u-s-catholic-sunday-reflections

A reflection for the sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Grace Ji-Sun Kim reflects on the readings for February 11, 2024.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year B):

Leviticus 13:1 – 2, 44 – 46
Psalms 32:1 – 2, 5, 11
1 Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1
Mark 1:40 – 45

Reflection: Jesus became the humble servant

In 1990, I went to India as an undergrad student with the Presbyterian Church in Canada. I landed in New Delhi around 10 p.m. and a Presbyterian missionary came to pick me up at the airport. She then drove me to the missionary home, which was located just outside of New Delhi. Though I was exhausted from a long flight from Toronto to New Delhi, I still remember the drive. I was surprised to see so many people sitting outside on the streets or lying down on the curb to sleep.

I was struck by the fact that some of these people had no feet, hands, or arms, and I wondered what had happened to them. Soon, though, I learned that they were lepers. Prior to this, I thought was leprosy was a thing of the past, a disease that was around only during biblical times. Now, I know that many around the world still suffer from leprosy.

In today’s readings from Leviticus and the gospel of Mark, we see stories of lepers. The Leviticus passage refers to lepers as “unclean” and the Mark passage talks about Jesus healing a leper. The passage shows that Jesus is compassionate: as people cry out to Jesus, he shows mercy, and does not delay.

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After Jesus shows mercy and heals the leper, Jesus warns him not to tell anyone: “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” Nonetheless, the leper decides to tell everyone.

Why would Jesus want the leper not to tell the story of his healing, though? In the gospel of Mark, there is a sense of a “messianic secret.” Jesus, it seems, wants his followers to maintain silence about his mission, and for his identity to be kept a secret, as many still didn’t understand who Jesus was.

People were searching and waiting for a certain type of messiah, a “warrior messiah” who would overthrow the Romans. Oppressed by the harsh empire and heavily taxed, the people wanted a messiah who would get rid of the Romans. Jesus knew that he was not the kind of messiah the people were waiting for. He did not come to overthrow the Romans, but instead, came to be a humble servant, a suffering messiah who will be crucified on the cross.

By the end of the story, Jesus and the former leper have basically traded place. The former leper is telling everyone he meets that Jesus has healed him, but Jesus has become isolated and alone.  It’s as though the leper and Jesus have had a role reversal.

In certain ways, this healing story points us towards Jesus’ future. Jesus came into the world to show us mercy, heal us, comfort us, and give us life. Jesus became the humble servant, not the warrior messiah many expected would come to overthrow the Roman Empire. Jesus took the lonely road of giving up his life for us. He became alone, abandoned, and isolated on Golgotha. And he took that path to show us grace, provide healing, and give us eternal life.

About the author

Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Grace Ji-Sun Kim is professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion and the author and editor of 21 books, most recently Invisible (Fortress Press) and Reimagining Spirit (Wipf and Stock). She is the host of Madang podcast which is sponsored by the Christian Century. She blogs on her substack: Loving Life and has written for Huffington Post, The Nation, Sojourners, and TIME.

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