Let us pray: Gracious God, help us to respond affirmatively to the challenges in our midst. Grant us the grace to accept your healing power and show us how to extend your love, compassion and consolation to others. In your most holy name, we pray. Amen.
Over the last few days, we have all heard or read about and have had to try to comprehend, if not come to terms with, a genuinely shocking event with the terrible loss of innocent lives.
When I heard of what had happened, I was transported back to when something similar happened in Dunblane in the UK, all those years ago, and I remember now and can relate to how my mother responded, especially now that I have my boy.
I drafted the lion’s share of this homily before the appalling shooting, and I will now proceed to deliver, for the most part, what I wrote in response to the Gospel reading, since much is equally resonant.
Healing and compassion are two things that Jesus extended to people everywhere he went, as he travelled toward Jerusalem. As he was on the road toward Samaria and Galilee, he encountered a group of folks afflicted with leprosy. It was readily apparent that they were different, for they were specifically identified by their illness. They were simply called lepers, outcasts – the lowest of the low.
Over and above the innocent lives lost, at this point, I should like to reflect upon, if only for a moment, a forgotten victim of this week’s events; the shooter. He is someone straightforward to condemn— a man who was not in his right mind. A man, I would speculate, whose mental health had deteriorated but who did not get the help or intervention that might have prevented his recent actions. Someone who most might call names which suggests he is a modern-day leper, an outcast, the lowest of the low, a rotten egg.
In Thailand, approx 200,000 actual cases of leprosy are diagnosed each year. Leprosy, as discussed in the Bible, was a variation of the disease present in this society. It is not just some allegorical device found in scripture from another time.
As Jesus was walking toward the end of his personal journey, this group of ten who were banded together yelled out for a miracle.
They were the true outcasts of society. Their appearance would cause them to be shunned by other members of the community. From a distance, the lepers raised their collective voices to appeal to Christ. They begged for mercy. They needed some relief. Jesus was moved by them, and he sent them to see their priests.
Immediately as they turned to walk away, they were healed. At that moment, they received two gifts. First, they were cured by Our Lord; second, they were able to resume normal lives among their families and friends. The road leading back to society is often fraught with great difficulty.
Sometimes it is impossible to go home again. However long the duration, it is always a hardship, and it speaks volumes about those who have turned their backs on their fellow neighbours.
This was not the first time that Jesus was asked to cure someone afflicted with leprosy; in the fifth chapter of Luke, a man threw himself at Jesus’ feet, pleading for healing. In that instance, Jesus touched him, and he was healed.
There is at least one significant difference between these instances: of the ten, only one immediately upon being healed praised God.
Jesus wants the reader to know that the grateful person was not only afflicted with a debilitating illness, but was also a foreigner. Until that point in the story, Jesus makes no distinction between any the lepers in the region of Samaria and Galilee, who turned to him for help. Everyone in that group who asked for support received assistance from him. Only after the requested cure was granted were more details revealed.
We must respond to those in our community crying out for help. Jesus is calling on us to respond to his people in the same manner that he did.
It should be challenging for us to think about the concept of the ‘foreigner’, a person from without, because here in Thailand, we are foreigners, guests in this kingdom. For some, the hospitality is temporary. For others amongst us, the status has become permanently temporary, even if, in our mind, we plan to stay until the end.
And so, for us, some of the things here that are normal, we might still perceive as foreign, whether it is foreign food, a foreign custom, a foreign belief or superstition or something else we see on a day-to-day basis, since native people are, despite every effort, at times be ‘foreign to us’.
On top of this, we are surrounded by a spectrum of different ex-pats from a multitude of countries, all living within ‘our’ community.
Sitting here today within our congregation, it is likely that we will have folk from America, Africa, Europe and Asia.
My point here is to ask: what does foreign mean? What does it mean to be and feel foreign?
As faithful followers of Christ, we must ask ourselves how we can show compassion to foreigners and offer relief from the disease of tyranny. As the hands and feet of Jesus in this land, there must be a response to all who can be defined as a ‘foreigner’ that includes the same manner of kindness extended to the lepers.
God implores his followers, at the least, to care for one another while they are here.
In truth, let us be willing to graciously extend a hand to the foreigner afflicted with pain or fear, hunger or loneliness, desperation or desolation. Let us fearlessly and with open hearts remind them of the love of Jesus, who makes no distinction of nationality or clan as he seeks to provide comfort and love to a hurting world.
As Jesus cares for all his people – the lepers, the outcasts, and the foreigners – as Christians, we have a duty towards compassion, including compassion for those who do things that make no sense, those who behave irrationally, even those who hurt themselves and others. Although it takes great strength, however hard it is even to try to rationalise the irrational; that is the example our Lord gave to us, and we should have the grace in times such as now to learn from Him.