This extract from the Book of Leviticus is about the laws governing the isolation of those with leprosy or similar ailments. Like some other religious traditional rituals and laws, these rules arise from a matter of hygiene and community health, and are given a religious interpretation. So it says that those with the disease or in contact with them will be considered religiously ‘unclean’ and not allowed to participate in religious ceremonies or even mix with others in public places. These laws were still in force at the time of Jesus and it is quite significant that He transgresses this ruling by touching the unclean in order to heal them. Perhaps it is still the case that not all church laws have to be kept, depending on the particular situation!
In this reading Paul is responding to another question that the Corinthian Christian Community have put to him, which concerns the food that they might buy in the market place which may have been offered to ‘false’ gods; they wonder if it is right to eat such food. Paul’s answer is based on the premise that all things are permissible as long as they do not offend others – we must always try to do good to others, as Christ did. In practice, however, this is more complicated than it might seem, because sometimes you have to take a course of action that ‘offends’ someone else; Paul’s rule is absolute though – whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God.
Here we have an isolated story that Mark includes in his gospel at this point; it may well be based on an original account told by Peter, from whom much early information about Christ came to Mark. We see that Jesus reaches out to touch the leper despite the ritual uncleanness that Leviticus mentions (see first reading); and again, this account, like others, reminds us that Jesus came to show us how to live as God would wish us to – not in all details but in the basic attitude and principles – even though this may offend some religious rules and perhaps some people. If we allow the life of Christ in us to drive all we do, then all things are permissible, because all we do will be based on the love of others and through them the love of God. There is an interesting diversity in the translation of the feelings that Jesus is said to have: sorrow, anger, compassion etc. This difficulty is also found in early manuscripts that some of which use a Greek word meaning “was angry” and others a different word meaning something like “deeply moved.” Most scholars think that anger was the original for you can imagine a scribe changing that to compassion but not vice versa; but this whole issue gives us pause for thought – what attitude should we have to the woes that others undergo: sorrow, anger, deep concern or should it always result in action, even cutting through the accepted practice of the time?
You might like to read Jeffs Jottings about rules and laws