Where do the rejected people go to receive kindness?
This is what the book of Leviticus says about lepers and those with skins ailments: persons with such infectious diseases must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their faces and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the infection they remains unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. Leviticus 13:45-46
Ten lepers approach Jesus. They call him Master. They know him as merciful. He will not reject them. They ask for compassion- maybe a little food- some drink-maybe a change of clothes. Instead, Jesus tells them to go to the temple where the priests can proclaim them clean and acceptable to society and to religion. As they go they are made clean. The scabs, the abrasions, the leprosy (whatever it was) are all gone. And only one returns to say “thank you.” Only one is grateful.
Where do rejects go to receive some kindness? When society or even religion rejects us there are not many places we can go.
For example, Naaman the general, is a non-Jew. He is desperate enough to turn to foreigners for a cure of his leprosy. He expects the prophet Elisha to come out of his house, go into an ecstatic state and cure his disease. Instead, the prophet sends a messenger to tell him to immerse himself seven times in the River Jordan. That lackluster response is not what the general expects. He almost leaves Israel angry and uncured. But his servants convince him to do the prophets will.
The Samaritan leper is so desperate for a cure that he names Jesus (a Jew, and a religious enemy) “Master.” And he is the only one to return to the Master to give thanks to God for his cure. Why is he the only one? Well, he has nothing to lose, and he has everything to gain. He is a Samaritan, AND HE CANNOT GO TO THE TEMPLE TO SHOW THE PRIESTS THAT GOD HEALED HIM.
So where do the rejects go to receive kindness and mercy? When people tell us that we are ugly and fat or short and dumpy, when religion does not like our gender, or, tells us that we are evil or misconstrued or disordered, where do we go? Go to Jesus. But you know something? Jesus will welcome us but we need to work with the Lord for that healing. Every time I bring up the story of the ten lepers to my father, he always asks, “Do you think the leprosy came back for the other nine lepers? They never came back to thank the Lord.” I wonder. They ask Jesus for pity, but maybe they want bread, or drink, or better—they want money. Do they want healing of leprosy? Some people like to be rejects. Some people like to be sick all the time. We have a saying at the abbey that says, “Fr. So-and-So enjoys poor health.” According to Fr. Donald Senior, People tend to set boundaries creating exclusion. Jesus is a boundary breaker. He reached out beyond the boundaries of the group to heal individuals and by that healing he transformed communities. He gave people access to their life-giving needs. Look where Jesus meets the lepers- on the boundary of Galilee and Samaria. Look whom Jesus heals- people on the boundary of society. Look who returns grateful- the Samaritan who is on the boundary of society and religion. Fr. Donald Senior also says- People in need of healing in Scripture were also “boundary crossers”…the Samaritan Leper; the Samaritan Woman; the Woman Who Touches His Cloak…”They crossed boundaries to seek what they needed” because “One definition of faith is the ‘aggressive seeking of entrance.’”
So where do we go when no one else wants us? Where do we go when no one understands us or loves us anymore? We go to Jesus. Jesus did not recoil in disgust or shame as the leper threw himself at his feet. And Jesus does not recoil from us when we throw ourselves at his feet in desperate prayer. Here we can find comfort and compassion. At his feet is where you and I can aggressively seek entrance into the kingdom. Even if others turn their backs on us, Jesus is always ready to receive us in Holy Communion symbolized by the open arms of the statue of the Sacred Heart behind me.
The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.