John J. Kilgallen | Sep 19 2008 - 10:14am | 0 comments
From his baptismal experience Jesus knows the purpose of his life, to preach – a major element of which was to call people to repentance. We consider three episodes which follow the statement of Jesus’ purpose in 1, 38. Jesus cleanses a leper. Surely not as astonishing an exercise of power as we saw in Jesus’ command to demons; yet, with each episode in this part of the Gospel Mark builds towards a climax summed up in the question: "Who do you say I am?" By the time the first eight chapters of Mark are finished, we certainly have seen powers never known in Jewish history. Who, then, for these Jews is Jesus? In this miracle scene Jesus’ feeling of pity for the man, as well as his praise of the man’s trust in Jesus, remain vital lessons; they go beyond just the fact of a miracle performed. Jesus asks the man to show himself to the priest in the Temple in Jerusalem; this is in obedience to the Law which indicated that one should get the authentication of one’s healing from a priest (and offer sacrifice) before one could take his place to worship God in the company of fellow Israelites. The priest did not cure, but only assured the community that this person is no threat to public health. Mark shows no harsh word when the man, contrary to Jesus’ wish, speaks publicly about his cure at the hands of Jesus. Apparently here, and elsewhere, Jesus is reluctant to have people draw conclusions about him that fall short of the reality, the deepest meaning, of the Person they are meeting. Jesus has come to call people to repentance, for the kingdom of God is at hand, and only the repentant will enter it. As with most cure-stories, there is more to the story than just the cure, astounding as that is in itself. Mark next offers a picture of Jesus responding to faith in himself; Jesus cures a man unable to walk. The response at the end of the story is symptomatic of this kind of episode; the crowd is to put into the mind of the reader of the Gospel the overwhelming conclusion: ’We have never seen anything like this’. Again, the cure is the result of a command of Jesus, nothing else added. But this story was remembered for forty years and now told by Mark because in it there is another kind of story, a story of conflict. Jesus’ offer to the paralyzed man was at first not a physical cure, but, as befits Jesus’ concern for the spiritual life, a spiritual cure. Jesus was understood to say that he, Jesus, forgave this man’s sins. But in all of Israelite history, no human being had forgiven sins – not Moses, Abraham, David or a prophet. Only God says, "Your sins are forgiven"; for this man to say these words is blasphemy. Thus begins overtly the opposition to Jesus which will end in crucifixion. Mark continues the thread of ’repentance’ with the call to Levi. Suffice it to say that a tax-collector in Jesus’ time was considered by all to be a thief. Yet, Jesus calls one of these, not just to repentance, but to follow him totally – and Levi (Matthew) does. The story continues to express the opinion of holy people: how can you consort with such a person and his sinful friends. The answer is classic: I have come to call sinners to repentance. With this statement we understand very well what obedience meant concretely to Jesus: to plead with everyone to return to God and thus enter the Kingdom. John Kilgallen, S.J.