44 | "Basics for the Journey", Proper 10B, 16 July 2006, Mark 6:7-13 | "Jesus and Rejection", Proper 9B, 9 July 2006, Mark 6:1-6 | "Trust, Faith, and Belief" Proper 8B, 2 July 2006, Mark 5:22-43 | "Storms, Fear, and Faith" Proper 7B, 25 June 2006, Mark 4:35-41 | Mighty things from Small, Proper 6B, 18 June 2006, Mark 4:26-34 | Trinity, Pentecost 1, 11 June 2006, Exodus 3:1-6; John 3:1-16 | The King Jesus Fire-Baptized Holy Spirit Church, Pentecost , 4 June, Acts 2:1-11; Jn 20:19-23 | "That they may be one" General Convention 2006, Easter 7B 28 May 2006, John 5:9-15 | "Friends, friendship, and love" Easter 6B, 21 May 2006, John 15:9-17 | Mother's Day, two mothers' love!" Easter 5B, 14 April 2006, John 14:15-21 | "Interesting, this Good Shepherd!" Easter 4B, 7 May 2006, John 10:11-16 | "How do you prove you are alive?", Easter 3B, 30 April 2006, Luke 24:36b-48 | "Do you believe because...." Easter 2B, 23 April 2006, John 20:19-31 | "He goes before you to Galilee...." Easter B 2006, 16 April, Mark 16:1-8 | "Journey into darkness", Palm Sunday B, 9 April 2006. Mark 11:1-11, 14:32-15:47 | "Sir, we would see Jesus!" Lent 5B, 2 April 2006, John 12:20-33 | "Miracles and Faith, Ordinary and Not", Lent 4B 2006, 26 March 2006, John 6:4-15 | "Rage, Rampage, and Outrage", Lent 3B, 19 March 2006, John 2: 13-22 | "Images of the Cross", Lent 2B, 12 March 2006, Mark 8:31-38 | "Baptism, Temptation, Redemption," Lent 1B, 5 March 2005, Mark 1:9-13 | Ash Wednesday , 1 March 2006, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 | ""Nanny McPhee' and transfiguration", Epiphany Last B, Mark 9:2-9 | "Jesus, leprosy, and the law of Moses", Epiphany 6B, 12 February 2006, Mark 1:40-45 | "Healing, wholeness, forgiveness, and love", Epiphany 5B, 5 February 2006, Mark 1:29-39 | "Haints, Unclean spirits, and demons" Epiphany 4B, 22 January 2006, Mark 1:21-28 | Epiphany 3B, 22 January 2006, "God's Call -- and Our Response", Mark 1:14-20 | Epiphany 2B, 15 January 2006, "Call and Response", John 1:43-51 | Epiphany 1B, 8 January 2006, "The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours", Mark 1:7-11 | The Holy Name, 1 January 2006, Luke 2: 15-21

Epiphany 6B 2006 Mark 1:40-45

When I was a child the biblical stories of miracles always seemed so vivid and real to me. They had a living color and tone that five years of graduate school in history and three of Seminary failed to dim. I do now understand them in a different way, however.

But the stories about lepers always filled me with a deep sense of dread and foreboding. An avid reader at a young age I remember reading a story about the leper colonies at Carrville, Louisiana, and on the island of Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands. I think I remember particularly that one of the early signs or symptoms of leprosy was that the destruction of the nerve endings in the tragus and lobe of the ear. The article warned that early diagnosis was the key to controlling the disease with the new drugs and treatments that had been developed by the end of World War II. What I do remember is, that for years afterwards, whenever I thought of leprosy or heard the leper stories in the Bible, I would pinch my tragus and earlobes to see if it still hurt! Came from having a mother who was a hypochondriac, I suppose.

Today we conclude the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark with the miracle of the curing of a leper – and yes, I tweaked my ear when I read it. In the Old Testament, leprosy did not include Hansen’s Disease – clinical leprosy as we know it. Any skin disease involving scaling or drainage was called a leprous disease as was scaly mold and bacterial growth on clothes and in buildings. Hansen’s appeared in the Near East about 300 BC; Greek physicians in Egypt described it about that time, and it had spread to Italy two hundred years later. Most likely, the leper in today’s gospel had Hansen’s Disease – true leprosy as we know it.

Noted last Sunday was the pell mell “and then and then and then” quality of this first chapter. And while the point about that may have seemed a little confusing, riding on top of that high speed data stream of bits and bytes, was a mainstream of insight and information about this Jesus of Nazareth.

Today we will begin to try to address what Saint Mark is really trying to tell us across the centuries from the beginning of the Early Church to now and beyond, things we might have missed as the torrent flow of the narrative swept by us and over us and around us.

The first thing that Saint Mark is trying to tell the very Early Church and us is Jesus was filled with the power of God. At his baptism God spoke his approval from the heavens and declared that Jesus was his Son, his Beloved, with whom he is well pleased.

And it follows that the second thing is that Jesus is divine himself. The unclean spirit holding sway over the poor man in the synagogue confirms this. Before Jesus shut the demon up, the demon recognized who Jesus really was. Not just a prophet, not just a teacher, but something quite different.

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth.. I know who you are, the Holy One of God. The demon recognized the two natures of Jesus Christ, both the human – Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, born in a stable – and the Christ, the Holy One of God, true God from true God, begotten not made: God in man. Jesus tells the demon to shut up and get out of the man and the unclean spirit obeys instantly. This is an event of the use of the raw incandescent divine power over both the human and the supernatural. In fact, power over all that is and all that will be. The man is healed, the evil spirit is silenced and cast out.

The third thing is a demonstration that Jesus has power over ordinary human illness as well. He is told that Peter’s mother in law is ill with a fever and he takes her by the hand and pulls her up from her bed and she is well without a word from Jesus himself. Well enough to set about serving them as their hostess.

This healing story is what we call in clerical circles as content rich. It points out two other things about what Saint Mark is reporting about Jesus, the fourth and fifth things of this first chapter.

The fourth thing is that Mark is telling us that all who are touched by Jesus, whether in their Baptism, or in their prayer life, or by other Christians – all who are touched by Jesus are called to fulfill the second requirement of Jesus’ great Summary of the Law: to love our neighbors as ourselves, to serve them. Peter’s mother in law instantly starts doing what every Christian is called to do by Christ himself, to love and serve others.

The fifth thing is that by his actions Jesus is setting aside a large body of the minutely precise prescriptions of the Mosaic Law concerning the Sabbath. He exorcizes a demon on the Sabbath, right in the synagogue itself, he heals Peter’s mother in law on the Sabbath, and permits her to work on the Sabbath. Loving one’s neighbors and serving others, Jesus says by his example, is infinitely more important than the manmade proscriptions set down in much of the Mosaic Law that would prohibit and hinder such love and service.

The sixth and last thing is related to Jesus setting aside other parts of the Law that prevent or hinder humans from loving and serving others wherever and whenever is necessary.

“A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean.”

Touching, really, having any thing to do with someone whose disease made them ritually unclean was one of the greatest taboos in the Mosaic Law – Leviticus devotes two full chapters to the subject of leprosy alone, 13 and 14. And the person who touched them became ritually unclean in the process according to the Law.

Jesus chose to ignore the prohibitions of the Levitical Law. He refused to accept a narrow and rigid orthodoxy which obstructed love and service to a neighbor in need. This is what Saint Mark is telling us.


Wicomico Parish Church
PO Box 70
Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579