The leper (Mt 8:2-8:2)

“There was a leper

Who came to Jesus.

He knelt before him.

Saying.

‘Lord!

If you choose,

You can make me clean.’”

 

καὶ ἰδοὺ λεπρὸς προσελθὼν προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγων Κύριε, ἐὰν θέλῃς δύνασαί με καθαρίσαι.

 

This leper story can be found in Luke, chapter 5:12, and Mark, chapter 1:40, perhaps indicating Mark as the source, since Matthew was closer to Mark.  A leper came to Jesus (καὶ ἰδοὺ λεπρὸς προσελθὼν).  Leprosy was some kind of skin disease that was usually found among poor people.  Today, there are about 2,000,000 people with leprosy or Hansen’s disease, mostly in India, Indonesia, and Brazil.  The Greek word “λεπρὸς” used here is a broader definition of leprosy than just Hansen’s disease.  Leprosy was a religious problem also.  What to do about it was clearly defined in Leviticus, chapters 13-14.  Leprosy in the wide sense was considered unclean and had religious connotations, since only a priest could declare a person clean with a distinct ritual for cleansing the leper.  As a leper, you were considered unclean and not fit to live in normal communal life.  This leper then knelt down before Jesus as to offer obedience to him (προσεκύνει αὐτῷ).  Then he spoke to Jesus, calling him Lord (λέγων Κύριε).  Then the leper asked Jesus to cure him if he wanted to (ἐὰν θέλῃς).  He knew that Jesus had the power to do this, since many prophets had cured lepers.  The leper was asking Jesus to perform as a prophet and make him clean (δύνασαί με καθαρίσαι), so that he could join normal Jewish society again.

The Gift of Faith

Christian faith is a gift from God.  We do not earn it.  However, we can refuse this gift.  We must accept this gift with our mind, our heart, and our will.  Our whole person believes in Jesus Christ.  My mind believes that it is true.  My heart says I trust.  I will love and have a concern for others.  The initial Christian faith is a gentle longing, a search for meaning.  For some it comes in a blinding flash, like the apostle Paul.  Dorothy Day (1897-1980) found it working with the poor, while others see it in the presence of a priest or minister who witnesses to goodness, or at the time of a tragedy or death.  Still others grow up within a cultural community of Christians that grows with them throughout their life.  My faith in Jesus Christ is a continuous growing mysterious reality.

 

Purify the sanctuary (Ezek 45:18-45:20)

“Thus says Yahweh God!

‘In the first month,

On the first day

Of the month,

You shall take a young bull

Without blemish.

Purify the sanctuary!

The priest shall take

Some of the blood

Of the sin offering.

He shall put it

On the doorposts

Of the temple.

He shall put it

On the four corners

Of the ledge

Of the altar.

He shall put it

On the posts

Of the gate

Of the inner court.

You shall do the same

On the seventh day

Of the month

For any one

Who has sinned

Through error

Or ignorance.

Thus,

You shall make atonement

For the temple.”

Yahweh, via Ezekiel, wanted them to purify the sanctuary on the 1st day of the 1st month. In other words, this would be a New Year’s Day activity. They were to take an unblemished bull and use him to cleanse the sanctuary at the start of the new year. The priest should take some of the blood from the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the Temple, as well as the four corners of the altar ledge and the posts of the gate of the inner court. The priest was also supposed to do this same ritual on the 7th day of the month for anyone who sinned inadvertently by error or ignorance. This purification ritual of the first day of the first month of the year would make an atonement for the Temple, so that it would be purified.

The listeners of Jeremiah (Jer 38:1-38:1)

“Now Shephatiah,

The son of Mattan,

Gedaliah,

The son of Pashhur,

Jucar,

The son of Shelemiah,

With Pashhur,

The son of Malchiah,

Heard the words

That Jeremiah was saying

To all the people.”

