The WORD in Other Words by Fr Simon Boiser SVD (Germany) for Thursday Week 1 in Ordinary Time
A boy went inside a pet store to buy a puppy. He saw one without a leg and wanted to buy it. The store owner said that it was for free. But the boy insisted on paying for the disabled puppy. When asked why, the boy showed his amputated leg with a prosthesis. This is empathy. No matter what happens, somebody will always be there to consider something or someone beautiful.
In biblical times, there was probably less obsession with beauty but a more collective aversion to ugliness and sickness. Lepers, who were considered the ugliest and most disgusting, were quarantined from the rest of society. Living alone and among themselves, they were thought to be unclean, untrustworthy, and morally corrupt. In the middle ages, they had to wear bells to warn others of their presence.
Today, the World Health Organization encourages countries to repeal antiquated laws that allow discrimination against people with leprosy. Although the disease has been eliminated as a public health problem worldwide, discrimination still poses huge barriers to equitable treatment and social inclusion, a situation similar during Jesus’ time.
Jesus was not afraid to touch the leper, he healed him and allowed him to integrate back into society. He saw that the real value of a person was inside, not outside. In a sense, we are all lepers, deformed and made ugly by sin. An ugly personality or an ugly way of life destroys a pretty face.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who worked among the lepers in India, once said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not tuberculosis or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love.”