Leprosy is epidemic in society today, not as Hansen’s disease, but as a variety of other spiritual and physical ills. Most of them derive their power from our tendency to judge, label and red-line people who do not conform to our expectations or who make us uncomfortable. The hymn “A Touching Place” calls us out on some of these issues: “Feel for the people we most avoid, strange or bereaved or never employed.” From time to time, Dear Abby publishes a letter from someone who has lost a loved one. The funeral long over, no one ever calls to talk or visit or invite the bereaved person out. We do not know how to deal with sorrow and loss. “Strange” might refer to any kind of eccentric behavior; labeling someone as mentally ill might be how we rationalize our interactions with such people. We harbor judgments about obesity and ADHD. Bullying derives its power from our power to label people “in” and “out.” Politicians push our buttons by calling adversaries “socialists” or “terrorists.” “Never employed”: the economy is testing our assumptions about maturity and independence as young adults postpone life choices because of debt and under-employment. The church community is on the front lines to listen and offer understanding and a quiet touch. There is an opportunity here for the church to grow if it can find ways for all its members to feel appreciated Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor executed by the Nazis, wrote in Life Together: “A community which allows unemployed members to exist within it will perish because of them. It will be well, therefore, if every member receives a definite task to perform for the community, that they may know in hours of doubt that they, too, are not useless and unusable.” Elizabeth O’Connor writes further: “No community develops the potential of its corporate life unless the gifts of each of its members are evoked and exercised on behalf of the whole community. . . . When I become aware of my own gifts and give my attention to communicating what is in me – my own truth, as it were – I have the experience of growing toward wholeness. I am working out God’s ‘chosen purpose,’ and I am no longer dependent on what others think and how they respond” (Eighth Day of Creation).
The hymn goes on to mention “the women whom men have defiled” and those who “fear that their living is all in vain.” Besides the abuse rampant in our own culture, these lines evoke the victimization of women common in Africa and
South Asia by those who mistake custom for religion. The poem also alludes to our tendency to sort people by class or caste. An article in the March National Geographic highlights Christians in persecuted because they oppose the caste system. India
Psalm 32 links healing of body with healing of soul, presaging next week’s story of the paralytic whose sins Jesus forgave. It is well worth praying all 11 verses of this psalm. The spiritual “Balm in
Gilead” which “makes the wounded whole” also “heals the sin-sick soul.” In the words of another spiritual, we are all “standing in the need of prayer,” not just the “other guy.”