During his recent visit to the Philippines Pope Francis met with the youth on 18th January. Glyzelle Palomar, a 12-year old street girl, tearfully recounted before some 30,000 young people how she spent her young life foraging for food from garbage bins and sleeping outside on cardboard mats. Then she turned to the Pope with a simple but profound question: “Why did God let this happen to us?” she asked, covering her face with her hands as she sobbed.
The Pope said he had no reply but hugged her in an embrace that touched everybody. Then he added: “Only when we too can cry about the things that you said are we able to come close to replying to that question … Certain realities in life we only see through eyes that are cleansed through our tears.” He then went on to say: “I invite each one of you to ask yourselves: ‘Have I learned how to weep, how to cry when I see a hungry child, a child on the street who uses drugs, a homeless child, an abandoned child, an abused child, a child that society uses as a slave?’”
Leprosy is very symbolic of the fate of the outcast in today’s society. The first reading spells out how tragic this fate is. As soon as the first signs of the disease appeared, the afflicted person was debarred from all social life and forced to withdraw from society. This meant bidding farewell to one’s family, leaving behind one’ way of life, one’s trade, everything and everybody one had known and loved. It was a farewell as final as death. The leper was reduced to the status of a non-person, scavenging for food in the town dump, with a warning bell around one’s neck. Moreover it was taken for granted that the disease was a punishment for sin and a sign of separation from the life-giving power of God.
Today we meet a Jesus who, in the words of the Pope, ‘has learned how to weep, how to cry’ in the face of this tragic affliction. Mark tells us that on meeting the leper, Jesus was ‘moved with pity’. The word ‘pity’ is a poor translation. It doesn’t get across the intensity of Jesus’ feeling for this man. The Greek word has to do with Jesus being moved to compassion in the depths of his heart. Or, in the words of Pope Francis, he was moved to cry from his heart for this leper who was forced to live outside the camp as the law of Moses dictated.
It is from this intense compassion that the gentleness of Jesus overflows. How could he not want to cleanse him, being one who goes about moved by God’s compassion towards God’s sons and daughters who are most defenseless and rejected? Without a moment’s hesitation, ‘he extends his hand’ toward that man and ‘touches’ his skin – an action that is despised by the so called pure. He knows that the Law forbids it and that touching him will make him unclean, but compassion wins the day. It is his deep compassion moves him: “I am willing. Be cleansed”
We often get carried away by the wow-factor when we hear of Jesus’s miracles. Then instead of concentrating on what they show us about the world God wants, we ask questions about how it could happen. Miracles show us another world. The question is not ‘how did that happen but rather what is the point Jesus is making by this miracle?’ This is what the God who is incarnate in Jesus wants: to cleanse the world of exclusions that go against the Father’s compassion. It isn’t God who excludes, but our laws and institutions. It isn’t God who marginalises: it’s us. From now on, all will see clearly that no one should be excluded in Jesus’ name.
I was at a march in Soweto today against human trafficking. It was followed by mass where we heard gripping testimonies of how little girls were trapped into prostitution at a very tender age. One of the girls was duped at age 11 along with her cousin and another friend. What was really tragic was the fact that it was her aunt who had deceved her, who in turn was forced into prostitution years before. The message from this very moving event was very clear. In God’s world everyone is family. We are all brothers and sisters and we need to work together to rid the world of this terrible scourge of human trafficking.
Today Paul is asking us to be imitators of Jesus. This means taking on and desiring some of the compassion Jesus had for the outcast. It means, in the words of Pope Francis, to learn how to weep and to learn how to cry, when we meet a little 12-year old Glyzelle.
The odds are that each of us gathered here will encounter one fellow creature during the coming week who is our equivalent of the socially isolated sick person: someone on the margins of society, reviled, suspected, suffering. When that person encounters us will she or he encounter more of the same or will it be more like encountering the Christ? The greatest miracle of change may be in how we react in that encounter.
Sunday, 15 February 2015