Reflection for Sunday – February 11, 2024
Readings: Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46; 1 Corinthians 10: 31-11:1; Mark 1: 40-45
Preacher: Deni Mack
“I turn to you God in times of trouble.” That’s the beginning of the Psalm we just sang. We turn to God when we’re in need and when anyone is in trouble.
At a seminary conference in 1977, Yolanda, a 79-year-old Mexican woman, told me she traveled 50 miles each way to bring communion to lepers every Sunday for 50 years. Yolanda was soft spoken and so humble I just about dragged her compassionate story out of her. She is never far from my heart and mind. I thanked God for her when I read today’s gospel story of Jesus healing a leper.
Each of Jesus’ healings transforms minds and hearts. Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan who cared for a wounded man who was ignored by both a priest and a Levite. Samaritans and Jews did not talk; they were taught to hate each other. Jesus challenged society’s bias again when he healed a Roman soldier’s servant. He responded with compassion to an oppressor’s request. Jesus repeatedly shows us how to respond to persons in need of healing. When he touched the leper he didn’t let fear of contagion or ritual impurity stop him from touching a man who needed his healing touch. Henri Nouwen, in his book, The Wounded Healer, calls our efforts to heal one another authentic when our hearts are wounded by suffering. Stephen Minister’s companionship with people who are suffering follows that wounded healer model. For instance, we try to match a person who has undergone cancer treatments with one who is dealing with a similar issue.
When we turn to God in times of trouble Jesus touches us. Since the 1960s I’ve known suffering as a school of compassion. God can transform what would have been a lifetime of anger and hopelessness into compassion. When we beg God to help us, as the leper begged Jesus, we become more alert to others’ suffering. Instead of wanting to run from the “leper” we’re responsive and healing. Strangers and friends ask for our prayer. The world needs compassionate energy and insight. Healing strength is found in prayer. We may not feel how deeply healing Jesus’ touch is as water pours on our heads in baptism and soothing oil blesses us in Confirmation but God’s mercy transforms our hurt into compassion. Jesus feeds us, is spiritually healing us, is giving us the guts to endure—and to keep asking God for help, to keep taking good care of the people God puts in our path, touching them with love. In our fear God comes through with a kind word. In our exhaustion God comes through with what we need to touch a lonely soul.
I turn to you God in times of trouble. We’re troubled over the war in the Middle East and Russia’s war on Ukraine while God heals hatred through people like Fr. Elias Chacour and Neve Shalom. Chacour’s Palestinian Christian family was evicted from their land in 1948. Instead of becoming a hater he became a healing Melkite rite priest who learned what was needed to prevent or transform the hatred around him. He knew mothers love their children. So he visited many families every day to listen to mothers. In response he founded a school wherein Muslims, Jews and Christians teach Muslim, Jewish and Christian children. I heard Fr. Chacour speak when I visited the thriving school in Galilee in 1995. Mar Elias Educational Institution’s cluster of schools now teach 2,750 students from preschool through high school. Faculty and students are touched by healing love. Healing love is taught, caught, spread and lived.
Another place of healing love in the Holy Land is Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace) founded in 1972 by Fr. Bruno Hussar. Residents of Neve Shalom choose to live there as peacemakers. Six speakers from Neve Shalom inspired us in Chautauqua with their stories of intentional community life. Neve Shalom’s School for Peace, a pillar of support for peace building communities is consulted regularly, especially since the massacre on October 7. Neve Shalom’s School for Peace shows how to deal with political discussion while protecting students and staff from harm as well as how to deal with crisis, injustices and the impact war has on the environment.
Lent starts this Wednesday and we are reminded again to turn to God in times of trouble. We can, each day, pray to love so deeply that we respond to each trouble with Jesus’ compassion.