There is story in the Gospel about a leper coming to Jesus on his knees and pleading with him, saying, ‘If you want to, you can cure me’. It was a pitiful statement, suggesting despair. The leper had reason to: in the tradition of the time, leprosy was seen as a punishment by God for sin, and led to social and religious rejection. Maybe the man had lost hope and didn’t expect much. But he was desperate, so he came on his knees; desperate people are not worried about losing their decorum. Or it could be that he simply didn’t have feet he could walk with; leprosy destroys toes and you can’t walk without them.
The first thing Jesus did was to look at the man; he didn’t turn away in disgust. Then he listened to him; he didn’t lecture him. He felt sorry for him; he didn’t feel scorn for him. Then he touched him; he did not keep him at arm’s length, or out of smelling range; he touched the untouchable. Jesus seemed stung by the man’s ‘if you want to’, and replied, ‘of course I want to!’ And he healed him. Jesus looked, listened, felt sorry, touched and healed. That was how he treated the leper, the outcast.
An outcast is anyone I close myself off against, anyone I give a cold shoulder to, anyone the mention of whose name gives me a jolt. Those are my outcasts, my lepers. Isn’t there a lesson there for us towards anyone who is an outcast to us? I love this story from Katharine Hepburn’s childhood; it’s beautiful, in her own words….
“Once when I was a teenager, my father and I were standing in line to buy tickets for the circus. Finally, there was only one other family between us and the ticket counter. This family made a big impression on me. There were eight children, all probably under the age of 12. The way they were dressed, you could tell they didn’t have a lot of money, but their clothes were neat and clean. The children were well-behaved, all of them standing in line, two-by-two behind their parents, holding hands. They were excitedly jabbering about the clowns, animals, and all the acts they would be seeing that night. By their excitement you could sense they had never been to the circus before. It would be a highlight of their lives.
The father and mother were at the head of the pack standing proud as could be. The mother was holding her husband’s hand, looking up at him as if to say, “You’re my knight in shining armour.” He was smiling and enjoying seeing his family happy. The ticket lady asked the man how many tickets he wanted?
He proudly responded “I’d like to buy eight children’s tickets and two adult tickets, so I can take my family to the circus.” The ticket lady stated the price. The man’s wife let go of his hand, her head dropped, the man’s lip began to quiver. Then he leaned a little closer and asked, “How much did you say?” The ticket lady again stated the price. The man didn’t have enough money. How was he supposed to turn and tell his eight kids that he didn’t have enough money to take them to the circus? Seeing what was going on, my dad reached into his pocket, pulled out a €20 note, and then dropped it on the ground. (We were not wealthy in any sense of the word!). My father bent down, picked up the €20 note, tapped the man on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, sir, this fell out of your pocket.” The man understood what was going on. He wasn’t begging for a handout but certainly appreciated the help in a desperate, heart-breaking and embarrassing situation. He looked straight into my dad’s eyes, took my dad’s hand in both of his, squeezed tightly onto the €20 note, and with his lip quivering and a tear streaming down his cheek, he replied; “Thank you, thank you, sir. This really means a lot to me and my family.” My father and I went back to our car and drove home. The €20 that my dad gave away is what we were going to buy our own tickets with. Although we didn’t get to see the circus that night, we both felt a joy inside us that was far greater than seeing the circus could ever provide. That day I learnt the value to Give.
The Giver is bigger than the Receiver. If you want to be large, larger than life, learn to Give. Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get, only with what you are expecting to give – which is everything. The importance of giving, blessing others can never be over emphasised because there’s always joy in giving. Learn to make someone happy by acts of giving.” – Katharine Hepburn