Jesus embraces the leper

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, 
touched him, and said to him, 
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
— The Gospel of Mark (1:40-41)

As you know, like many people who love the Gospels, I particularly value the work of scholars who have expanded and deepened their meaning for us through greater investigation of the meaning of various words and phrases. We are many translations removed from the Koine Greek of the earliest existing manuscripts. This weekend we have an example of how the light these scholars shed can enhance our understanding of what Jesus was all about. 

This Sunday as we continue through the Gospel of Mark, we hear of the healing of a leper. When Jesus sees him, he is “moved with pity” according to the New American Bible Revised Edition, which is published by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some translations say that Jesus was moved with compassion. 

Of course it’s lovely to think that Jesus, encountering human suffering, would be filled with with tender feeling toward that person. But in fact, the verb is a bit more dramatic. It’s splagchnizomai, and it’s used 8 times in the Gospels to describe an emotional state into which Jesus is thrust. One scholar describes the word’s meaning this way: “It is based on the Greek noun splagchna (SPLANK-nah), which means ‘internal organs’ or ‘entrails.’ Among speakers of first-century Greek, human emotions were thought to exist in the gut, whereas, in English, we speak of the heart as the home of our feelings.”

To say that Jesus was splagchinizomai is to say that he was seized in his guts over the condition he sees before him. He is moved from the very depths of his being with compassion, pity, concern, a deep desire to act. He undergoes a gut-wrenching desire to help.

In light of this, I am left wondering: What if Jesus is actually splagchnizomai in relationship to you and me? Imagine heis looking at the elder who hasn’t seen her children and grandchildren except through electronic means, and is feeling a depth of isolation. Toward her, Jesus is splagchnizomai. He sees the persons who are grieving the loss of so many things — certainly persons who have died in this global health crisis but also those who have lost jobs, security and more. And he is splagchnizomai. He sees those crucified by racism, homophobia, islamophobia, and countless other “isms” and he is splagchnizomai.

That’s our God, the one who is gripped to the very core of his being for us. I am praying with this idea as we surrender our lovely little Charis home and open our horizons to an unclear future. I am asking God to deepen my trust that God is not only with me, us, but also splagchnizomai with loving compassion as we continue on the journey.

(Oh. And one more thing. This Sunday is Valentine’s Day. I wouldn’t turn to your partner or spouse and with passion announce that you’re in a state of splagchinizomai  for them, that you feel for them to the depth of your intestines and bowels. Not unless they are good with Koine Greek, that is!)

With gratitude for who you are in the world,


Pastoral Director
An Ecumenical Catholic Community

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