“If you want to, you can heal me.” “Of course I want to. Be healed!”
Jesus is traveling down the dusty road with his band of disciples on their way to the next city on their preaching itinerary. Far off, a voice can be heard crying, “Unclean! Unclean!” The disciples and Jesus continue on their journey, a crowd of curious and faithful surrounding them – eager to hear what Jesus would say, see what he would do next. Again, only closer and louder, the voice pierces through the almost chaotic gaggle encircling Jesus, “Unclean! Unclean!” A man comes in view, his clothes disheveled, his right hand covering his mouth. “Unclean! Unclean!” The crowd parts as if the Red Sea before Moses, and the man walks up and kneels before Jesus, begging, “If you want to you can heal me.” Without thinking, responding straight from his gut, Jesus grabs the man firm on the shoulder and pulling him up looks directly into his eyes, telling him, “Of course I want to. Be healed.”
The scripture tells us Jesus was moved by compassion toward this leper. This was no intellectual decision. There was no consideration given to the political consequences of identifying with a social outcast. There was no theological reflection on the liturgical correctness of the act. There was not even any concern given to his own physical, medical safety. He moved in a reflex action from the very center of his being.
“Compassion,’ Frederick Buechner writes, ‘is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” It takes compassion for us to risk ourselves on behalf of others. And anger too. Another translation has it that Jesus was indignant or angry when he saw the leper. Not angered by the request but angered at the ravages of disease, angered by the cruelty of social isolation, angered at a religion more concerned about its law than its people. Anger and compassion energize us to cross the barriers that separate us from the hurting and outcast of this world.
Anger, however, must flow with compassion. It does not stand alone well. If we are continually moving in anger our focus becomes impersonal. We war against concepts, institutions, and structures rather than for the people who are being offended by them. Without compassion binding us to the feelings of the downtrodden, in our anger we slip into noting our own feelings and begin to take offense from all those who thwart our just intentions. Without compassion our righteous indignation soon becomes bitterness, even hate. In our bitterness and hate we isolate all those with whom we disagree. We become as cold and oppressive as the most narrow religious or the worst of authoritarian regimes.
Wishful thinking: A Theological ABC, Frederick Buechner, Harper San Francisco. 1973
Sixth Sunday of the Year Lv 13: 1-2, 44-46; I Cor 10:31-11:1, Mk 1:40-45 Jn. 10: 1-10
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.