One day a few months ago, I was visiting a butterfly farm in Ecuador with some guests that I had brought along. One of the things you can do at the butterfly farm is put a butterfly onto your finger with some squished banana that they put out just for that. So of course, there I was with the butterfly sitting on my finger.
As I was walking around, a tall man who looked and sounded like he was from the States and was sitting nearby remarked and said, “Hey, I can take a photo of you!” And before I could really respond, he put his ipad up to his head and clicked a photo. “Hold steady!” Then he walked over to me and showed me the photo. “Great,” I sheepishly said, and made my move to walk away without getting into any further conversation.
Well, I ended up finishing my time before the others in our group and I went out to the lobby to use the restroom and wait for the others. When I came out of the bathroom, I noticed the guy had sort of latched onto two women. I sat down on the couch there, and the two women went to the bathroom, and the guy was there with me. He said, “I can send you the photo by email.” As he was opening up his ipad to exchange information, I said, “No, you know, I’ve been here before and I already have a picture of me with the butterfly.” “Oh, OK,” he said, and started gathering his gear together.
Then, he asked me where I’m from and what I’m doing. I said, I’m a missionary and I’m here with friends from the village where I’ve been spending my time. He said, “That’s great. I met some other missionaries on my way and they were doing real good stuff. I’m here because I spun the globe and the first spot my finger landed I would go. And it landed here. I’m glad I came here.” His tone got more tense as he concentrated on his packing and he said, “In the last two weeks, I lost my job, my wife left me, and I lost my house.” And as he packed up, he lifted up his head and said to me,
“You don’t want to be anywhere near me.”
Just then, my friends came and we got caught up talking. The guy said good-bye and went on his way.
A short time later, our cab – a pickup truck – came to pick us up and we all piled into the seats. As we were driving along, I could see up in the distance that same guy, walking on the side of the road. I thought, he probably wants to walk. Then, I said to the driver, can we pull over and ask this guy if he wants a ride. The driver said, sure. So we pulled over.
“Hey, do you want a ride?” He said, “Are you going to the pueblo?” “Yeah.” And a big smile came across his face and his eyes lit up. “That would be great!” he climbed aboard the cab in the back. When we got to the pueblo after about 15 minutes, we dropped him off. He got out and shook hands and said, thanks a lot! How much do I owe? I said, “Nothing.” And the smile on his face just got brighter. In fact, he smiled the whole trip. I know, because I saw him the whole way through the rear-view mirror!
In ancient times, leprosy was a common disease. In part because it had no easy cure and is so contagious. That made everyone afraid of lepers, and even the Hebrew law prescribed that lepers needed to be separated from society for the safety of all. Lepers had to warn everyone, too, that they were lepers and unclean. They had to constantly announce in a loud voice, “Unclean!” whenever they got within a certain distance of other people, so that everyone had good warning and a safe distance could always be maintained. If there was one thing true about the social attitude toward lepers, it was this:
No one wanted to be anywhere near them.
You can’t touch the people who need a hand the most.
There’s a story in the Gospel where Jesus reaches out and puts his hand on a leper. What happens? The leper is immediately healed. All he needed was a hand. That’s what happens when you give an outcast a hand: you heal them.
You have the power to heal people, to heal people who are hurt, who are alone, who have experienced rejections or isolation. People who no one wants to be anywhere near.
It doesn’t take advanced medicine or a psychology degree or holy water. No magic pills or cream or prayer.
All it takes is a hand.
A leper came to Jesus and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Mt 8:2-3)
Our youth group here in Chontal put together this Hand of Solidarity as a sign to accompany the community’s relief effort in which food and clothes were gathered for delivery to one of the villages affected by the earthquake of April 16.