Holiness and Wholeness

I pushed the wrong button yesterday. Consequently, my blog entry for Sunday didn't get published on time. So I offer it a day later.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

The Scripture readings for this Sunday focus our attention on the issue of wholeness and holiness in the thinking of the Jewish people. As we listen to the words of Leviticus and the code surrounding an illness they called leprosy, we are asked to look into a reality that lies beneath the blotches, pustules, rashes and fungi that afflict the skin.

The Book of Leviticus was concerned with the holiness of the people of God. "Be Holy aa I am Holy," the Lord God said to the people of Israel. Just as these people did not see themselves as individuals but as members of the community, they did not see holiness as an individual trait that blessed certain members of the community. Holiness could only be seen as a characteristic of the group, the community, the nation. Wholeness and lack of deformity of any kind were considered signs that the group was holy. If anyone was less than whole, they were considered a source of pollution that affected the assembly. In the mind of the law, therefore, it was better to exclude the source of pollution rather than let it remain in the community. So while it may seem to us to be a rather heartless response to a leper's situation, the Law dictated that lepers were to be excluded.

Jesus confronts the lack of compassion written into the Law by touching the so-called leper. In so doing, he excludes himself from the worshiping community for seven days. The opening chapters of St. Mark's Gospel depict a Jesus who was almost frenetically healing and curing people, restoring them to wholeness. However, in so doing, he incurred their status. He would have been considered ritually impure, unclean. Yet, rather than avoid the so-called polluters, he persisted in his compassionate response to their plight.

For people of the Western culture, namely us, holiness is a personal issue. We concern ourselves first with our own wholeness and our own holiness. If there is time left after we have dealt with our own needs, we turn our thoughts to the others in the assembly. The people of Jesus' time could not think in these terms. They could only think of themselves in the context of the group. It mattered not if a person was excluded as long as the community was preserved. Hence their preoccupation with polluting influences and the restrictions they placed on those deemed unclean and their stance of avoidance when it came to dealing with these people.

What does this have to say to us? Though illness and disease are not thought of as a lack of holiness, we still have "lepers" in our midst whom we ignore. Just as Jesus reached out to the lepers of his day, even to the point of his own exclusion, we are called upon to demonstrate compassion on today's outcasts even if this compassionate response jeopardizes our own relationship to the community.



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