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Jesus Challenges Social Conventions

The first chapter of the Gospel of St. Mark contains three healing miracles.  Yesterday we heard how Jesus cast out an unclean spirit in the synagogue of Capernaum.  Today we will hear the story of Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.   Tomorrow the Gospel of Mark will record that Jesus healed a leper.  The reaction of the people to the first healing is one of confusion.  However, by the time that Jesus cleanses the leper, the people have put aside their confusion and simply begin to bring the sick to Jesus’ door, so much so that he finds himself seeking some solitude so that he can pray.

Taken singly, these three stories reveal that Jesus has great concern for the sick and does what he can to alleviate their suffering.  However, taken together these stories reveal that Jesus is challenging the social customs of his day as well as the Law of the covenant of Sinai. 

In the first story, Jesus deals with an “unclean” spirit.  Ritual purity was an important factor in the life of the people of Israel. 

In the story of Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus enters the area of the home reserved for women, again challenging one of the taboos of this culture.

In the third and final healing story of chapter one, Jesus cleanses a leper who would have been, by virtue of his condition, an outcast in this society.

Spirits, women, and outcasts are the focus of the first three healing stories.  As the Gospel continues, we will find that Jesus continues to challenge the dictates of the Law and the social norms of his day.  The Gospel also tells us that Jesus’ heart was moved with pity because these people are like sheep without a shepherd.  Indeed, instead of dealing with the problems of the day, the shepherds of Israel have simply closed the door on these people and removed themselves from the situations.  While Jesus is out in the rural areas touching the lives of real people, the Temple authorities and teachers of the Law are sitting in Jerusalem discussing the meaning of the Law. 

Jesus spends a great deal of time in the Gospels teaching and preaching.  He backs up that preaching and teaching with actions taken on behalf of the people.  The very first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel sows the seeds of contention that will eventually lead the priests and elders of Israel to condemn Jesus to death. 

There are still those in the Church and in public life who would like to separate our life of faith from various social issues.  By constantly reminding us of the needs of the poor and the limitations of our love affair with capitalism, Pope Francis has been called, among other things, a Communist.  The great moral issues of our day must be dragged into the arena of faith and viewed with the spotlight of the Gospel if the Church has any hope of being relevant in our world.

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

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