Wednesday, 16 November 2011

World AIDS Day 2011; Bible Study

Bible study: The tangible good news
Mark 1:35-45
In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel we meet a Jesus in a hurry, anxious to share God’s good news with a wide range of people. Initially this takes place in Capernaum, but then Jesus travels outside his home town.

In Jesus’ day, people with leprosy were regarded as ‘unclean’. It was forbidden by Jewish law to touch someone with leprosy, or for someone with leprosy to touch other people. (Leviticus 13-14 sets out both attitudes to people with leprosy and the rituals that had to be gone through before sufferers could be reintegrated into the community.) The fact that Jesus used touch – rather than merely words – is particularly significant: touch breaks down barriers symbolically, it provides psychological healing and it aids physical healing.

There is another intriguing detail about the story. Most of our biblical translations say that Jesus was ‘moved with compassion’ – in Greek splanchnizomai. It is a strong word which is related to the Greek word for a person’s internal organs – the English word ‘spleen’ comes from it. Quite literally we could say that Jesus was ‘gutted’ by what this man had gone through.

However, it may well be that what was originally written was not ‘moved with compassion’ but another verb which means ‘moved with anger’. The footnotes to the biblical text suggest this possibility. If this was so we can understand why people later on might wish to change the text – because the idea of a Jesus who is ‘moved with anger’ is frightening to many.

Questions for discussion

1. Compare the experience of the person healed by Jesus to someone living with HIV or AIDS today. What does this tell us about Jesus’ attitude to AIDS?

2. Why do you think some church-goers take a judgemental attitude towards AIDS, with some people even claiming it is a sign of God’s punishment?

3. Different translations state that Jesus was either ‘moved with compassion’ or ‘moved with anger’. How do the two translations alter our understanding of the incident? With what might Jesus have been angry?

4. Assuming both ‘moved with compassion’ and ‘moved with anger’ are applicable translations, how should this affect our attitude as Christians as we reach out to those who have been infected or affected by HIV?