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Sixth Sunday of the Year

Outside the Camp

Mark gives us two signs in today's Gospel. Each sign tells us something about Jesus and his mission. The first is the healing of a leper. The second is the effect that healing has on the course of Jesus' mission.

Leprosy was a serious affliction. It afflicted not only the leper but also his community with fear. The Book of Leviticus tells us that:

He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.

His community feared contamination by the uncleanliness of the leper. Not only was the leper himself unclean, but he could contaminate others even with his presence and make them unclean too. The safest way for him to live was in his own dwelling outside the camp. A leper was forbidden to live within the walls of any city, especially Jerusalem.

To be healed was to have the possibility of being readmitted to the 'camp', reintegrated into one's own community, no longer an object of fear but a true neighbour. When Jesus healed the leper, he opened up new possibilities for the leper by allowing him to seek readmittance to Israel's camp.

No longer would he have to live in a 'habitation' on the outside. He could live again within the city walls.

So the healing of the leper is a sign of what the mission of Jesus is about. Jesus admits the outsider. He takes by the hand those who are on the edge of God's people and leads them into God's city, rejoicing. The leper, now cleansed from his affliction, can go to the priest and be declared clean. He can go into Jerusalem, to the temple of the Lord, and offer sacrifice to God.

But don't just consider the effect of this healing on the leper. Consider its effect on Jesus' mission. Jesus has been touring the villages of Galilee, preaching in their synagogues. But the ease of Jesus' mission was brought to an end by the leper's behaviour.

Jesus had told him not to tell anyone about it but go straight to the priest and make his offering. But the man started telling his story everywhere and now Jesus could not enter a town openly. Jesus now had to stay outside the towns and villages, in places where nobody lived.

Jesus then has come to be on the outside, to be living outside the camp, in the places inhabited by no one but such unfortunates as the leper. This is our second sign. It tells us how Jesus has in fact come to live on the outside. This is how he brings us inside, by coming to live with a human race that lives 'outside the camp' as nobody, and setting us free.

Our whole race has lived 'outside the camp' since we were expelled from the paradise in which we were created. On the inside there was a close communion with God's creation, and an intimate friendship with God himself, a friendship we flouted for the sake of lesser goods.

But on the outside we found work hard labour, we found pain and suffering, and we found death a cruel reality. And then God found these things too, in Christ, when he bore our afflictions, and suffered for us a cruel death outside the camp, when he offered the sacrifice of himself outside Jerusalem's walls.

God knows the outside from the inside. Nothing was hidden from Christ. He came to be with us where we are - on the outside - that he might bring us inside to where he is - lying in the bosom of the Father. He, who was rich, became poor like us, so that we could share the riches of God. He who was divine took the condition of a slave that he might free us for God.

However far we feel ourselves from paradise, he is there with us. And he has made an offering to God so rich, that we too can enter the holy city of the kingdom of God and praise God with a healed heart, a cleansed spirit, and a new song.

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