People went to hear what Jeremiah had to say even while he was in prison. Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jucar, and Pashhur were royal officials among the visitors who were listening to the words of Jeremiah.   Shephatiah is only mentioned here.   Gedaliah may be the son of Pashhur, who beat up Jeremiah in chapter 20. But he was a priest and not a royal official. Jucar is probably the same Jehucal mentioned in the preceding chapter as a messenger from the king to Jeremiah. Pashhur was the same royal messenger mentioned in chapter 21. Apparently while in the prison at the royal palace, Jeremiah could receive visitors. Like the preceding chapter, this is a different numbered chapter in the Greek translation of the Septuagint, chapter 45, not chapter 38 as here.

The death of the false prophets (Jer 29:21-29:23)

“Thus says Yahweh of hosts,

The God of Israel,

Concerning Ahab,

The son of Kolaiah,

As well as Zedekiah,

The son of Maaseiah.

‘They were prophesying a lie

To you in my name.

I am going to deliver them

Into the hand

Of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

He shall kill them

Before your eyes.

On account of them,

This curse shall be used

By all the exiles from Judah

In Babylon.

‘Yahweh makes you

Like Zedekiah,

Like Ahab,

Whom the king of Babylon

Roasted in the fire.’

Because they have

Perpetuated outrage

In Israel.

They have committed adultery

With their neighbors’ wives.

They have spoken in my name

Lying words

That I did not command them.

I am the one who knows.

I bear witness.

Says Yahweh.’”

Yahweh talked about two prophets whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon roasted in a fire. These two prophets were Ahab, the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah, the son of Maaseiah. There was a king of northern Israel in the 9th century (874-853 BCE) named King Ahab with his wife Jezebel, who had confrontations with the prophet Elijah, as found in 1 Kings, chapters 16-22. However, this Ahab is only mentioned here. Zedekiah has the same name as the current king of Judah. His father Maaseiah was also the father of the priest Zephaniah, mentioned in chapter 21. This Zedekiah is not mentioned elsewhere either. These two prophets were prophesying lies that Yahweh had not commanded, so that they deserved to be killed by the king of Babylon. We do not know exactly what lies they were telling, but they also were adulterers. They may have tried to rebel against the king. Thus their names would be a curse.

Title (Jer 1:1-1:3)

“These are the words of Jeremiah,

Son of Hilkiah,

Of the priests

Who were in Anathoth

In the land of Benjamin.

The word of Yahweh

Came in the days of King Josiah

Son of Amon of Judah,

In the thirteenth year of his reign.

It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim,

Son of Josiah of Judah,

Until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah,

Son of Josiah of Judah,

Until the captivity of Jerusalem

In the fifth month.”

Jeremiah probably was a prophet in Judah from 627-587 BCE, about 40 years, much like the 40 years of Moses in the desert. He was the son of Hilkiah, who was mentioned in 2 Kings, chapter 26. Although this priest Hilkiah served under King Josiah (641-609 BCE) of Judah, it is not clear that he is the same person as the father of Jeremiah. This Hilkiah, the father of Jeremiah, was among a number of priests who lived at Anathoth, in the Benjamin territory, about 2 miles outside of Jerusalem. If this is the 13th year of King Josiah, who had succeeded his killed father, King Amon (642-641 BCE), the call of Jeremiah to be a prophet took place around 627 BCE. These are the words about Jeremiah during the reigns of King Josiah, and under his sons, King Jehoiakim (609-598 BCE) and King Zedekiah (598-587 BCE). There is no mention of the other two sons of King Josiah, who only were kings for 1 year each, King Jehoahaz in 609 BCE, and King Jehoiachin in 598 BCE. King Zedekiah was the king at the time when the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem took place in 587 BCE.

Yahweh judges (Ps 110:5-110:7)

“Yahweh is at your right hand.

He will shatter kings

On the day of his wrath.

He will execute judgment

Among the nations.

He will fill them with corpses.

He will shatter heads

Over the wide earth.

He will drink

From the stream by the path.

Therefore he will lift up his head.”

