Last week we heard about a rather peculiar kidnapping of the Libyan Prime Minister, who was released a few hours later. That event drew our attention back to the country which had got rid of its dictator two years ago thanks to the efforts of the nation united against its common enemy. Soon after the regime collapsed, all the factions and divisions came out, leading subsequently to chaos and anarchy. It’s the same story happening over and over again everywhere in the world, from international alliances down to our workplaces and families. It’s saddening that, once the common enemy is defeated, personal or ideological animosities prevail. Sometimes to such an extreme extent that former allies fight each other to death.
In today’s gospel we can see ten men plagued by the then incurable leprosy. It was the illness so feared that those affected by it had to leave their families and communities, and to live separately in order to avoid infecting others. They were forming their own small communities of outcasts. As they couldn’t get any job, their main way of supporting themselves was begging: so their cry in today’s gospel can be interpreted as such: ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us!’ We assume they were looking for miraculous healing, but that’s not necessarily true. I’ve been accosted many times by drunkards calling me a multitude of refined titles just to bum from me. They have rarely kept their reverence when, instead of cash in hand, they were offered help to recover from their miserable conditions. So when Jesus in reply sent the lepers to the priests, they might have left muttering some unpleasant comments under their breath.
Jesus’ command wasn’t a way of ducking the issue. In the Law of Moses we can find quite an extensive section about leprosy. First of all, that was a generic term for all skin blemishes and diseases. Some of them were classified as dangerous and subsequently the afflicted were to be separated out, while others were accepted as safe. They were diagnosed by Jewish priests, who therefore decided the affected person’s fate. The examination could be redone when the conditions had changed. So when Jesus sent the lepers to show themselves to the priests, he acted in line with the law. But there was a problem: one of them wasn’t a Jew, but a Samaritan; a member of the nation despised by the Jews of that time as pagans, and treated with more or less concealed hostility. For that one man, going to Jewish priests simply didn’t make any sense. Perhaps his former friends in their misery indicated that clearly when they realised they had been cleansed. As their common enemy – leprosy – seemed to have been defeated, their old animosity might have resurfaced.
Many times over the years I have seen people getting together to do something positive. The events have been wide ranging: from hardly noticeable to any audience to massively big public events. But to my never-ending astonishment I’ve come across an even greater number of times when people have united to smear or to destroy someone, and their action is quite often driven by trivial or even imaginary reasons. It’s startling how apparently natural negativity is, and how great a power it has to unite people. It seems to be much harder to gather together people who are willing to do something positive.
I’d like to suggest that you to do a little mental exercise. When you talk about someone, do you tend to bring up the more positive or the more negative aspects of that person? You don’t have to give me an answer – it’s important for you yourself to know it, and it’s important for those around you because it affects them; hopefully it does for their good.