- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories - Life in the Reign of God: A Place of Inclusion and Openness
Isolation is hard. In the midst of the pandemic it has been one of the most difficult challenges. The separation from family and friends, the long periods of being alone, the lack of real and full social contact with one another takes it toll on everyone. It is a necessary step for the common good, but remains a high price to pay. We all long for the time we can fully rejoin one another in all our communities.
Difficult as it is, we isolate in order to protect each other from the virus. We all do it for the common good of our communities and our world. In the case of our current circumstance, everyone is experiencing the exclusion and isolation. But what if we were the only one excluded? The Gospel writer Mark relates a story of how Jesus responds to a person in this condition, someone who is treated as an outsider or an “outcast”. The person is a leper (Mark 1:40-45).
The image of being treated as a leper often means being rejected or excluded. The Old Testament passage from the Book of Leviticus describes the fate of such lepers in the community (Lev.13:1-2, 45-46). The leper was regarded as a threat, for their disease could infect the community. The response was to drive them out, exclude them from contact with others. What as that like?
Such a person was condemned to isolation, cut off from family, from neighbours, from friends. They were doomed to live “outside the camp” by themselves. Only when their disease no longer affected them could they return to be with the community. Hence the need to prove they no longer had the disease. In Israel, the physical disease of the leper also gave rise to a ritual uncleanness. To return to the community required a certification from the priests in the Temple, that they had been healed.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a leper facing such exclusion. The leper asks for healing. Jesus responds with compassion. He reaches out and touches the leper. It is a significant action on Jesus’ part. He crosses the boundary of exclusion, both the physical barrier and the ritual one. To do so was a risk, for crossing these barrier places Jesus in danger of physical contamination and also ritual uncleanness.
We encounter many “outsiders” in our lifetime. Sometimes we may even be “outsiders” ourselves. Perhaps our “outsiders” are those facing burdens – poverty, unemployment, life struggles, addictions of any kind. The “outsiders” may be those who have lost a spouse, those who are of a different race, religion or ethnic group. The “outsider” may be the stranger in our midst, the new person in the neighbourhood or parish. The “outsider” may be the one who is bullied in school, the one who is “different” in whatever way from others. Are we able to reach out with healing inclusion as Jesus did with his touch?
The isolation we all feel in the midst of the corona virus pandemic, is the daily experience of many outcasts among us. The virus will eventually pass, and with it, the isolation that is our response. But among us there are many whose life situation excludes them, without a virus.
To live in the Reign of God is to live where all are included. No one in the Reign of God lives “outside the camp”. As disciples of Jesus, are we able to cross the barriers to all outsiders? Can we build our communities to mirror the open inclusiveness of the God’s reign, where all are welcome?