Francis and the leper: accounts

In the previous three posts, we reviewed some historical context and background for our consideration of the accounts of St. Francis and the Leper. When Franciscans recount the story of Francis and the leper, one might presume that they are telling a story from a common core, perhaps even an official recounting of the story as approved by a Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. Yea… not so much. Every medieval source has its own goal, tone, genre and point of view. And that is especially true in the period beginning some 20 years after Francis’ death (d.1226). In the post-Francis world of Franciscan, as noted in a previous post. The intra-Franciscan factions slowly came to the fore and were readily distinguishable. There was no group that was wrong, but then again, each one emphasized one aspect of “the life” they believed Francis wanted for his religious order. One group believed poverty/destitution was Francis’ intent. Another held up obedience – after all the first vow of obedience was (and still is) to the Pope – and topic Francis most often wrote about. Chastity was not the basis of one of the factions.  What about the third group? They were more of the “can’t we all just get along” after all fraternity was paramount. It is 800+ years later and the same discussion continues on. Each group, consciously or not, promoted their own understanding of Francis in the stories they told, the traits they emphasize, their own goals for the narrative and all that makes hagiography different than history. Continue reading

Francis and the Leper

There are many stories that people remember about Francis of Assisi; in my experience, most of them are from a book, the Fioretti, The Little Flowers, a collection of stories about Francis. It is the name given to the classic collection of popular legends about the life of St. Francis of Assisi and his early companions. The earliest extant copy is from 1390, some 164 years after the death of Francis. Scholars agree that it was probably written earlier, but in any case not within 120 years of Francis’ death. It is a collection of hearsay, colorful anecdotes, stories of miracles and pious examples from the life of Francis. Are the accounts in the Fioretti history? Are the pious fables? Are they just hagiography? Continue reading

Finding peace

There are three events that seem to highlight the “period of crisis” in Francis life during the period from late 1205 until the summer of 1206:

  • Francis’ experiences at the abandoned San Damiano chapel – especially his prayers before the cross
  • Francis’ “leaving the world” as he turns away from his family towards the Church and an unknown path with God.
  • Francis and the leper (or lepers)

There is no consensus on the order of the events – and there is some question about later embellishments of the event – and even questions about whether some accounts indicating a single event is actually a compilation of a series of experiences. But then the 13th century writers were not trying to capture “history” they were trying to tell their understanding of the “meaning” of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Continue reading

Pause and a prayer

He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp” – frightening and dreadful words.  Spoken to leprous people in the wilderness, a people on the Exodus betwixt and between the slavery of Egypt and the promised land of Palestine. Words that ban, isolate, shun, and place someone beyond the connection to the community. These are words spoken to loved ones that pushed them from the routine of life into the wilderness. In modern life, we have our own words or lack of words that push people into a more modern wilderness where our loved ones are ghosted, cancelled, deleted, blocked and isolated – all this is a time when we all feel the effects of pandemic fatigue. Perhaps “outside the camp” sounds tempting during these safer-at-home days of the covid-19 pandemic. But this is different.

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In the asking

Next Sunday is the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B. The gospel continues our following the early ministry of Jesus in Galilee. You can read a full commentary of the gospel here.

40 A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” 42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. 43 Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. 44 Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” 45 The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

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Our Personal Jerusalems

The gospel for today’s readings is a familiar encounter with a leper at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The identification of the man who came to Jesus as “a leper” is not as precise as at first glance it may seem. Medical researchers who have examined the biblical data in Lev. 13–14 feel certain that the biblical term “leprosy” is a collective noun designating a wide variety of chronic skin diseases, not necessarily just Hansen’s disease. Regardless, anyone who was identified as a leper – from Hansen’s disease to a simple skin rash – was reduced to a lowest state of social existence, separated from family, friends, and society at large. It didn’t take much to be designated to the bottom of life.

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A pause and a prayer

He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp” – frightening and dreadful words.  Spoken to a people in the wilderness, a people on the Exodus betwixt and between the slavery of Egypt and the promised land of Palestine. Words that ban, isolate, shun, and place someone beyond the connection to the community. These are words spoken to family and friends that pushed them from the routine of life into the wilderness. In modern life, we have our own words, instances, texts, and posts that push others into a more modern wilderness. Continue reading

Proof for them: silence

jesus-healing-leper45 The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

The Man Responds. This incident has an important position in the Marcan outline. It serves to terminate the preaching tour of the Galilean villages and provides the point of transition to the five accounts of controversy which follow (Ch. 2:1–3:6). The pericope establishes the surpassing nature of the salvation which Jesus brings, for while the Law of Moses provided for the ritual purification of a leper it was powerless to actually purge a man of the disease. In all of the OT only twice is it recorded that God had healed a leper (Num. 12:10 ff.; 2 kings 5:1 ff.), and the rabbis affirmed that it was as difficult to heal the leper as to raise the dead. The cleansing of the leper indicates the new character of God’s action in bringing Jesus among men. Salvation transcends cultic and ritual regulations, which were powerless to arrest the hold that death had upon the living, and issues in radical healing. Continue reading

Proof for them: Jesus

jesus-healing-leper

41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” 42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. 43 Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. 44 Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”

Jesus’ Actions. The treatment of Jesus consisted of a gesture and a pronouncement. The touch of Jesus was significant from two points of view. From the perspective of the leper it was an unheard-of act of compassion which must have moved him deeply and strengthened him in his conviction he had not asked for help in vain. From the perspective of Jesus’ relationship to the cultic and ritual system, it indicated that he did not hesitate to act in violation of its regulations when the situation demanded: “the ceremonial law gives place to the law of love when the two come into collision.” Jesus’ touch and his sovereign pronouncement mean the same thing: “I do will it. Be made clean.” This was not a priestly pronouncement, as is made clear in verses 43–44, but a declaration that healing would follow immediately and completely. The text describes an instantaneous radical healing which was visible to all who met the man. Continue reading

Proof for them: the man

jesus-healing-leper40 A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” 42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.

Leprosy and the Man. The identification of the man who came to Jesus as “a leper” is not as precise as at first glance it may seem. Medical researchers who have examined the biblical data in Lev. 13–14 feel certain that the biblical term “leprosy” is a collective noun designating a wide variety of chronic skin diseases, one of which may have been interpreted in the modern sense of the word. Continue reading