A tale of war and defeat in the first reading, and a narrative
about a lucky leper who can’t keep his mouth shut in the Gospel: these
are stories about how things happen.
In the Old Testament reading, the Israelites call for the Ark of the Covenant,
expecting it will help them to win battles against the Philistines.
Instead they lose the Ark entirely (although not permanently -- they get
it back about two chapters later.) Our reading is a sad story; what
happens is the reverse of what was intended. Things, unintended, do
happen that way.
Then in our Gospel from the first chapter of Mark, Jesus is just beginning
his public life. He cures the leper because he feels mercy, compassion,
for him. Jesus tells the former leper not to tell anyone. It
seems that Jesus dreads being recognized; he may know that publicity and
crowds will lead, as indeed they do, to his Crucifixion -- but we know they
also lead to his Resurrection. And to our Salvation.
Anyway, the former leper disobeys -- the nerve of that guy! Or is it
truly impossible for him to keep quiet? I can imagine that he just
has to tell the Good News of his personal experience of being saved from
a dreadful illness. What joy, what faith he must be knowing and feeling!
After the man has “spread the report,” Jesus really begins the dangerous
journey of his public life: he can no longer “enter a town openly.”
Things unintended do happen – in this case of the seemingly unintended fame
and following of Jesus, for a great purpose.
In the third tremendous Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King (and
in J.R.R. Tolkien’s original book also,) the repugnant and treacherous creature
Gollum journeys with Frodo and Sam, a loathsome and dangerous guide, later
a malicious follower. But when “the Quest is achieved,” as we knew
it somehow would be, Frodo recalls Gandalf’s words: “Even Gollum may have
something yet to do.” Even Gollum has contributed to the successful
end of Frodo’s journey.
So also, whatever happens, even the bad luck, the error, the unintended,
may serve some good purpose. Like the Israelites of old, like Jesus
Himself, we live on, we keep traveling, whatever things happen.
When I know I am especially blessed, may I be like this Gospel’s former leper
and “spread the report.” But if my journey today has more troubles
and mistakes and defeats than pleasant achievements, today’s Scripture readings
remind me that God is with me – in whatever things happen.