As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices saying, Jesus, Master! Have pity on us! Luke 17:12 and 13.
A few days ago while giving a parish mission, I had the privilege of meeting a woman and listening to a part of her story of faith. It caused me to reflect on this scripture passage from Luke. In the ministry of evangelization, I encounter so many people who are attempting to re-enter a world and sometimes a Church that doesn't want to understand their pain.
I thought back to the times when I felt like a leper. When I considered myself to be unworthy, second class and outside the circle of acceptance. Whether we realize or want to admit it, we all have placed certain people outside our circle. Generally they are people who don't look, talk or act like us.
They may be folks who don't have the same belief or value system that we do. But just like the lepers of long ago, we tell them by our verbal or non-verbal response to stay at the edge of the city or we will emotionally, spiritually and even physically stone them. In my life, a messenger from God has often been hidden in a stranger, the one who is strange to me.
Those at the edge, the marginalized, the homeless, the hungry, the oppressed-those who are made leprous, hold the secret for the conversion of our hearts and society. They hold the projected parts of ourselves that we fear, hate, deny and are ashamed of.
There is more healing of lepers than of any other group in the life of Jesus. Jesus was always reintroducing them to the community. That is why when we are willing to discover and embrace those outside our circle, we also encounter the Lord Jesus himself.
The women I spoke about earlier had been a member of her faith community for over thirty years. She was involved in many ministries and well loved by the members of her church. In fact, I couldn't help noticing that at one of the Sunday services, when she walked into church most people went out of their way to greet her. When we met privately, she told me that she worked as a nurse in the local hospital. Many months ago while drawing blood from an aids patient, she accidentally pricked her own finger. She now has the HIV virus. I asked her how she was dealing with this and who knew about it. She was quiet for several minutes. She said that physically she was fine but emotionally she was dying inside. Her husband of thirty four years was the only one who currently knew and over the past several months he had begun to distance himself and was now talking about a divorce.
I asked her why she had not told her church community. It was easy to see that this is where she was experiencing her greatest pain. This beautiful lady told me that by being a member of this community for thirty years, she knew it like the back of her hand. Her greatest fear was to walk into church and no one would look, smile, talk or hug her. So silently, in pain, rejected by those she loved the most, she stood at the edge of the community, outside the circle of acceptance.
As I hugged her, said goodbye and slowly watched her walk away, I could hear those words in the depths of my heart: JESUS, MASTER! HAVE PITY ON US!
Glenn Harmon © 2002