In one of my favorite contemporary hymns, The Calling, there is a verse which contains: "Will you kiss the lepers clean? And do such as this unseen?"
We think ourselves above much of the thinking of ancient times, but are we really? It is interesting how someone who is "different" from the norm, makes us uncomfortable. We stare or we look away. People with disabilities talk about how they feel invisible when they are in a wheelchair. People rarely make eye contact and say a simple "hello," much less smile and engage in conversation. I can't help but think of this woman who had a stroke and couldn't speak. She would come to church, and people just didn't know what to say to her. She would often get pushed aside, people standing in front of her, but not engaged with her. Popular new age thinking tells people to keep people who are poor out of their lives, so they don't attract that kind of energy. Another friend who has been very ill for many years with asthma, found himself constantly fending off a barage of judgement from well meaning friends who tried to explain his illness away with psychological reasoning.
There is a long list of people that others often avoid, ignore, gossip about, exclude and just generally make life difficult for...
people who are overweight or large
people who have mental illnesses
people who have gotten pulled into the sex industry
people who are transgender
people who are lesbian or gay
people who are bisexual
(it isn't politically correct to exclude glbtq people, and yet there is much prejudice).
people who have cancer
people who are dying
people who are poor
Many years ago at a conference called Witness Our Welcome, (a Christian LGBTQ event), I had wandered off on my own and sat down to eat my lunch. A transgender woman came to sit next to me. We had a long conversation. And in the beginning I felt myself squirming to leave. I didn't mind smiling and saying hello, but the transgender issue was one with which I was incredibly uncomfortable. I didn't get it. I didn't understand someone feeling that they were born into the wrong body. I listened to this woman's story and some of my discomfort began to melt away. She talked about her membership at a Lutheran Missouri Synod Church where the pastor would try to cast out her demons from time to time. She was deeply depressed and suicidal. And although I can usually get a smile out of people, she never smiled the entire time we sat together and talked. And slowly I began to allow the depth of her pain to reach my heart, where my own pain from rejection and misunderstanding lived. People who are the object of our prejudices, are our true teachers.
When we are feeling deeply uncomfortable or afraid, try to look it in the face...we will find a brother or a sister there. Will we struggle through our discomfort to reach the commonalities we share as human beings, instead of our differences? Will we find the courage to make room in the circle for those we don't always understand? Will we kiss the lepers clean? Will we be as Christ, reaching out to touch those the world has cast aside? Perhaps even the outcast within ourselves?