Thursday, October 29, 2015

Becoming Fit For Worship

Scripture Mark 1:42-44 - Becoming Fit For Worship
And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
And he (Jesus) sternly charged him, and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people."

Now from the time I was a kid passages like this one, the healing of a leper, in the Gospel of Mark had been interpreted along these lines.

There aren’t many lepers around today but there are a lot of people that we treat as lepers.
People who are social outcasts and pariahs.
Jesus is welcoming and inclusive toward the leper and so we should be welcoming and inclusive toward the lepers “symbolically speaking” in our society.

Now I have got nothing particularly against that way of reading the passage but I have heard that homily so many times.
I am also pretty sure that is not what a first century Jew would have been thinking about as he read this account in the Gospels or meditated on the Book of Leviticus.

What did it mean for someone in that time?

Leprosy frightened people in ancient times as contagious and mysterious diseases frightened people up until the modern period. But more than this, it rendered somebody unclean, ritually unclean and therefore incapable of engaging in the act of worship. It is not accidental by the way that the person doing the examining the patient in ancient Israel would be a priest.

The Book of Leviticus deals with the issue of leprosy. In chapter 13 we see these elaborate instructions on how a priest should examine someone to determine whether he or she had leprosy.

Why the priest? Well he was the person who was monitoring the whole process of Israelite worship, including the question of who could or couldn’t participate in the Temple worship. So that is the focus it seems to me of this whole question of leprosy.

Now flash forward to Jesus time. We have seen that one of the principle tasks of the Messiah of Israel was to gather the scattered tribes. To call together as one all those who had been scattered by exile, by warfare, by sin, by their own rebellion against God. The Messiah would call Israel together because only a gathered Israel could fulfil its mission of in turn gathering the tribes of the world, to what? The true worship of God.

Another task of the Messiah was to cleanse the Temple. To make Jerusalem again a place of rightly ordered praise and we see when Jesus comes into the city at the climax of His life He does precisely that. He interrupts the false worship in the Temple and He seeks to establish right praise.

Now in light of this it is very instructive to revisit many of the healings of Jesus. Think of the woman with the haemorrhage who had been sick for many years and finally reaches out and touches Jesus tassel and is cured. She isn’t simply complaining about her physical malady. The haemorrhage rendered her ritually unclean and hence unable to worship. Think of the woman who is bent over for many years and Jesus allows her to stand up straight. You see standing up straight was the attitude of worship. Bent over she was unable to give God proper praise. Think of the man in Marks gospel with the withered hand. It was the same problem, someone who is so physically deformed was ritually unclean and so the same is true of the leper.

Everyone knew the restrictions laid out in the Book of Leviticus. When this man begs Jesus for a cure he is not simply concerned about his medical condition. He was an Israelite in exile from the Temple. Hence, he was a very apt symbol of the general condition of scattered exiled wandering Israel. In curing him, Jesus was symbolically speaking gathering the tribes and bringing them back to the worship of the true God. He wasn’t just the marginalised in a generic sense, he was Israel incapable of right worship.

That is why Jesus says to the man after He cures him, “Go, show yourself to the priest”. In other words, go back to the temple from which you have been for so long exiled.
Go back to the place of right worship.

I am now going to propose that symbolically speaking the leper stands here, not so much for the socially ostracised, but for those of us who have wandered away from right worship. Those of us who are no longer able or willing to worship the true God.

What is so important about worship?
To worship is to order the whole of ones life toward the living God, and in doing so become interiorly and exteriorly rightly ordered.
When you worship the true God, you have ordered all the powers in you toward the true God.
You become the person you are meant to be.
Mind, will, imagination, body, energies, passions, everything in you ordered to God now become rightly ordered to each other.
More to it, when all of us worship the true God together, we become among ourselves rightly ordered.
We come together around the common praise of God.
To worship is to signal to oneself what ones life is finally about. When you worship you know what you are about, what you are for.
Worship is nothing that God needs.
God doesn’t need our praise, but it is very much something that we need.

Saint Augustine said “We can uncover the nature of a society very easily by asking this one simple question, “What do the people in the society worship?””
He said, in his great text The City of God, where he examined the Roman culture of his own time. He said that Rome had fallen precisely because it had worshipped the wrong god’s. God’s who were vain and petty and violent. So the people became vain and petty and violent. We become unto like what we worship.

Paul Tillich said the key to understanding a person is to uncover his ultimate concern, which is another way of saying what he worships.

What do you worship?
If it is not the living God, you have wandered into the land of exile.
You have become, in fact, unclean.
We become disordered if we worship pleasure, money, power, honour. The things held up by the culture.

You might say, “the Mass is tedious and boring. It doesn’t speak to me, that is why I stay away from it.”
So what! The Mass is not to entertain you, it is meant to order you.
It is meant to straighten you out. It is meant to cleanse and purify you.
The Mass is the place where Jesus even now continues to gather the Tribes around Him.
The Mass is the place where even now the Temple is cleansed.
The Mass is the place where we become rightly ordered in the presence of God.

Keep that in mind as you meditate upon this man who is now before the Lord and asks to be cleansed.

And God bless you.

Source: Fr Robert Barron – sermon Becoming Fit For Worship

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