The scene is a hot, dry and dusty roadway leading toward a small Middle Eastern village on the borders of Samaria.
Jesus is on his way toward Jerusalem.
People are crowded around him and his disciples. The sound of their questions, the urgency of their pleas fills the air; hands reach out, touching Jesus, hoping to draw attention, just for a moment of Jesus time.
In the distance, separate to everyone else stands a group of lepers.
Isolated from their families, society and even the worshipping communities, lepers were the outcasts of all outcasts, the rejects of all rejected. Shunned by all, through fear of contagion, they would band together to protect themselves against “polite society.” The Gospel writer even takes the trouble to tell his readers that, within this particular group, there was even a Samaritan – leprosy and fear were great levellers.
In the story, told in Luke 17 vs. 11 – 19, Jesus hears their cries and has mercy on them.
It really hit me.
Despite all the noise and crush around him, he is drawn to the plight of those beyond the margins. He hears their cries.
Take a walk around the streets of many towns in Britain today, and you will find those who are beyond the margins. In the town where I am based, we have our own issues with this problem.
If I were to walk into town today, I could easily find the street drinkers, the homeless, those with mental health issues, those who have fallen through the cracks. Sometimes, these people groups band together. They do this both for protection and for human company and acceptance.
But, what I also know is, there are many good people who reach out and try to help them. Sometimes, it feels as though all we are doing is putting a sticking a plaster over a wound that can never heal, but try we do.
I confess, at times, this work can be frustrating and show little reward. We do attract criticism from those in “polite society” who feel we do more harm than good. We are equally criticised for not doing enough. At times, we get no thanks at all (if you read the passage you will find Jesus encountered the same). I have, in my less spiritual moments, found myself praying “O Lord, why do I bother?”!
In my quiet times, I have been introduced to a prayer by an American Franciscan, Mychal Judge. He was a chaplain to the New York Fire Department and involved in the World Trade Centre disaster. His prayer goes like this;
Lord, take me where you want me to go,Mychal Judge
Let me meet who you want me to meet,
Tell me what you want me to say and
Keep me out of your way.
(I had a real problem with the last line, however, I have come to realise that it means “don’t let me hinder your work.”)
This prayer has become my daily prayer as I encounter polite society, marginal society and those beyond the edge and, as I pray, I trust that, somehow, God will be at work and I will not hinder him.