This short psalm ends with Yahweh giving this king, probably David, the power to judge. Thus the Christian interpretation of the Messiah as king, priest, and judge would be based on this psalm. Here there is a role reversal from the first verse as Yahweh is at the king’s right hand. Now this is a king who shatters other kings on the day of wrath. He too will execute judgment on the other nations as well. He will fill their countries with corpses. He will shatter their heads on the earth. He will drink from the streams along the pathway so that he will lift up his head. Yes, this is a difficult psalm to understand, so that the Davidic Christian messianic interpretation is certainly possible.

Yahweh takes possession of his Temple (2 Chr 5:11-5:14)

“The priests came out of the holy place. All the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to their divisions. All the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kindred, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with one hundred and twenty priests who were trumpeters. It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to Yahweh. The song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to Yahweh.”

‘For he is good,

For his steadfast love endures forever.’

The house, the house of Yahweh, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud. For the glory of Yahweh filled the house of God.”

This is a little different from 1 Kings, chapter 8. All the priests came out of the holy place, regardless of their position. The addition here is the temple singers play a more predominant role. There were 120 priestly trumpeters east of the altar. There were all kinds of musical instruments, cymbals, harps, and lyres. They had a simple song. God is good. His love endures forever. Finally the cloud enveloped the house of Yahweh. The cloud that had hung over the Israelites as they left Egypt that was so prominent in Exodus showed up here. Yahweh’s glory filled the Temple.

The jealousy offering (Num 5:11-5:31)

”Yahweh spoke to Moses.  ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them.  If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him.  If a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her, since she was not caught in the act.  If a spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself.  Or if a spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself.  Then the man shall bring his wife to the priest.  He shall bring the offering required of her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour.   He shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealously, a grain offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.”

Once again, Yahweh spoke to Moses.  What happens when a man is jealous of his wife?   Either he has a reason to be jealous or there is no reason to be jealous.  There is a ritual for this a so-called “jealousy offering.” If a man suspects that his wife is unfaithful to him, whether true or false, he should bring his wife, who he thinks has defiled him, to the priest with the offering of 1/10th of a bushel of barley.

“Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before Yahweh.  The priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel.  He shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.  The priest shall set the woman before Yahweh.  He shall dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy.  In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse.  Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, `If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness, while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse.  But if you have gone astray, while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you, then let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse.  Say to the woman `Yahweh makes you an execration and an oath among your people, when Yahweh makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge.  Now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop.’   The woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’”

The priest will test her to see if she is telling the truth.  In medieval times, you determined guilt if you could float in water or not.  Many societies use similar methods of trial by ordeal for determining guilt.  Notice that it is only the man and not the woman who can bring a jealously offering.  The woman is under her husband’s authority.  The priest takes ‘holy water,’ which is the first instance of this concept of water that is sacred.  There is no indication of where this water came from.  Opposed to this holy water is the water of bitterness that brings curses.   Perhaps the holy water added with the dust of the tabernacle became the water of bitterness.   The priest then will dishevel the woman’s hair and put the grain offering in her hands.  The woman shall make an oath before drinking the water.  She then takes an oath that if she did not betray her husband, she will be immune from the water of bitterness that brings the curse.  She of course agrees to this.

“Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness.  He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse.  The water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain.   The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain offering before Yahweh and bring it to the altar.  The priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar,  Afterwards he shall make the woman drink the water.  When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain.  Her womb shall discharge.  Her uterus shall drop.  The woman shall become an execration among her people.   But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.”  

The priest writes this in some kind of book.  She drinks the water of bitterness to see if she was telling the truth or not.  If she was guilty, the drink causes bitter pain.  She has everything bad happens to her since she is cursed.  The bad effects are the discharges of her womb and the dropping of the uterus.  However, if she was faithful then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.

“This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man and he is jealous of his wife.  Then he shall set the woman before Yahweh.  The priest shall apply this entire law to her.  The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.”

There can be a real cause of jealousy or not that is brought before Yahweh.  However, the man is justified in bringing this case no matter what.  As if to add insult to injury about the unfairness to women, the final passage says, the man should be free from iniquity, but the woman had to bear her iniquity.

