Spirituality of the Readings
Be Made Clean
Do the spiritual life and the liturgical year coincide?
Yes. But in what way?
In the following I do not mean to leave aside the most crucial elements of liturgy:
The body of Christ
Through all these we grow to know him “more clearly, love him more dearly, follow him more nearly” (Richard of Chichester).
But the purpose of the reflections I write each week is to underline the deep spirituality of the readings we hear each Sunday. So it makes sense to look for a spiritual connection with this week’s scripture.
I will make a general remark about Sunday readings and then apply it to the ones from this Sunday.
The Sunday Gospel readings are told by Mark this year (last year by Matthew). Mark is direct and uses fewer words. He always helps us get the texture of the story, to listen with our imaginations, and to let Jesus’ life enter in. He has many concrete details. For instance, last week Jesus did not just “cure” Peter’s mother-in-law, he “grasped her hand, and helped her up.” And when Jesus stills the storm at sea, he is not just “in the boat,” but, according to Mark he is “at the stern” of it. And he is not just asleep, but sleeping “on a cushion”!
Imagination can happen especially if you or I take some time before we get to Sunday Mass (perhaps using the present website!) to understand and pray the readings!
Alright, what about Mark’s Gospel this coming Sunday? A man walks up to Jesus covered with scales and scabs. According to prescriptions (found in our First Reading) the man should “dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” Thus, as long as the sores are on him he should ring a bell and cry “Unclean, unclean!” In approaching Jesus in the manner he does, the man is committing a terrible social blunder and he may be breaking the law too!
In the face of all this, Jesus is not repulsed or shocked, he is “moved with pity.” Just three words, but they tell us so much.
Then a wonderful statement from the leper. “If you want to, you can make me clean.” What? Of course our savior wants to! Yet these words are a confession of faith on the part of the leper. Where did he get this trust of Jesus? Maybe his spiritual life had already begun.
Jesus’ remarkable answer: “I do want to.”
Direct, honest, so revealing of God. The whole life of Jesus consists of a desire to give to people who are in trouble and who believe, even if they have only a small faith by which to receive, as well as large wounds.
In an extraordinary move, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the man. As noted, the ancients thought that Leprosy was communicable, and at the very least disgusting. But Jesus touched him with care and said, “Be made clean.” Our spiritual life consists of being “made clean,” no matter how disgusting our failings may be. We must receive Jesus’ touch, especially his touch upon our souls.
So, here in the very first chapter of Mark, we find Jesus extending his mercy toward the leper and toward each of us. Spirituality and the Gospel have coincided.
Look for more of the same as we make our way through Mark’s Gospel.
John Foley, SJ
**From Saint Louis University