Friday, June 28, 2013

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now. -  Saint Teresa of Avila

Gospel Text: (MT 8:1-4)
When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.
And then a leper approached, did him homage, and said,
“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
He stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,
“I will do it. Be made clean.”
His leprosy was cleansed immediately.
Then Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one,
but go show yourself to the priest,
and offer the gift that Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”

According to ancient Hebrew belief, physical contact with lepers rendered a person unclean. Holy people in particular were expected to keep a safe distance from lepers. Against this background the gesture of Jesus who stretches out his hand and physically touches the leper becomes unthinkable. Has he no fear of being defiled? What is going on here? Jesus is challenging and redefining the traditional views of holiness and un-holiness. Jesus is challenging traditional superstitions and prejudices that certain people are impure by the conditions of their health, social status or birth. An Indian friend once said that in his part of the country people of a higher caste would not sit together in church with those of a lower caste, the so-called untouchables. By reaching out and touching the leper and thereby making him pure again, Jesus is teaching us, his followers, to reach out and embrace the dehumanized and the outcasts among us. A deed of solidarity with the dehumanized does not dehumanize the doer, rather it restores full humanity to the dehumanized.

Leprosy, thank God, has become a curable disease. Yet the tendency to see some diseases as divine punishment and to ostracize those who suffer from them is still with us. Is this not how many of us still see people with HIV-AIDS? Have you not heard tele-evangelists who teach that AIDS is divine punishment for sin? Jesus challenges us today to abandon such dehumanizing beliefs and reach out in solidarity with these modern-day lepers among us, just as he himself did in his own days.

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