The alternative Gospel reading for today is Mark 1:40-45, which tells of Jesus’s healing of a leper. A word often used in the New Testament to mean ‘heal’ is ‘cleanse’. The Greek verb meaning ‘cleanse’ is kathairo, forms of which are used a number of times in this short passage. The medical references of this word are continued in the English words derived from it. A cathartic is a ‘purgative’, something that heals by cleansing the inside. In psychiatry catharsis refers to healing in the form of a release of repressed emotions. Aristotle, in his Poetics, had anticipated this use of the term when he spoke of the ‘catharsis of pity and fear’ effected by certain kinds of great tragic drama. The underlying notion is that such literature has the potential to redress the emotions into a healthful balance by ‘purging’ them through the appropriate dramatic action. Many of our personal names are derived from Greek words. Katharos, which is the related adjective to kathairo, gives us the Christian name ‘Katharine’ or ‘Catherine’ = ‘pure’.
A Word in Season