February 12th: “I Choose You”

This Week’s Passage: Gospel Mark 1:40-45

Highlights: Jesus risks physical and social well being to cleanse a leper. How do we need to be cleaned? Who do we need to reach out to?

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, February 12thin Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

40 Would this have been difficult for the leper? Or would his leprosy have driven him to the point of grabbing at every straw? How did he overcome the social stigma and separation?

41 It is not our choice, but Christ’s choice to reach out and touch.

42 What do we wish to be cleansed from

43 Is there an implication that Jesus warned the leper not to worship him or idolized him for the physical healing apart from the spiritual healing?

44 Go and worship God as you were instructed.

45 How would this look today? Is this the error of worshiping the medium rather than the message?

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This could be seen as an example of Jesus casting out demons mentioned in v. 39. Beginning the story with v. 35 places this missionary trek in the context of prayer.
  • This passage shifts Jesus from generic healings to theological healing. In the next passage a paralytic man is restored by receiving forgiveness of sins. By parallel, cleansing equals forgiveness as both mean restoration to community.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • A few variants omit “and kneeling down” in verse 40 and others change verse 41 from “being filled with compassion” to “was angry”. But these are less reliable manuscripts.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Matt 8:2-4 – Omits Jesus’ feelings of compassion. Omits the leper’s freely proclaiming being healed and the impact of notoriety on Jesus’ preaching.
  • Luke 5:12-16 – Omits Jesus’ feelings of compassion. Generalizes the notoriety that the healing gave Jesus.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Including Jesus’ feelings helps emphasize his humanity.
  • Clean appears 4 times: The leper asks to be made clean. Jesus chooses to make him clean. The leper was made clean. And he was commanded to make an offering for cleansing. Cleanliness would have restored the leper to community, thus his first act would be to worship God who made him clean.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Leper: Came hoping that Jesus would cleanse him and was so elated he could no longer contain himself.

Jesus: Jesus was dismayed (perhaps even angry) that the community had deemed lepers untouchable. Thus touch demonstrated the leper’s restoration to community.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

Center: Demonstrate Jesus willingness to violate social norms to restore people to community.

Music: “There Is a Balm in Gilead”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Lepers were supposed to announce their uncleanliness so no one would inadvertently touch them. Yet Jesus intentionally touches the man before he is made clean and before he presents himself to the priest and thus remove the requirement to announce his uncleanliness.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • Pokemon refrain, “I choose you!” Does this reflect a need in our community to be chosen?
  • I sat next to a drunk while he waited for AA to start and I waited for my meeting to start. “Never sat next to a preacher before. Can I shake your hand?”
  • Country song: “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play”.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Lamar Williamson, Jr. (Interpretation: Mark. John Knox Press, 1983.) favors reading Jesus’ feeling anger in verse 41 as it is the more difficult reading and fits with the verbs used in verse 43 and anticipates this healing interrupting and impeding his work. He interprets Jesus command to offer sacrifice as affirming Jesus respect of the Jewish law and affirming ritual as completing restoration to community. He cautions against presuming that “God always wills healing” and against using healing ministries to attract converts or make healing a central ministry of the Church.

Pheme Perkins (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Gospel of Mark”. Abingdon, 1995.) expands the pericope to include verses 29 through 45, making this episode the capstone of a series of healings. She notes that the formula “If you will, you can” appears in ancient prayers, acknowledging the sovereignty of gods in healing, thus modeling the correct method of praying for healing.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

  • To follow Christ is to risk social and physical well being to restore people to community.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

  • We want Jesus to choose us. But only God’s will matters.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

  • Recognize that while God desires us to be in community, our well being is subject to God’s will not our request.

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