Special-Tea: Lamentations 3:21–23, 32; Mark 1:40–45 -- When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. — Exodus 22:27 (NIV)
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. — Psalm 103:8 (NIV)
When I was researching historical background for Part 1 of my novel, “The Heart Remembers,” which is set in Vietnam during the war, I discovered an interesting fact: Medical teams from the military hospitals were often sent into nearby villages when there was a lull in their hectic schedules to treat the locals. One of the places they visited was the Quy Hoa Leper Hospital in Binh Dinh province.
I was intrigued not only by the compassion shown by U.S. troops in the middle of an ugly war but also by the way this hospital treated lepers.
The hospital itself is located in a secluded cove, surrounded by mountains on three sides, with one of the nicest beaches in the area as the fourth boundary.
But far from being depressing, the hospital grounds are more like a resort, and the patients live with their families in small, well-kept houses.
They work, too — in the rice fields, the fishing industry, and in repair and craft shops.
That’s a far cry from the way lepers were treated in biblical times, when they were the “untouchables,” forbidden to associate with anyone else but another leper. They were to cry out “Unclean!” whenever healthy people were in the vicinity, and if someone touched a leper, that person was considered defiled and was then shunned.
Unable to live with their loved ones, lepers were relegated to colonies outside the town limits and, being unemployable, begged for handouts to survive.
We can understand the desperation the leper felt when he approached Jesus, dropped down on his knees, and said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
The Son of God did not shun him. Instead, “filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said.”
I like the way The Message phrases it: “Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I want to. Be clean.’”
The Son of God didn’t have to touch the leper. He wanted to. It would have been better if he hadn’t. Now he’d be considered defiled. But as one commentary put it, “Jesus’ compassion for the man superseded ceremonial considerations.”
Compassion is defined as “sharing the hurts of another and wanting to help.”
It’s one thing to feel sorry for someone. But it’s another to feel so sorry that you have to do something — anything — to help that person.
Think of the outpouring of love and help when disaster strikes: when Hurricane Sandy devastated the Eastern Seaboard, when a mentally unstable gunman shot and killed 20 children, ages 6 and 7, and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Or 9/11. People with no connections to anyone in the disaster-stricken areas dropped what they were doing, loaded up provisions and drove hours to find a way to help.
Compassion trumps policy, procedure, ritual, ceremony, even common sense. Compassion is what drove Jesus. Compassion is what drives God. It is why he sent his Son to die in our place.
But we don’t have to wait until disaster strikes to show compassion. We can show it every day. Just look around. Ask God to open your eyes.
Who are the lepers in your world? The untouchables? The ones outside the city gate, shunned by “decent folks”?
Who can you reach out and touch today?
Fill me with Your compassion, Lord! Amen.