6th Sunday in Ordinary time year B, 2018. A Reflection from FR Brian Gleeeson, CP, Melbourne Australia. LEPERS IN OUR LIVES:
I guess some of you have seen the movie ‘Shine’ starring Geoffrey Rush. It tells the amazing story of the successful concert pianist, David Helfgott. Early on, even as he improves as a piano-player, he falls into a serious mental illness and starts to disintegrate as a person. He is suffering from manic depression. His moods keep swinging from the bright heights of elation, joy and excitement to the black depths of sadness, loneliness and despair. Very soon he loses his job, his home, his family, and is placed in a mental hospital. His psychiatrist even bans him from playing the piano. He ends up feeling acute pain, the pain of feeling worthless, hopeless, rejected and isolated. He is suffering all the symptoms of a social leper.
One day a woman named Gillian comes to visit one of the other patients at the hospital. Having been a long-time fan of his music, she sees David mooching around and recognises him. She says in the movie, ‘at once I knew what the rest of my life would be about’. She takes him into her home, looks after him, and takes on the responsibility for his recovery. Bit by bit he gets better, and with the help of medicine, he is able to control his mood swings. Most importantly to them both he returns to playing the piano. Soon he is on the concert platform again, and his performances to exuberant and enthusiastic audiences all over the world are a continuing personal triumph.
Of course ‘Shine’ is only a film. But its story is true. It really happened. It really happened through the providence of God and the love of a good woman. It’s a story too that is still happening because David Helfgott continues to enchant concert audiences. It will happen again for instance on April 28th, when he performs at the Melbourne Recital Centre.
That story is an extension of the message of Jesus in the Word of God today, which is about accepting and welcoming the broken, the despised, the rejected, the odd bods, the misfits, and the outcasts into our company and community, and about offering them help and healing by our openness and generosity. In fact Jesus challenges us to go out of our way to make contact with outcasts in the way that he put himself out to befriend that poor leper of our gospel story.
As a leper, the man was barred from going to the temple. He was not allowed to associate with others in any way. He was not allowed to even see his family or friends. If anyone came anywhere close he had to warn them by shouting ‘Unclean!’ ‘Unclean!’
Since today we don’t usually run into anyone with physical leprosy, we might identify at least some of those who are often treated as social lepers in society. Who might they include? Let me suggest the following: – Persons with AIDS; alcoholics; drug addicts; neurotics; psychotics; the very fat; the odd dressers; Gays and Lesbians; the handicapped; and even the homeless. At times the outcasts of society include persons with dementia; teenagers; asylum-seekers and refugees; Immigrants; those who speak different languages; and believe it or not, sometimes even the elderly.
We can work out who we would consider outcasts by asking ourselves whom do we regard as not our kind of people. Whom would we avoid? Whom would we shun? Whom would we not want to be seen with or mix with? Whom would we leave off our Invitations to parties?
By contrast, it was said of Jesus, the great mixer with all kinds of people, high and low, rich and poor, successful or so-called ‘losers’, influential or ordinary: ‘This man welcomes outcasts and [even] eats with them’. His care, his kindness, his welcome, his compassion, his generosity and his healing-touch towards outsiders come through loudly and clearly in all the details of today’s story of his meeting with the leper. He not only healed the man of his hideous and embarrassing skin disease, but he also healed him of his social isolation by bringing him back to his friends, family and community.
Today Jesus is challenging me to rethink and alter my attitudes, my judgments, and my behaviour, towards all kinds of people who are different from me. What about you? Do you find him challenging you as well? How might Jesus be challenging both you and me? Let’s think about that for a minute or two at least!