“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.” (Luke 4.28-29)
Molokai is one of the islands which make up the Hawaiian Islands. It is known as the friendly island. But for the lepers in the mid 1800 it was anything but friendly. Here they were isolated and secluded in a desperate effort not to let this disease spread throughout all the islands. No buildings, no shelters, no potable water, no medicine … they were left there to rot and die.
The situation started changing in 1873, when a young Sacred Heart priest of 33, Father Damien De Veuster , Flemish, offered himself to go and help out the people there. It was a courageous decision because it meant basically stepping into a living graveyard. In fact just eleven years later, one morning he was pouring some hot water into a cup when the water swirled out and fell onto his bare foot. It took him a moment to realize that he had not felt any sensation. Gripped by the sudden fear of what this could mean, he poured more hot water on the same spot. No feeling whatsoever. Father Damien immediately realized what had happened. He had contacted the disease.
In his first liturgy with his people after this incident, he acknowledged this fact by starting his homily in this simple way: ” We lepers….”
He had become one of them in a very real and tragic sense. The disease invaded his windpipe and progressed to such an extent that he could only sleep but for a few hours. His voice was reduced to a whisper. Leprosy was in his throat, lungs, stomach, and intestines. Four years later he was dead, practically abandoned by everyone.
1800 years earlier another man had taken the same path and suffered the same consequences…. in a much more drastic and radical way. He was God. But for our sake he lost everything and became man. He knew what it would cost him. He bore in his pure body the marks of evil so that we may be made whole.
Yet this Man suffered constant rejection. Age 30, he came to Nazareth, his hometown. Choosing the prophet Isaiah, chapter 61, he announced the wonderful news that he had come to free the captives and release the prisoners and give sight to the blind. This is his mission in life : He can and he wants to break our addictions. All of us find ourselves addicted .. . to sex, gossip, fears, anxieties, alcohol, pain killers, suspicions, guilt. We find ourselves unable to get out of them. We cannot not worry. We cannot not feel guilty. We cannot get rid of all these shackles of sin and vice. We would like to, perhaps, but we are simply not able. Many offer us solutions. Many tell us to be positive.
But no one really gives us the strength to overpower these fetters.
Jesus Christ announces in Nazareth that He came just for us, prisoners and captives. And the good news is that He came with power. He *can* break the chains and set us free. He has come purposely to destroy this slave master. He is a giant killer. He brings healing and forgiveness.
The irony is that not only they did not welcome him, they tried to kill him. Here is someone who has the real solution to their real problems and they try to eliminate him.
Why? The reason is simple. They expected a different kind of Jesus, a successful Jesus, a Jesus who does miracles more often, a Jesus who solves problems, a Jesus who does things the way they want them to be.
The irony is more tragic if we realize that perhaps this is the same problem with us. Last week I went to hospital to visit this young girl who has been in a comatose state for the last seven, eight years. I asked about her parents. Loving, dear parents. They do no longer come to Church, I was told, because they sustain that God was not fair with them. He should never have let this thing happen. Recently I met this couple whom I had blessed their marriage a few years back. They are angry at God because their only child was born mongoloid. “It is better to be mean and have fun and do what the heck you want to do than to be good”, they tearfully remarked.
A mystery. Anger fills the heart of those who miss out on grace.
A very important question. How does God present himself? He presents himself in the events which we are living. In this nagging wife, in his oblivious husband, in this painful arthritis, in this mortgage problem. But I want Him to present himself in a different way. A pleasant wife, a caring husband, fantastic health, lots of success. A miracle worker! And if I do not get what I want, many times I fall into self pity, I feel myself a victim of circumstances and try to gratify myself in my infantile pleasures…
Perhaps deep down we do not want to get rid of our addictions because that is the only source of enjoyment in life… When it is cold outside even a filthy coat will do its job. One can gets used to prison life. Survival in Egypt after all is not all that bad…
Our ideas, our plans can blind us to the love of God.
But Jesus Christ is what He is and not what we want him to be. He knows what is best for us. Even in Israel, He showed himself in the unassuming appearance of a normal man. A very normal man with a very normal history.
Later on He even revealed himself in a cross. In fact this was His supreme manifestation. And this is how He is going to manifest himself to us. In the everyday events of our lives. In life the way it is and not in life the way we want it to be. The cross, the pain, the injury, the hurt… is not a mistake. It is an appointment.
We can take two attitudes in front of the events which life presents especially when they are is not to our liking. We can ask God to get us out it! “Get me out, Lord!” Please, quickly! It is too much…. And we risk throwing Jesus Christ down the cliff. Or with Jesus and like Jesus we can ask God to pull us through! “Pull me through, Lord!” God is smart. He does not make mistakes. He can even turn the mistakes of others in our favor. He gives us always what we need. If we need failure, he gives us failure. If we need success, He gives us success . If we need a garden of Gethsemane, He gives us a garden of Gethsemane. He is not a neurotic parent. He is a Father.
All the farmers knew that the co-op paid top dollars if they brought the potatoes already sorted – small, medium, large. However they noticed that this farmer always took the potatoes right out of the ground and hauled them directly to town. He didn’t sort them and yet he got top dollars.
When they protested with the manager, his answer was simple and outright : “No, men, you are wrong. He always has his potatoes sorted out. You know the trick? While you all take the good nice road to town, he always takes the road with all the holes and bumps! Man, big potatoes always rise to the top on a rough road.”
God can do marvels on the rough road.
Do not throw Jesus down the cliff when He is not to your liking. Power is in Him whom we reject!
A doctor who specializes in critical care once wrote to Father Thomas McSweeney, author of The Christopher Notes and told him this story : “As an intern years ago, I was examining a comatose patent much as I have done for the previous two weeks. Never considering that she might have the ability to understand questions or communicate, I was shocked to hear her mumble some words. As I drew nearer to her. I notices that the nurse had just opened the window curtains and a ray of sun was shining on her face. I shielded her eyes from the sun and listened closely as she whispered to me,
“Remember, Doctor, all that is light is Jesus Christ.”
Those close to death are in contact with a mystery. The simple mystery that all our life is light if we have eyes to see it, because all our lives is from Jesus Christ.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.