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Serving those who serve us

February 11, 2018

Christ Healing a Leper, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, c. 1650 – c. 1655

A reflection for the 6th Sunday, Ordinary Time, B.
The readings are Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46, Psalm 32, Corinthians 10:31–11:1 and Mark 1:40-45.

One of the things that I like about the Gospel of Mark is that there are so many healings. Jesus heals a lot of people. Two weeks ago he expelled a demon from a man in the synagogue – so he heals our spiritual illness. Last week he healed Simon’s mother-in-law – so he heals our spiritual illness. Today he heals a leper.

So Jesus heals us spiritually and he heals us physically. And even though leprosy is a physical disease, the truth is that leprosy was a social disease, because lepers, and anyone with a skin condition or ailment (as we heard in today’s first reading), was treated as an outcast. That’s why Jesus tells him to go show himself to the priest. That’s how he could get re-integrated into the community.

So Jesus heals our spiritual illness; He heals our physical illness and He heals our social illness: He brings us back into the community.

So I have one question for you today: When was the last time you treated someone like an outcast? Like a leper? I’m not thinking about the usual people: homeless people or drug addicts. I don’t mean teenage moms or people with disabilities or mental illness; I don’t even mean those who you think are weird or different than you. We do treat them like outcasts, but I’m thinking of another group. This is a group that all of us have abused at one time or another. These are the people whose job is to provide a service to us.

Over the last couple of days I’ve had some interesting experiences.

I just flew back to Canada from Panama (as you know I am working to plan the next World Youth Day which will take place in Panama in January 2019). I was supposed to leave on Thursday and there was a flight delay and then our flight was cancelled. As you know –‘cause we’ve all been there – as soon as there’s an inconvenience when traveling, people start getting testy. Especially all the people in the business class line. They start pulling out their phones and calling their travel agents and demanding to be compensated. We all start thinking about how we’re going to get extra air miles or free airfare; we demand meal vouchers and we generally don’t treat the poor airline agents very nicely. We treat them like second class citizens because “we are paying for this service” and we demand to be treated a certain way; we get all self-righteous and all of a sudden have a big sense of entitlement.

When we finally got on the plane, 24 hrs. later, I was sitting next to a woman who’s an Emergency Room nurse and she was saying that she sees the same at her work. She deals with people who are stressed and worried; people who are sick – and they generally don’t treat the nurses very nicely. They demand to see the doctor “now!” and even insult them. We treat them like they are less than us, because “we pay taxes” or we “deserve to be treated a certain way.”

On my way to the airport here, when I left for Panama three weeks ago, it was snowing and the cab driver told me that their policy was that in bad weather they couldn’t charge the flat rate but had to run the metre. Sure whatever… We got to the airport, no problem in under an hour, but because he was running the metre, instead of costing me $80, it cost me $130! When I am paying, he asks me if I want to leave him a tip. Really!? I said, “I just gave you a $50 tip!” I was not happy. I treated him like he is less than me. Like a leper.

When I arrived in Panama a co-worker picked me up at the airport. I went to the place where I always go to get picked up. She pulled up, opened her trunk and as I was putting my suitcase in, a police officer came to tell her she couldn’t stop there. It would have taken me 2 seconds to get in the car and leave. She was asking the officer where she could stop to pick me up, when he proceeded to just give her a ticket. And he spent the next 10 minutes giving her the ticket. She began to rail on him! Not rude but she began saying, “this is how we treat visitors to our country?” She pulled out her phone and started filming him and said, “We work for the World Youth Day Office” and that she was going to report to the police commissioner that this was happening at the airport…. She was treating him less than human. Like a leper.

So… on my way home; another cab. This guy seemed to have never even heard of the little town I live in: Holland Landing. I told him to take Hwy 400 north to Hwy 9. So we go. Then I notice that he exits on King Road and then starts going north on Jane St.. I’m like “where are you going!?” He says he’s following the GPS. I said, “Well the GPS is wrong.” Then, just as I was about to tell him how I told him which way to go, remembered that this is what I was going to preach about this weekend and decided to be extra nice to him. It’s not his fault that he doesn’t know where he is going. Maybe I should just help him get me home.

How often do we do this? All the time. We do it with servers, waiters, waitresses, public employees, customer service people, sales people… we do it all the time. We treat them like they are less than us; like lepers.

The truth is that we are all lepers in need of healing. We are all outcasts who need to be brought back into the family.

That’s why St. Paul tells the Corinthians to “Avoid giving offense” and “try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of them any, that they may be saved. Be imitators of Christ.”

Last week, when Jesus healed Simon-Peter’s mother-in-law, Scripture tells us that she got up and began to serve them (Mark 1:31). Jesus heals us so that we can serve others. Maybe we can look at it the other way around: it is in serving others that we are healed. Are you asking God to heal you and nothing is happening? Maybe you should stop thinking about yourself and go serve someone else. Maybe you should go serve a leper.

When was the last time that you served a leper? When the last time you provided service to someone whose job is to serve you? Maybe this is a good Lenten practice this year: Let’s be nicer to those people whose job is to serve us. Especially when they make mistakes. Especially when the service is bad!

Today, Jesus wants to heal you, but He wants you to go and touch the lepers in your community. He wants you to serve them.

Today, let’s say a prayer for all the people who we’ve treated like lepers, just in the last week. Pray for them and let’s try to be imitators of Christ, who came to serve and not to be served.

You want real compensation? You want real Air Miles to get you where you really need to go? Go touch an outcast. Go and serve a leper.

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