GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Alright, welcome back everyone. It is the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time for Year B and we are still in Mark 1. We haven't even gotten out of the first chapter yet, but I hope you're enjoying the journey through this gospel. I know that I am and I'm excited to look at our final episode from chapter 1. It is the famous story of Jesus and the leper, and this is in Mark 1: 40-45. So we’ll read that gospel together and then unpack it. It says this:
And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And he sternly charged him, and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people." But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Alright, so what are we to make of this story? Obviously, it centers around a man with leprosy, which in the Bible is a term for a skin disease of some sort. There are debates about exactly whether it's the same as what today is known as Hansen's disease — which is a disease in which a person's body, in a sense, decays while you're still alive. It can be terminal, and ultimately end up killing you very slowly, over time — or whether it was a broader term that applied to any kind of skin dis- ease. The traditional interpretation of leprosy in the Bible is that it is the ancient form of what today we know as Hansen's disease, and that it was serious, that it was deadly, and certainly that if someone contracted leprosy, which was conta- gious, they would end up being exiled from the community, separated, quarantined, so to speak, for the rest of their lives, because there was no cure for it. In any case, what Jesus here is encountering is a man who has this skin disease, this leprosy. And the man comes before Jesus and, here’s something interesting, he not only asks Jesus to heal him, he also honors Jesus by kneeling before him and by saying “if you will, you can make me clean.” So this is a profound statement of faith on the part of the man with leprosy. Why? Well, in part, just because Jesus has just begun his public ministry in the Gospel of Mark and, yet already, this man has enough faith to recognize that Jesus has the power to take his disease away, to heal him, and to cure him, and to make him clean; because what leprosy was regarded as doing was making a person ‘unclean’. We’ll see that in a moment when we look at the Old Testament background.
This is a particularly strong act of faith too, in light of the Old Testament story of Naaman, the Syrian. This isn’t the Old Testament reading for today, but it's worth keeping in mind. If you go back to the book of Kings...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
There are two aspects of Paul’s teaching here that I want to highlight: the dispute over food and drink, and then the whole question of imitating Paul. Where does he get off saying that? So let’s start with the food or drink, because that’s the background.
If you read through 1 Corinthians 10 as a whole—in other words, if you back up to verse 1 and you read through the entire chapter—you’ll see that one of the conflicts that lie behind the chapter is the question of eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. Now in order to get that context clear, it’s important to recall once again that Corinth is a Greek city, predominantly inhabited by pagans, by Gentiles...and that one of the ways ancient pagan temple cults worked is that certain foods, certain animals, that would be sacrificed or consecrated in part to this or that god or goddess in the various temples throughout the city...some of that meat would then make its way to the marketplace and be sold for people to consume.
So in other words, the grocery—the markets for food and drink—were tied up with the temple cult and the religious services of the various pagan deities in the city. So one of the things….one of the early pastoral problems that Christians dealt with in the early Church is whether a baptized Christian—think here of a Gentile who’s now become a believer in Christ—should continue to purchase and eat meat that was sold at the marketplace, which may or may not have been sacrificed to Zeus or Apollo or Aphrodite...or you know, one of these different deities. And if in purchasing such meat and eating such meat, it would be in some way remotely participating or approximately participating in the pagan temple cults.
In other words, would they be supporters of idolatry if they ate food that was sacrificed to idols that they had purchased in the temple markets? So Paul has a whole discussion of this in chapter 10, starting in verse 18. And he says this...I’ll just give you a little bit of background here. Again, this isn’t in the lectionary for today, but it’s important to know it. He says:
Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
Alright, so pause here. Notice...Paul’s first point is, if you’re a baptized Christian, you cannot go to the temple cult and actually drink the offerings, drink the cup of demons. Because with pagan sacrifice...they’re not just sacrificing to imaginary gods and goddesses. They’re actual real, malevolent forces behind those deities. So with the pagan sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons. And you can’t drink the cup of the Lord—meaning the Eucharistic chalice, the cup of the Blood of Christ—and
drink the cup of a demon as well. You can’t participate in both. If you do, you’ll provoke the Lord to jealousy.
Alright, so on the one hand, there’s no going to the temple cults, just like there’s no going to the brothels in 1 Corinthians 6. On the other hand, when it comes to food that had been sacrificed to the deities but now was being sold in the market, Paul shifts his tune. Listen to this, verse 23:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
So pause there. Notice...what is Paul saying? You can’t drink the cup of demons. You can’t go to the temple cult and participate in the sacrifices. But when it comes to food offered in the marketplace, eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any problems about conscience. And if you have a pagan relative who invites you to their house, and they set something before you, don’t raise any questions about it on the ground of conscience, because all the animals actually belong to God. Even a deer or bull or goat that might have been consecrated to some demon actually belongs to God—the meat that’s sold in the market.
However, now Paul shifts in the other direction, verse 28:
(But if some one says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then out of consideration for the man who informed you, and for conscience’ sake— I mean his conscience, not yours—do not eat it.) For why should my liberty be determined by another man’s scruples? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
...and now we get to the verse that we had for the reading for today:
...whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
So pause there. Notice...Paul has a complicated...it’s a nuanced but it’s a reasonable pastoral strategy. When it comes to certain activities of approximate participation in the temple cult—or direct participation, I should say, in the temple cult—can’t do it. When it comes to remote participation through eating food that has been in the meat market, he says don’t raise any questions about it. You’re free to eat it.
However, if you’re at someone’s house and they bring to your attention that it was offered to some god, you should refrain from eating it, not because there’s anything intrinsically wrong with it but because you might scandalize that person in them thinking that you support the offering of sacrifices to these pagan deities. And he says:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
...and do it with thanksgiving. And then that’s the context when he says:
Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do…
So Paul has this fascinating pastoral strategy. There are certain things that he would allow for himself on the surface, intrinsically. He doesn’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with eating the meat that was sacrificed to this or that deity in the marketplace, especially if you don’t know exactly its origins, where it came from. However, if you might put a stumbling block in front of someone else, if you might cause scandal, you should always try to avoid giving offense.
So notice how nuanced already Paul’s pastoral strategy is as he’s dealing with these very practical issues in the early Church that consisted of so many converts from Gentile paganism. And I think this is actually a great chapter that helps remind us that yes, Paul is the apostle. Yes, Paul is arguably the greatest theologian in the history of the Church. But ultimately too, Paul is a pastor. He writes pastoral theology. He’s writing as a pastor to this Church. He’s trying to shepherd this Church through its pastoral, practical problems, issues, controversies, and moral decisions of how to make judgments and discern right and wrong in daily life in Corinth.|
So it’s a fascinating window on the early Church, and I think it has all kinds of implications for us in the modern world as we try to navigate living in secular society, which is in some ways neo-pagan at times...and how to navigate our being in
that society but not of
that society—participating in the market and in the economies of a secular society without, at the same time, scandalizing people or also being overly scrupulous, as Paul mentions here. So that’s the first part.
The second part—the one that really staggers me every time I read it—are those words:
Be imitators of me… (1 Corinthians 11:1a)
You think about Paul writing the letter to Corinth...
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