Jesus was sensitive to the suffering of those he met on his journey, those marginalized by society, those forgotten by religious people or rejected by those groups who considered themselves morally or religiously superior.
It’s something that comes from within. He knows that God doesn’t discriminate against anyone. God doesn’t reject or excommunicate. God isn’t just for the good. God welcomes and blesses everyone. Jesus was accustomed to get up early in the morning to pray. On one occasion he stays up to contemplate the dawn: «God makes the sun rise over the good and the bad». That’s how God is.
That’s why Jesus sometimes forcefully demands that condemnations cease: «Don’t judge and you will not be judged». Another time he tells a short parable to ask that no one set about «separating the wheat from the weeds», as if that one were the supreme judge of everyone.
But what’s most admirable is the way Jesus’ acts. Jesus’ most original and provocative aspect was his custom of eating with sinners, prostitutes and undesirable people. The deed is most unusual. Never was it seen in Israel that someone respected as “man of God” ate and drank enthusiastically with sinners.
The most respected religious leaders couldn’t put up with that. Their reaction was aggressive: «Here you have a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of sinners». Jesus didn’t defend himself. It was true, since in his deepest heart he felt a great respect and a moving friendship with those rejected by society or religion.
Mark recounts in his Gospel the healing of a leper, in order to highlight Jesus’ option for the excluded. Jesus is passing through a deserted region. Suddenly he’s approached by a leper. He comes alone. He lives in solitude. He carries in his skin the mark of his exclusion. The laws condemn him to live separated from everyone else. He’s an impure being.
On his knees, the leper makes of Jesus a humble plea. He feels dirty. He doesn’t talk to Jesus about sickness. He only wants to be cleansed of his stigma: «If you are willing, you can cleanse me». Jesus is moved to see at his feet such a human being disfigured by sickness and by everyone’s exclusion. Such a person represents the loneliness and the hopelessness of so many stigmatized. Jesus «stretches out his hand» seeking contact with his skin, «touches him», and tells him: «I am willing; be cleansed».
Every time we, from our supposed moral superiority, discriminate among the different human groups (beggars, prostitutes, drug addicts, the mentally ill, immigrants, homosexuals…) and exclude them from our company and deny them our welcome, we are gravely distancing ourselves from Jesus.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf