Monday, August 22, 2005

Maybe it's time

If you promise not to tell my New Testament professors, I will make a confession. I don't always do what they taught me back in seminary. Take today's Gospel reading found in Mark 1:29-45.

As Mark often does, there is a lot of action compressed into a few verses. Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law; he cures a lot of sick folks and casts out demons; he goes off by himself to pray; he goes around preaching and casting out more demons (I guess I missed that class!); and he heals a leper.

And there it is. In verse 41, where the NRSV says that Jesus is "moved with pity," a little footnote letter appears (in my Bible, it's an'o'). Now, that is a signal to look down at the bottom of the page for a textual variant (in seminary-ese). And, in a highly unusual move for me, I glance down at it, thinking I will find the word 'compassion' or 'sorrow' or some other sympathetic word. But I don't.

I am told that other ancient authorities read 'anger.'


I expect Jesus to be compassionate; I expect Jesus to feel sorry for folks; I expect Jesus to be moved with pity. But when he is about to heal someone I don't expect him to be angry. But he is, in some of the ancient readings that were passed around in the early church.

He's not angry at the interruption, but at the disease which is another symbol of the brokeness in God's creation.

He's not angry at being asked to do a healing, but at the misery which comes along with the physical debility.

He's not angry at the leper, but at the powers that continue to defile God's world, that continue to challenge God's justice, that continue to separate people from the One who has created them in the divine image.

And so it is with passion, not pity, that Jesus heals the leper. It is with that holy righteousness that cannot stand to see another suffer, that Jesus brings hope to this outsider. It is with that divine willingness to stand with those who have been cast out by the world, those who have been judged unworthy by society, those who have been condemned because they are not as wealthy or wise or wonderful as we, that Jesus reaches out and touches the man and, in doing so, brings him back into God's family.

We are so easily moved by pity, we find it so easy to feel sorry for others, we complain about compassion fatigue.

Maybe it's time for some passionate anger on behalf of others.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

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