15 Feb 2009
“Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out His hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’” (Mark 1:41) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
This past Thursday, February 12th, marked the 200th anniversary of the births of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, an amazing coincidence I think. Both men were great emancipators. Lincoln, for he granted freedom to the slaves during the American Civil War, but also Darwin for freeing the human mind from artificially imposed assumptions. Darwin is often vilified by religions, but this is as misdirected as turning to the Bible as a science textbook. I try to read the Bible everyday which I have done since I was a child, but I find more of scientific value in one book that I may read on occasion about Einstein, or Darwin for that matter, than I ever have found in the pages of Holy Scripture. Take for example the book of Leviticus that I am now reading through in the Bible. Chap. 24 tells the story of two men who get into a fight. One man blasphemes, which means that he utters God’s name in a non-reverent way. He is taken into custody until they can find out what to do with him. It says in Leviticus that God speaks directly with Moses, and that God directly orders him to have all who heard the blasphemy lay their hands upon the man’s head while the rest of the community stones him to death. Leviticus is the third book of the Torah; the first is Genesis. We obviously no longer literally accept the law-code of the Torah, which is the primary purpose of these books. So why then do we feel so strongly about maintaining the secondary information the Torah mentions about the seven days of creation, which is the basis for much of the religious antipathy towards Darwin? I’ve heard more than a few “GD’s” in my day. Should all those people be taken out back by the rest of our community so that we can stone them to death? If not then why do some religions act as if Genesis 1 were the litmus test of all belief in God? It’s just not consistently logical, and we need to realize this.
I know that Darwin is attacked by some religions because his teachings about evolution take time. Evolution changes creation by slight genetic alterations from one generation to another. If the change is beneficial, the law of survival of the fittest means that more of the organisms with the change will survive at the expense of those without it. Then the process takes place all over again. Little by little, generation by generation. This adds up to a lot of time, a whole heck of a lot more than six days, no matter how hard God must have worked during those six days so that He had to rest on the seventh. But what may bother some religions even more than the question of time is that Darwin’s theory relied upon chance. Evolution isn’t necessarily progress; it’s change. Random change. And this happenstance worries a lot of religions because they believe that it takes God out of the picture. So to protect God many religions attack Darwin. But not ours. Bp. Hodur included in the catechism the definition of Adam and Eve as the first humans “conscious” of God. Not the first humans per se, but they represent the first ones developed enough to think beyond survival, to think beyond the natural to the supernatural, to be able to think about God.
And that leads me to this morning’s Gospel. If you go home and look up today’s reading, you may see a footnote tucked within Mark 1:41. The verse reads that Jesus was moved with “pity” by the leper’s request for healing, but the footnote offers an alternate reading and it says that Jesus was moved with “anger” at the request. Why would Jesus be angry when the man afflicted by leprosy asks to be healed? It has to do with the stigma associated with the disease. Mark tells us that the man comes close to Jesus. Here he’s already broken one of the taboos of the disease. The man with leprosy is supposed to keep his distance. Knowing this, he kneels down before Jesus in supplication, and he begs for healing, and his first words to Jesus are, “If you wish.” The man with leprosy dares to approach Jesus the man of God and in doing so he’s not at all sure what the response will be.
Many in that day associated disease with divine punishment. Would Jesus, acknowledged as a healer but also as a prophet of God, help him or castigate him for the sins that led to this disease? The man with leprosy took a chance on approaching Jesus as healer, but he also feared Jesus as the man of God who would say to him that his disease was sent from God. In a world where God controls every-thing, it is not hard to see why people would associate disease or tragedy with the will of God. And because of this religious mentality, this man who was suffering already because of what was happening to his body, had to suffer additionally because of what he thought was diseased with his soul too. Jesus is not angry with the man. Jesus is angered by the religious system that would make this child of God afraid of God. So just as the leper broke the taboo of keeping his distance, Jesus breaks the taboo and touches the man, a man who hasn’t been touched by another clean human hand since the disease struck, and Jesus heals him.
Darwin freed God, freed Jesus from the accusation that He is responsible for all the sickness and disease of our world. Darwin’s theory looks at creation and notes the randomness of life’s evolution. Chance is a central actor in the story of life. When something is genetically messed-up and disease occurs, it’s not because God is punishing a sinner. It’s because a random mistake took place. Jesus was angry by the accusation that God wanted the disease to afflict the man, and the way out of that conundrum is to give Darwin a chance. Rather than having religions ostracize the man; religions should thank him for freeing us from the teaching that once angered Jesus. One of my favourite biblical quotes is: “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made.” (Rom. 1:20) Darwin didn’t create evolution; he discovered it. God created it.
There is wonder and truth revealed of God in the creation all around us. May we be confident enough in our faith to look at what God says to us everyday in our world, and not fear every innovation and discovery as a contest pitting human knowledge against faith in the Bible, the Church and the Divine. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name and the enlightenment that comes through faith in it. Amen. (+)