Helping Others May Not Make Us Popular

“I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.” This Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm would echo in our usual prayer of hope and consolation when we fall ill or encounter some kind of setback in our lives. However, the lepers in the first reading would not have had this kind of spiritual consolation. They were considered ritually unclean, so they were compelled to live apart from the community. It made them outcasts, not only socially, but also in the religious sphere. They had absolutely no help or consolation from family, society or religion. They were regarded as sinners; the sad thing was they themselves believed God had rejected them. The lepers must have experienced excruciating isolation because they thought no one cared, not even God.

It was under this tragic emotional background that the leper in the gospel heard about Jesus, and with fear and shame, but with hope, knelt before Jesus and said, “if you wish, you can make me clean.” He must have had fear because he was not sure, how Jesus would react to a leper who was supposed to cover his upper lip and cry out, “unclean, unclean” whenever there were other people close by. His smell of decaying flesh and deforming figure of the body and years of isolation had drained his dignity away. How could a person in this condition face anyone, especially a famous rabbi like Jesus? However, the hope for those whom no one else cares for, gave him the courage to kneel down in front of Jesus. How did Jesus react? He reacted in a way that nobody in his time could fathom. Instead of keeping a distance from this unclean creature, he approached and touched him. Jesus need not have touched the leper to have him cured. However, Jesus could not help but touch the leper because he was moved with pity. Having touched the leper, Jesus himself became unclean, according to the Law of Moses, and he was subjected to exclusion. That might be the reason it was impossible for Jesus to enter the town openly. Ironically, the cleansed leper could enter the town, but Jesus who cleansed him could not.

Jesus’ example shows us sometimes, we ourselves might get into trouble by helping others, and we should not make that an obstacle to be the disciple of Jesus by helping others. Unlike Jesus, we are afraid to approach people with social stigma. For example, if I accompany a friend to an AA meeting, would people think that I am also an addict? If I attend a meeting to support parents with gay children, would the people think that I have gay children also? If I march to defend the undocumented, would people think that I am not patriotic enough? The list could go on and on. Jesus teaches us today to move forward to do the right thing if only we could open our hearts and be moved with pity for those who are in distress. Consequently, some people might reject us in the beginning, but in the end, they may come to respect us. The gospel tells us at the end, even Jesus was rejected and retreated to a deserted place, but people kept coming to him from everywhere.

Father Francis


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