Many of us are quite familiar with this phrase from a traditional Christian Hymn. And while I’m sure it evokes a multitude of thoughts for each of us, I’d like to share one experience I had several years ago, that nudged me to hear this song with new ears and new eyes.
I was on my first visit to the Dermatological Center in Managua. This Center was known for many years as the Leper Colony Hospital in Managua and as a matter of fact, many of our own US military helped to construct this colony of buildings, etc. back in the 1940’s I believe.
Anyhow, while most of those who have been diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease (formerly known as Leprosy) have either died or now live right within their communities, there were some who have lived in this location for the vast majority of their lives, having been separated due to the stigma and the fears until treatment and deeper understanding developed regarding this disease.
We were there that day to deliver some clothing, some leprosy bandages made by an elderly woman in Florida, and also, to assess needed repairs for the main center where most skin ailments and diseases are now treated in Nica. Their equipment and the buildings left much to be desired and once again, I found myself praying for all those who would have to receive treatment amidst such disrepair. (As an aside, we continue to assist as possible with repairs and painting).
After a few minutes, we were greeted by a older man, who was badly deformed due to the disease. At that moment, all my “bravado” vanished and I shamefully admit I was worried about whether I might catch something and bring it home to others. Before I had the chance to decide what I was going to do, the decision was made for me. The older man reached out and took my hand and held it, then kissed it, said something in Spanish and then hugged me. His words: “Thank you for coming.” I do believe, in my heart of hearts, that the God I believe in, was reaching out to me through this man. What was my response going to be?
Quivering inside, I calmly smiled and told him we would hold him in prayer and we were glad to be able to help in such small ways. I asked my interpreter to express how sad I was that he had to suffer so much during his lifetime and he shared stories of how all his family had died. As I stood in front of this man, I heard the words of this old song begin to echo in my heart…”whatsoever you do to the least ones, you do to me”. I know this sounds shallow, but I think I was simply responding out of ignorance initially, then I was brought to tears, partly because I felt so guilty and partly because I knew this was a “God moment” for me.
Then gradually, a calmness came over me and I was able to actually smile, reach out and shook what was left of this man’s deformed hands. I remember thinking that the clothes we brought would look nice on him and he seemed both grateful and proud to accept the clothing and bandages we brought.
Why do I think of this now? Because we begin Lent this week and the day I was meeting this man was during the first week of Lent. There are a couple of experiences that have caused me to reflect a bit differently on Ash Wednesday and on Lent in general. This experience is one of them. I realize that how Jesus greeted and treated the leprosy was a profound example of inclusiveness at its best. I always believed that Jesus treated the leper with kindness and gentleness and in his touch, revealed to the leper that he (Jesus) understood what it meant to be ostracized, judged, separated from….
And so, my encounter with the leper that February day years ago, was an encounter with a “least one”….yet, that encounter taught me that I/we are often the ones who need to reach out and include, rather than exclude. We are the ones who must truly be the tender, healing touch of the God we say we believe in. Perhaps that is why I struggle so with how “so called Christians” often exclude, judge and condemn, rather than include and touch and heal.
Whatsoever we do….can become the ripple effect our world may need to heal and live in peace. OR, whatsoever we do…can become the oozing of more sores of hatred, abuse and destruction. May whatsoever we do, today and every day, be the ripple effect our world needs!
And whatsoever you do, live and be HOPE!