Insiders, outsiders, and everyone in-between

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

It’s hard to believe, but the stigma of leprosy is still alive and well, and by that I do not refer to the unacceptable social alienation suffered by many of our brothers and sisters. I mean it literally. In a report dated January 22, 2015, Reuters news agency reveals the presence of discriminatory laws in around 20 countries where leprosy survivors’ rights to marry, work, study and travel are limited.

Although leprosy was once believed to be highly contagious, nowadays cases are quite rare and are easily treated with antibiotics. Still, being cured is apparently not enough; millions suffer a lifelong stigma rooted in antiquated laws and fears. In some countries entire families are regularly evicted from their neighborhoods and left to live a life of unbearable loneliness.

In Biblical times, any variety of dermatological conditions could be suspected as leprosy. Once spotted, a person afflicted with a “scab, pustule, or blotch” was obliged to meet with the priest whose positive diagnosis included no cure, only immediate isolation from the community. Of course, the reason for quarantine was to prevent the spread of the disease, particularly in public worship spaces. However, the outcome was the creation of colonies which separated the clean and the unclean who also could be understood as the whole and the broken, the insiders and the outsiders, the useful and the useless.

Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus removing barriers, bridging the gap between insiders and outsiders, returning broken people to wholeness, liberating the socially alienated and bringing people to a new understanding of what his Father’s kingdom was really about. Jesus is both the great emancipator and the great unifier. In her book of reflections on the lectionary, God’s Word is Alive, author Alice Camille writes “Jesus understood that people needed community more than they needed a cure.” She’s right. And while we might not be lepers, nor are we possessed, and we might not have a wilted hand or a sensory disability, many of us suffer from isolating social conditions. Loneliness, for example, is one which continues to magnify the distance between social insiders and outsiders.

A friend of mine who struggles with loneliness told me it reaches its peak when she is in a crowded place. There, she says, she is neither an insider nor an outsider because from her point of view those two labels still imply some kind of community to which she does not belong. When she shared with me her sense of Jesus in the midst of her desolation I suggested that perhaps her loneliness and desire to belong were a mirror of God’s longing for her and for the entire world. Think of this. Might the divine spark which dwells in each of us, and in whose image we were created, drive our desire to build meaningful and life-giving relationships? Yet, for countless unacceptable reasons a vast gap still exists between those who fit in and social outcasts. As an evangelizing people  we are compelled to seek the missing, widen our welcome, eliminate barriers, heal brokenness and loneliness, practice forgiveness, and work to unify God’s people in all that we do, just as Jesus did.

Today’s readings can be found here.

Image © [Daniel Dunca]

What’s in a greeting?

One of the most frequent comments I hear from new members of the parish where I work is how truly welcome they feel. They appreciate the cards, calls and welcome messages from the staff, and enjoy the hospitality of welcome dinners.

Each time the assembly draws together for liturgy or another parish activity that sense of belonging is rekindled. We use our words, our smile, and our friendliness, but consider Jesus’ words: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” [MT 18:20].

Christians who live with an awareness of Jesus’ presence naturally become more open to God’s movement in their lives. And at this point, Christian hospitality takes on greater significance.

Might our extension of hospitality throughout our day, at home, at work, and in play emerge from the divine image that dwells in us and in which we were created? “It is so good to see you”  We know God works through us, so is it such a stretch to think that God also speaks through us? “I am so glad we are in this place together.” When we greet a stranger, we do so not knowing who they are, and yet by acknowledging them, we say “I am here.”

And in seeking the face of Christ in each other, the one who meets our eyes says “I know you.”

Have you ever considered the impact your greeting might have on another, or how their greeting might affect you? How do you welcome guests and newcomers to our faith community? Let’s explore this together, please share your impressions and suggestions.

Do you know me?

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

I am your daughter.

I am your neighbor.

I am your co-worker.

I am your child’s math teacher.

I cut you off on the turnpike yesterday.

I am the crying baby on your long flight.

I am your mother’s cardiologist.

I am your mail carrier.

I am your friend’s roommate.

I replaced your roof last spring.

I am your daughter’s future husband.

I am the voice on the help line.

I clean your house.

I just moved here with my girlfriend.

I wave to you every morning as you jog by my house.

I am experiencing homelessness.

I help bag your groceries.

You cheered for me on the soccer field.

I am in this country illegally.

I’m that loud guy across the street.

Our kids were in scouts together.

Yours was the first face I saw when I entered this church.

I am the Body of Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the Glory of God. —Romans 15:7
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