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Called to Compassion
by Birgit Oberhofer | February 9, 2012
Scripture Reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (February 12, 2012)
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1
I recently watched a movie from the 80s, called “The Fourth Wise Man.” While the movie itself is a little simplistic by today’s standards, the story line is quite interesting. A young “Magus” (Wise Man) leaves his riches, his family and his career behind to follow the star to the birthplace of the coming King. He sets off to join the caravan of the three other wise men, but arrives too late at the appointed meeting place. He continues the search for the King on his own, always one step behind. On the way he spends much of his remaining wealth (including the gifts for the King) helping the poor and unfortunate people he meets, until at the end of his life he finally finds Jesus – at his trial. Towards the end of his journey he falls into the hands of a gang of robbers who keep him as a captive. As it turns out they are part of a huge colony of lepers, living a dire existence as outcasts of the community. Being a compassionate young man, the Magus stays with them to heal the many sick people of the community and finally encourages them to cultivate the land in order to become self sufficient. They work hard and are finally able to sell the products of their own harvest, when the villagers, jealous over the success of the outcasts, set fire to the colony and destroy everything they had accomplished.
This movie describes something that becomes evident also in our First Reading from Leviticus, which is a part of the law that addresses people with leprosy or other forms of contagious skin afflictions. We learn in the reading that if a priest considered a person afflicted with the disease, he or she must cry out, “Unclean, unclean” and stay away from the community, outside the camp. Moreover, skin diseases were also often regarded as a punishment for sin and attracted the scorn of community members more than compassion.
After reading the rules of the law in the first reading we can then hear in today’s Gospel how a leper approaches Jesus, violating every single one of the above mentioned rules. And Jesus, rather than showing disdain, is moved by great compassion. Jesus himself is disrespectful of the Law of Moses, touches the leper and heals him. In this story Jesus makes himself “unclean” in order to heal the leper.
What we can learn from this Sunday’s readings as well as from the story in the movie is that the problem we are dealing with is not so much the disease these people are afflicted with, but the marginalization of sick, “un-normal”, “un-clean”, “un-wanted” people from society.
Our outcasts today don’t have leprosy – at least not in this part of the world. But they are afflicted with Down syndrome or mental illnesses; they are drug addicts and alcoholics; they are homeless and unemployed; they are immigrant workers or of the wrong skin color. Many times our society reacts like the villagers in the movie: We feel threatened and frightened by the existence of people who are different and keep our distance.
Not so Jesus. Jesus is not afraid of being close to his brothers and sisters who are suffering. Jesus is not afraid of illness and other forms of human frailty and weakness. Jesus shows true compassion towards the weakest members of the society. And throughout history we have the examples of other heroes of unlimited compassion: Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day, Elizabeth Seton, Vincent de Paul, St. Francis of Assisi and many, many more. They all show us that even today we can live like Jesus and show true compassion to the most vulnerable among us by treating them not like outcasts, but God’s beloved children.
I have a great admiration for the many young people today who give up a secure and comfortable life to share the struggles and challenges of the poor in other countries or at home. Several of our Catholics on Call alums are currently serving the poor and marginalized as volunteers in Bolivia, Honduras or Africa. Others live in places like the Catholic Worker House to offer hospitality and care to the people in need here in our cities.
But not all of us are called to concretely share the life of the weak and the poor. Yet, all of us are called to bring Christ’s healing love to everyone. One way of living out this call is to put the Word of God into practice in our daily lives. The more God’s Word becomes alive in us, the more Christ’s presence in us and among us will grow. We are called to be Christ’s presence for others, be it the poor person on the street or the many people we meet throughout the day: a roommate who is struggling with alcohol; my friend who has lost her mother; my aunt who is sick and in the hospital; my classmate who is struggling with loneliness and depression. There are so many “lepers” in our everyday life, who don’t have any specific disease, but feel isolated and excluded from the community. Let’s reach out to them like Jesus did and not allow them to feel lonely. Let us be Christ’s presence for them and let them know through us that they are in the center of God’s care and love.
Image: Copyright by Free Christ Images
Birgit Oberhofer is originally from Munich, Germany where she graduated from Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität with a Master of Arts in Education Science, Psychology and Theology in 1999. After two years of formation in Italy she became a consecrated member of the Focolare Movement, a lay ecclesial movement, living in one of their houses in Cologne, Germany. There she worked as a program developer and grant writer for one of the biggest charity organizations in Germany, running programs in the field of Adult Formation and Social Work. In December 2007 she moved to Chicago and became the Assistant Director of Catholics on Call in July 2008.