Leviticus 4–6, Psalm 32, Mark 5
Today’s Old Testament reading has more instructions on sacrifices offered at the temple, specifically the sin offering and the guilt offering. The first is to be performed when anyone—priest, ruler, or common person—“sins unwittingly in any of the things the Lord has commanded.” This could include having contact with unclean objects (Leviticus 5:1-4). There is no provision for sins done deliberately. In addition to the ritual of sacrifice, confession is expected (5:5). Guilt offerings are similar to sin offerings, but require that restitution be made to the injured party.
Note how atonement—the reestablishment of a right relationship with God and the community—is always done through the agency of a priest. This idea carries over in our church’s hierarchical structure and specifically in the sacrament of penance, which must be performed by a priest. In Anglican theology, only God forgives sins, but priestly absolution is the means through which that occurs.
Psalm 32 is a song of thanksgiving for healing. There is a clear connection for the psalmist between sin and disease, a “mind-body connection” that is increasingly recognized by modern medicine. The psalmist has been healed from infirmity because of a willingness to confess his or her sinfulness.
The fifth chapter of Mark contains three vivid healing stories, those of the Gerasene demoniac, the daughter of Jairus, and the woman with the flow of blood. The first of these strikes us as quite odd: a man possessed by thousands (“my name is Legion”) of demons raving among the tombs, whose tormenting spirits Jesus exorcises into a herd of pigs who then jump into the sea. Especially interesting is the fact that the same evil spirits who possess the man are the first to recognize Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 5:7), a reminder that simply recognizing Jesus as divine is not enough; one must follow him as well.
In contrast to this rather bizarre account are the tender and compassionate healing of a poor woman who dares only to touch Jesus’s garment and of the little daughter of the ruler of the local synagogue. In an especially vivid touch, Mark even quotes Jesus’ healing words to her in Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken, “Talitha cum.”
N. H. Smith in Peake’s Commentary on the Bible writes of the ritual temple sacrifice described in Leviticus: “Behind all these regulations there lies the conviction that repentance is not enough. Something must be done and must be seen to be done. The ritual is not to please God, who requires only repentance and faith, but for man’s sake so that repentance shall be real and not submerged in a wave of undefined sentiment” Do you agree?
What, for you, is the difference between believing in Jesus and following him?
Oh Lord, we know that your wish for us is health and wholeness. Take away those infirmities of mind and spirit that keep us from loving you with all our heart. Amen.
-The Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith
Bishop of Arizona