The enemy

When a child comes into the world, the first question the parents ask is, ‘Is the child healthy?’

It is an immediate burden, a shadow over the joy of the new life, if the doctor says, ‘Well, there is a problem.’ It takes a brave parent to welcome the child with even greater love if he or she turns out to have an incurable sickness or handicap. Parents do, of course, with great courage, welcome their child with Downs Syndrome or their child born blind. But where does illness come from?

Sickness was not part of God’s plan. Jesus makes that clear from the beginning of his ministry. He sets about healing: Healing the sick, driving out evil spirits and, in today’s reading, curing people with leprosy. Leprosy seems to have been the greatest enemy. Probably because it not only enfeebles the sufferer but cuts him or her off from society. People with leprosy, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, have to ‘live apart’. Strict apartheid. Jesus respected that and told the people he cured to fulfil the law; ‘Show yourself to the priest’. ‘Make the prescribed offering.’ But where does leprosy come from? 

Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, calls Satan, ‘the enemy of our human nature.’ Satan is the enemy of everything good, everything holy, everything healthy, everything that fulfils human life, everything that gives joy to a person. We are already into the sixth Sunday of the year but we are still in the first chapter of Mark. He packs his program, his ‘strategic plan’, into this first chapter. He tells us Jesus attacked leprosy from day one. Because it cuts people off from one another, it is a powerful symbol of sin.

Yes, healing is about curing the sick. But the real healing is wiping out sin. Yet there are consequences. This is where the real shock comes. The man cured is overjoyed but he can’t handle it. Jesus has to take the consequences. He has to take the man’s place. He had to live apart. ‘He could no longer go openly into any town but had to stay outside where nobody lived.’ Jesus cured the man but he had to pay the price. That is what the whole gospel – and all the gospels – are about. He ‘carried our burdens’, Isaiah tells us.

The Israelis of today seem to have no plan whatsoever to live together with the Palestinians. They seem to have learnt nothing from their long and sacred traditions. They appear to want to ‘live apart’, build walls, have nothing to do with those who are their neighbours. Long after the Germans have demolished their walls and the South Africans abolished their apartness, they cling to this notion of separation. In 1948, they drove many Palestinians from their homes. Today, they seem to want to clear all the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean of Palestinians. Leprosy is still very much with us.  

11 February 2023        Sunday 6 B     Lev 13: 1-2, 45-46    1 Cor 10:31-11:1     Mk 1:4045

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