Friday, April 19, 2013 — Week of 3 Easter
Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Martyr, 1012
[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 960)
Psalms 105:1-22 (morning) // 105:23-45 (evening)
2 John 1-13
This story in Luke’s gospel seems like a rich one for meditation. Jesus heals a man “covered with leprosy” and a paralyzed man on a bed. Some thoughts about their conditions.
The word translated “leprosy” includes a variety of diseases other than the one we know today as Hansen’s disease. Chapters 13 and 14 of Leviticus outline a number of skin conditions that would render a person unclean, requiring their exclusion from the community, including their immediate family. They were considered to be impure spiritually, physically and socially. It really is worth the time to read Leviticus 13-14 to see the conditions and diagnosis of leprous disease as well as to read about the three purification rituals that could allow one’s return to the community.
It is remarkable that Jesus reached out and touched this man. To do so would make Jesus ritually unclean according to Leviticus. Jesus heals him, and tells him to go to the priest to undertake the proscribed eight-day purification rituals in order to be restored. The impact of this healing was not merely to cure a disease, but to allow the afflicted person to become part of his community and family again.
Jesus also heals a paralytic. But Jesus doesn’t just address his physical condition. When Jesus addresses him, Jesus says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” To speak so would be considered blasphemy. Only God may forgive sins. Jesus’ words prompt a religious dispute with the authorities. Jesus answers them, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” — and Jesus tells the paralyzed man to stand up. He does.
The term “Son of Man” is an ambiguous one. It could refer to the Son of Man that the book of Daniel describes in apocalyptic language as coming on the clouds of heaven. It could also be a generic reference to a human being, much as C.S. Lewis uses in his Narnia series when he speaks of “Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.” In Matthew’s version of this healing, the people leave with awe and glorify God “who had given such authority to human beings.”
For me these stories are narrative pictures of how Jesus can restore us to health and community. When we feel unclean or when we have been shunned or excluded from community, we need the cleansing compassionate touch of Jesus, who reaches beyond our social boundaries to create community. When we feel stuck — unable to move or to decide, trapped and unable to live freely — Jesus liberates us so that we can walk again, taking away anything that may burden our conscience. He gives us freedom and forgiveness.
For those of us with too many obligations or too few choices, or for those of us with high control needs or problems bigger than the solutions at hand, hearing these words can lighten our load and give us freedom to move. “Friend, you sins are forgiven you… I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” For me, taking up your bed is picking up whatever you’ve been lying on frozen. Going home is returning to that relationship of peace and trust which is our home in Christ.
This is the work of Jesus. To restore community; to cleanse and liberate so that we can be truly alive again. He touches us and we are clean; he speaks and we are liberated.