The leprous house (Lev 14:33-14:57)

“Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron.  ‘When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying `There seems to me to be some sort of disease in my house.’ The priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease, or all that is in the house will become unclean.  Afterward the priest shall go in to inspect the house.  He shall examine the disease.  If the disease is in the walls of the house with greenish or reddish spots, and if it appears to be deeper than the surface, the priest shall go outside to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days.   The priest shall come again on the seventh day, and make an inspection.  If the disease has spread in the walls of the house, then the priest shall command that the stones in which the disease appeared be taken out and throw into an unclean place outside the city.  He shall have the inside of the house scraped thoroughly.  The plaster that is scraped off shall be dumped in an unclean place outside the city.  They shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones.  They shall take other plaster and plaster the house.”

This time Yahweh spoke to both Moses and Aaron.  This admonition is about leprous houses.  Obviously this could not be done in the desert so this is something that they would do when they came into the land of Canaan.  What are you to do when a house has some sort of disease, perhaps some kind of a mildew?   You had to empty the house before the priest came to inspect the house in order to keep everything in the house from becoming unclean.  The priest is also a house inspector, since he is looking for greenish or red spots.  If he finds any, they have to close up the house for 7 days until he comes back on the 7th day for a re-inspection.  If it has spread, then the stones where this leprosy was found have to be removed and placed outside the city. All the plaster has to be scraped off and dumped outside the city. So you need to get new stones and plaster.

“If the disease breaks out again in the house, after he has taken out the stones, scraped the house, and plastered it, then the priest shall go and make an inspection.  If the disease has spread in the house, it is a malignant leprous disease in the house.  It is unclean.  He shall have the house torn down, its stones, its timber and all the plaster of the house, and taken outside the city to an unclean place.  All who enter the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening.  All who sleep in the house shall wash their clothes.  All who eat in the house shall wash their clothes.”

If the disease breaks out a second time, the priest shall declare that this house is unclean.  This is a more serious case.  The priest inspector can then have the house torn down with everything taken outside the city to an unclean place.  Anyone who enters the house while it is unclean shall be unclean until the evening.  If you eat or sleep in this house, you have to wash your clothes.  Other than the major penalty of losing your house, the personal penalty is not that severe.

“If the priest comes and makes an inspection, and the disease has not spread in the house after the house was plastered, then the priest shall pronounce the house clean.  The disease is healed.   For the cleansing of the house he shall take two birds, with cedar wood, crimson yarn, and hyssop.  He shall slaughter one of the birds over fresh water in an earthen vessel.  He shall take the cedar wood, the hyssop, and the crimson yarn, along with the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slaughtered bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle the house seven times.   Thus he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, the fresh water, the living bird, cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson yarn.   He shall let the living bird go out of the city into the open field.  Thus he shall make atonement for the house.  It shall be clean.” 

On the other hand, if there is no spread of disease, the priest will declare the house healed or clean.  There has to be a sacrifice for this healing, two birds, cedar wood, crimson yarns and hyssop, a plant with a branch.  Then he slaughters one of the birds over fresh running water in an earthen vessel.  Then he dips the living bird, the cedar wood, the crimson yarns, and the hyssop in the blood of the slaughtered bird and sprinkles the house 7 times.  Then he lets the living bird go out of the city into the open field as atonement for the house so that it can become clean.  The house is almost like a living organic thing, where disease may spread.  Today we use the word quarantine for a sick house.

“This is the ritual for any leprous disease: for an itch, for leprous diseases in clothing and houses, and for a swelling, an eruption, or a spot to determine when it is unclean and when it is clean. This is the ritual law for leprous diseases.”

This ritual is the same as the cleansing for a leper.  This cleansing ritual applies to any leprous disease, such as an itch, swellings, spots, or eruption on the body as well as diseases in clothing and houses.     Clean and unclean applies to all these things and only one person can declare something clean or unclean, the priest.  Thus the power of the priest increases.