10/13/19 Teachin of Hope Border Institutute
I would like to reflect with you on the 10 Lepers, migration and the locus of our encounter with the divine.
Lepers in the time of Jesus were literally nobodies. They were defined, labelled, by one thing, their horrible disease. They were the very definition of "illegals". They had to stand downwind and cry out, "Unclean, unclean." They lived in a no man's land, ni aqui, ni alla, dispossessed of family, community and home.
What a surprise it must have been to them that there, in that condition, they would encounter Jesus! But it was no surprise to Jesus. That is exactly where he preferred to meet his people. He knew well that people stripped of the comfortable sureties of life are most ready to risk opening their hearts to him.
Over and over again we encounter this in the Gospels. Consider a few examples with me:
Where does God choose to enter humanity? On the very outskirts of empire through the life of a poor young adolescent girl.
Where does the greatest in a long line of Prophets announce the coming of the Savior? It is John the Baptist who dresses in rough garments of camel's hair, eats grasshoppers and dwells in the desert.
Where does Jesus begin his ministry? In the 'no place' of the Judean desert where he dwells seeking to survive for 40 days and 40 nights …
To whom does God show his greatest mercy? To a ragtag group of wandering Aramean slaves in Egypt whom in His mercy God forms into a chosen people. To the pagan city of Nineveh. To the prostitute who welcomed the Hebrew spies in Jericho. To Naaman the Syrian in the time of Elija the Prophet.
For whom does Jesus do some of his greatest miracles? To the pagan mother in Tyre who begs for only the scraps off of the master's table.
To the servant of the Roman Centurion who does not feel worthy to have Jesus enter his house. To the man possessed by a legion of demons in the pagan territories of the Decapolis.
To whom did Jesus offer his gift of forgiveness? To Matthew and Zaccheus, the tax collector traitors, unworthy to be numbered among the faithful people of God. To the woman caught in the act of adultery. To the woman known to be a sinner, who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. To the thief who was hanging alongside him on the cross.
What did Jesus say in preaching? Speaking to the leaders of the people Jesus said, "I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes will get into heaven before you!" Describing those who would enter the Kingdom of God, he said, "I was hungry and you gave me to eat, thirsty and you gave me to drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, in prison and you visited me.
Coming back now to the Lepers we see them stripped of their reserve since they have nothing more to lose as they cry out, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us."
"Go, show yourselves to the priest,'' Jesus commands them. In this case the priest was the "migra", the one to say you belong or you don't belong. You are a threat or you are not. He expected that the priest, carrying out his role in justice, would welcome them into the community.
Are you surprised that the only one to return giving thanks was a Samaritan, a hated foreigner? Jesus wasn't surprised. He may have been a bit saddened to see that the Samaritan was the only one, but he wasn't surprised. He knows the human heart inside and out. The Samaritan was doubly oppressed, doubly a nobody. He was an outcast due to his infirmity and due to his race. He was better positioned to encounter God than any of the rest. Not only was his flesh made whole, his heart was renewed and his eyes were opened.
I do not use these words lightly but there is something diabolical in the antithesis represented by our rejection of those on the margins. Even those we so easily categorize as being on the margin reveals the inversion to be found in our society. Of course, no one owns this earth. We do not even own ourselves. Each one of us and this universe belong to God. Our life is loaned to us. We receive our life; we do not create it. We are its stewards, not life's owners.
But if anyone has a greater claim on this place, this land, it is our Indigenous peoples. Yet we have had the nerve to tell them they do not belong, they don't count.
Diabolically, we claim to be the chosen, the owners, the favored. We will not serve because we rule! We divide humanity by the shades of our skin, we classify humanity in a thousand different ways to assure that we are dominant and we slip our finger onto the scale to make sure it remains that way.
But it should not surprise us that once again God entered the world, this so-called 'New' world through an Indigenous woman, a mestiza woman, at the darkest moment of this people's history, when they had been defeated and enslaved. I speak of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She told her children that they were beloved, that they were indeed precious in God's eyes. "Ustedes son válidos." She accompanies all of those dwelling on the margins, abused and looked down upon today.
The truth is that in God's world God is to be found in the margins, on the peripheries. The Lord has attempted to teach us this truth time and again. Those on the margins are our teachers and lords. They call us to examine our ways and to seek conversion. If we cling to their garments they will point us to the Christ. If we call out to Christ in imitation of their example, he may save us.