February 08, 2012
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [February 12, 2012]
Wow, how beautiful is that? It may be an early morning sunrise, a cumulus cloud etched with sunlight or perhaps the first sight of your new baby. Turning to nature, perhaps we are amazed with the symmetry of planets in outer space. You can name many more, I’m sure.
We make a lot out of beauty in our world today; check out the spring style magazines; make up and clothing are big business and bring in big bucks. Beauty may be skin deep, as the saying goes, but it plays a large part in the way we look at life.
Unfortunately and realistically, of course, disfigurement is also a reality in our life and our world and we often find ourselves turning aside from that person or object that makes us feel uneasy, yes, even embarrassed. Being handicapped is a difficult burden for many to bear; indeed, finding a respected place in human society is often a lifetime struggle for many individuals.
Our scriptures for this Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time speak rather plainly of human disfigurement. In those less scientifically enlightened times in history they called it leprosy. In our own times we might describe it better as psoriasis or lesions on the skin. In any case, such a condition was considered a human embarrassment; indeed, many thought of it as the result of human sinfulness, a physical state that would need to be reported to the synagogue or temple authorities.
Unfortunately, such a condition was also considered a danger to others in public places. They were told to associate specifically with their own “kind.” Such social practices followed from the fear of contagion and lack of medical understanding.
On the other hand the gospel describes Jesus’ enlightened and compassionate attitude to people in such conditions. He not only took occasion to lay hands on them in cure and blessing, but also assured them that they need not have any fear of sin or guilt. In short, for Jesus, physical sicknesses or deformity were simply one of the great mysteries of life. The God of all creation had no intent in punishing people so afflicted.
So, Jesus, in his compassionate manner simply healed them and sent them to the local religious authorities as proof that God heals all manner of ills.
That leads us finally to the question of how we, in this so called enlightened age, should feel and act toward folks who through no fault of their own may suffer from physical, mental or psychological infirmities. If we find ourselves embarrassed to be in the presence of such innocent folks, that is already our own dilemma. The more important question to ask is this: how do we feel toward such folks? Are we concerned purely with facial or mental appearances, or can we see more deeply beneath the skin into the very heart and being of the person.
It has been my experience that externals are often deceptive; it is the heart of the person that tells us the truth of an individual. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, that great Hebrew professor, said it best years ago: “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy”. Surely no one can argue with such a deep insight.
Posted by Cindy Lentine on February 8, 2012 09:38 AM.