Although quite possibly every culture prizes the surface of things, ours seems to have made a science of the old advertising slogan: “Looking good is everything.”
Looking bad is disastrous. It is the fate of the outsider, the face of the other, marginalized and excluded. Surface defects seem inescapable, since our appearances are so evident and immediate. Surface defects are also readily found out. There is no way to hide them, unless one hides oneself. Pretense does not help. Denial is impossible. It is right out there, while perhaps more serious defects of moral character can be hidden beneath he surface.
While our society doesn’t overtly suggest that some conditions are considered to be violations of religious and cultural boundaries connected with the integrity and therefore holiness of the human body and so are considered to diminish the worth of the person and therefore such people are required to cry out “Unclean!” which was also regarded as a moral failing. Yet social and religious alienation because of other causes is sadly much more familiar – those contemporary lepers, people who some consider to b polluting the homogenous and often exclusive society by their differences in race, cultural mores, or physical and intellectual differences. What are our attitudes to those we might consider weakening the moral fibre of our society – drug addicts, those in prison, those living with HIV/AIDS. Are we on the harsh side of punitive justice or compassionate restorative justice?
Within our own context we hear from the context of the Gospel of Mark the first to be written. We are used to hearing in today’s Gospel that Jesus was ‘filled with pity’ when he encountered the leper, but is more accurately translated as ‘anger’, not ‘pity’. With the exception of the cleansing of the temple in John’s Gospel, generations of translators found it hard to imagine Jesus angry. Jesus’ anger, however, provides a wonderful insight into him, and a strong challenge to us.
Anger tells us that something is wrong. It is an important and valuable emotion. Anger is value-neutral. It’s what we do with it that defines its effect in our lives. Some of us sit on it and stew. Others gain energy from their anger to right the wrong.
People who had any type of skin disease in first century Palestine were called lepers. They were treated shamefully. They had to live outside the villages and towns, call out ‘unclean, unclean’ when they came near others, could never attend the temple and were considered cursed by God and so excluded from the Chosen People. No wonder Jesus was angry when he encountered a man with leprosy. Here he also confronts a social class system that robbed this man of his human dignity and religious laws that robbed him of hope.
There are two details in this story that are especially important. The man with leprosy feels comfortable enough to go straight up to Jesus, to put his case, and ask for healing. We are told that Jesus touched him. Social and religious laws were being broken in this encounter. But Jesus’ healing of the man isn’t just about challenging social laws and taboos. Jesus tells the man to fulfil his religious obligations so that he can attend the temple again and rejoin the community. Jesus was interested in converting all those he met to the higher laws of love and compassion.
We are challenged this Sunday to trust our anger. This is not only about fighting for our rights when we have been wronged, but more so, it’s fighting for the dignity and rights of others. It can take many forms: taking the life of those yet to be born, or who are near natural death, fighting for future generations by calling for a just care of the earth. And it can be about standing up for those people in our home, parish, workplace, neighbourhood, country and world who are treated shamefully, excluded, derided, or declared unclean. this Sunday Christ comes to us, again, and declares that despite what we might think about ourselves, or what we have been told, there is nothing in us which cannot be healed or is beyond hope. Our faith believes in the gradual healing of the whole person, our heart and mind.