Chapter 12 of Leviticus is all about the ceremonial purification of women after having a baby. There are separate lengths of time involved depending on the sex of the child born, although interestingly there’s no indication on what to do if a pair of male and female twins were born, but that’s the kind of job that the priests had was to interpret the application of the laws as given.
For a male child, the mother was to offer a sacrifice for purification after 40 days. In Luke 2:1 we see the holy family going to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifice for the Blessed Mother’s purification, but instead of offering the lamb as prescribed, they offer the doves which was an option reserved for the poor. This is how we know that the Holy Family was numbered among the poor, and is another way that God condescended down to our level when he took on flesh and became man. He was born to a poor family, in a small village, in a backwater province of the mightiest empire the world had ever seen. He could’ve came as the son of a king or emperor, but he chose this humble young girl from Nazareth to be his mother for all eternity.
It’s important to note that this offering is for ceremonial uncleanliness according to the old covenant, the same kind of uncleanliness you’d “contract” after your disposed of a dead animal or any other number of non sinful activities that were deemed to be unclean according to this Levitical Law. Mary offers the sacrifice for ceremonial purification, not to atone for a sin.
An interesting note about this purification sacrifice is that many church fathers maintained that the blessed mother didn’t need to offer this sacrifice in the strictest sense, as her nature of being full of God’s grace would prevent her not just from sinning, but also from becoming unclean. This is similar to the way that Jesus was touched by the woman who was hemorrhaging for 12 years, and he didn’t become unclean as a result. They say that she offered the sacrifice according to the law so as not to scandalize others into thinking she was shirking her responsibility under the law. This is also similar to how her son paid the temple tax with Peter, even though he made clear to Peter that they were exempt from that requirement. And also like how he submitted to John’s baptism of repentance, even though he had nothing to repent of.
In chapter 13 the text goes over the variations of symptoms one might present with if infected with leprosy. In an age before modern medicine, many ailments had the potential to be fatal or life altering, and this was one of them. It’s prudent and good governance to separate the infected from the uninfected for such communicable diseases, and for leprosy this practice continued well into the 20th century, even in the developed world.
This chapter in Mark begins with the Pharisees attacking Jesus and his disciples for being lax in observance of one of their rituals that wasn’t found in the Mosaic Law, but was part of the body of law added by the scribes and Pharisees in their interpretation of the law. Think an overactive judiciary making its own law via rulings, but worse than doing this when the law is supposed to be written by a legislative body or even a monarch, they’re overreaching on laws that were made by the Divine King of The Universe.
Understandably, considering their demands of scrupulously following their rules, and yet the hypocrisy in their own hearts, Jesus begins one of his more well know diatribes against the Pharisees. He starts by quoting his most oft quoted prophet, Isaiah. He accuses them of vainly worshiping God through empty actions. This is something that anyone at anytime in history can into. If your religious actions become just something you just do out of habit, but don’t even put faith into, they become empty. Think of the old mafia movies where the hit man carries a rosary in his pocket. That’s not a valid sacramental object he uses in prayer, it’s a talisman or good luck charm. The same was true of the Pharisees who’s hearts had drifted far from the one whom the rituals performed were supposed to draw them nearer to.
He denounces a tradition among them where instead of financially supporting their elderly parents, they make a pledge of a portion of their estate to the temple. Giving to the temple is praiseworthy, but not at the expense of keeping the commandment to honor your parents. This is especially so when the “giving” isn’t even done until a later time, or even after they had died, so it essentially costs them nothing to get out of their obligations to their parents.
Jesus then goes on to tell the crowd that true defilement comes from inside one’s own heart and not by foods that goes into your mouth. Mark adds the editorial remark that Jesus declared all foods clean at this point, because this is being written in the future, after the events in acts where Jesus explicitly tells Peter that no food is unclean anymore, and Peter in recalling these events to Mark probably had a lightbulb go off and think “oh I missed that when he declared it during his ministry”
After this he travels to gentile areas and performs at least two healings that are recorded here, although he undoubtedly healed many others that went unrecorded. The first is in an area that would now be in the nation of Lebanon, where a gentile woman approached him and begged that her daughter be freed from the demon that was possessing her. Despite what some modern “scholars” might say about this incident, Jesus was not being cruel or even some say “racist” with his reply.
It really has two meanings; first by calling the Jews “children” and referring to “dogs at the table” in reference to the gentiles, he is showing the order of things when it comes to the proclamation of the gospel. First it goes out to the children of Abraham, and then to the other nations of the world. Secondly, by making her plead and persist, he was drawing a faith in his divinity and powers to heal out of her, both for her own good and for the disciples to witness.
The second healing is in the area on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, near to where he was asked to leave after the herd of pigs died when he cast a legion of demons into them (see The Bible In A Year: Day 39). Here he heals a deaf and mute man nit just by the power of his words, but also by his touch and even his salvia. This is how the sacraments come to us today, not on a spiritual level, but also through our five senses. This is because we aren’t pure spiritual beings like angels, we have physical bodies and the sacraments touch these bodies along with our souls.