Mystical Word  |  Weekly Reflection
Mystical Word is a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading by L.J. Milone, Director of Faith Formation, Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

Radical inclusion

The Gospel is all about radical inclusion.

It hurts when we are excluded.  Likely most people have felt the sting of exclusion in one way or another.  It could have happened in a school yard when a group of kids said we could not play with them.  Perhaps the context was an office.  Co-workers traded inside jokes in front of us and it made us feel like the odd one out.  It could be systemic.  People of color suffer many exclusionary injustices, whether about voting, access to health care, well-paying jobs, or the icy stares of the polite-yet-racist individuals.  Millions upon millions around the globe are excluded from economic well-being and daily experience the pangs of hunger and the hoarseness of thirst. 

The Gospel is a force for radical inclusion, even of the people who were once our enemies.  Does not Jesus command us to love our enemies for God’s sun shines on the good and the bad (Mt. 5:44-45)?  Jesus consistently goes to the people on the margins, the people in pain, and those suffering from exclusion.  One such person in the ancient world was the leper.  There were good reasons to exclude the leper.  The disease a leper carried was easily transmitted.  Hence, there were strict rules segregating the leper from society so that others would not become lepers, too.

St. Francis of Assisi knew this pain that lepers suffer.  In one of the few times Francis talked about himself, he related his experience of God through lepers.  Francis said, “The Lord granted me, Bother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way: While I was in sin, it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers.  And the Lord himself led me among them and I had mercy upon them.  And when I left them that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body.”  Scholars think that Francis died of leprosy since he served them personally.  He not only embraced lepers but became one of them.  He did not just serve them but identified with them.

Such identification with lepers is what distinguishes Gospel love from conventional love.  Like God who joined the human race to love us from within, Francis joined the lepers to love them as one of them.  Such mercy is what saves us, for it is divine mercy and we can share in it.  Francis wrote that God led him to serve and live among the lepers.  He also wrote that he “had mercy on them.”  God heals the pain of exclusion through mercy.  The good news of Jesus Christ is the mystery of divine mercy.  Not only does God forgive our sins, but also God became one of us so that we might become God.

Jesus heals the leper and then tells him, “go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”  Jesus not only heals the man of the disease of leprosy but works to bring him back into society so that the pain of exclusion is removed.  The healings Jesus performs are never just physical.  He heals us socially, psychologically, and spiritually.  Of course, his popularity grows.  Even though people keep coming to Jesus, he remains in deserted places, rooted in the Mystery of God in silence.  Jesus preaches through example.  We connect with and receive the mercy of God in silence.

Jesus saves.  Through Jesus, God saves us from the suffering of exclusion if we but consent to the divine love present in our hearts and, especially, in the poor and marginalized around us.  God in Jesus saves us by the divine mercy, which we can receive through interior silence and share with others.  The Gospel proclaims that mercy is suffering with others, particularly the poor and marginalized.  It is being at home where others are, whether in suffering, or joy, or both.  Mercy begins with presence.  It starts with being where the other is, letting the other set the place, the frame of mind, and the experience.  This assumes inner emptiness.

The merciful person shares another's brokenness.  It is the gift of being present to another.  It means to suffer with someone.  It means being totally open and available, as God is open and available, to others in their pain.  Jesus saves because he reveals God’s mercy, which welcomes the excluded, soothes the need for social recognition, and exorcises the demon of addiction.  Thus, Jesus tells us, “Be merciful as your Abba is merciful.”  Because we are one with God we are to give flesh to God's mercy right here and right now.