That Silent Cry
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - February 11, 2018 - 12:00am

The words that struck me most from today’s Gospel are: “Moved with pity (compassion),  [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him…”  (Mark 1: 41). Jesus was touched [by the suffering of the leper] and he touches [the leper].

What comes to your mind when you hear these words, “Moved with pity (compassion)?” In the New Testament Greek dictionary, the verb that is translated to “moved with pity” is much stronger.

Literally, it has to do with our bowels (bituka), our guts. Where a Westerner says, “My heart goes out to you,” the Hebrews often said, “My bowels go to you.” It sounds strange and somewhat “yucky,” but it hints at a tremendous truth.  Genuine feelings come from deep inside us; the seat of our emotions is way down within.

Love and hate, fears and tears, anger and delight – a score of emotions and passions well up not from our receding hairline, but from our deepest being. We also sometimes say, “I hate his guts!”

The Gospels often use that strong anatomical verb on Jesus. His bowels “stirred with compassion.” Time and again Jesus was touched (stirred with compassion) – touched with pity, with compassion, for all kinds of human suffering – for a crowd of thousands that had stayed with him three days and had nothing to eat: “I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” (Mark 8:2-3)

His bowels “stirred with compassion” for all kinds of sick people who had followed him to a lonely place; for a widow whose only son died before her eyes. the father of an epileptic appealed  to the “bowels of [his] compassion” to help his foaming, convulsing son.

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ bowels “stirred with compassion” for a leper in the dust crying, “If you will, you can make me clean.” But that is only half of the picture.

When touched, what did Jesus do? When touched, he touches. When the bowels of his compassion stirred, he reaches out, he touches – skin to skin – the hand of a dead 12-year old girl  (Mark 5:41), the hand of Peter’s mother-in-law suffering from fever (Mark 1:31), the epileptic boy (Mark 9:27), the eyes of two blind men outside Jericho (Matt. 20:34), the ears and tongue of a deaf man with speech impediment (Mark 7:33), the right ear of the high priest’s slave cut off by Peter, the poor swordsman (Luke 22:51).

All these he touched.

When Peter was sinking in the sea, Jesus “reached out his hand and caught him.” (Matt. 14:28-31) He not only bless the children, he “took them in his arms.” At the Last Supper he lovingly washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:4-5).

One of the things that stand out in the Gospels is that Jesus was a man of compassion. He certainly could feel, identify himself with the suffering people.

In today’s Gospel, a leper is somebody everybody will avoid – even today. Perhaps, more than the physical, is the psycho-emotional experience of rejection and abandonment the lepers suffer.

One leper I met told me that his own family abandoned him, when they discovered he had leprosy. He longer exists as far as they are concerned. Another told me that his wife deserted him and ran away with another man.

In the time of Jesus, lepers were forbidden to enter any populated place. They were to keep a distance from healthy people and shout “unclean,” lest they accidentally come in contact with the healthy and render them “unclean” for worship.

It is here that we see the compassion of Jesus. His guts stirred with compassion. He not only healed the leper, but he reached out and touched him – a gesture of love and caring, even if this touching would render Jesus himself legally “unclean” for temple worship.

Jesus, the Son of God became man, truly human: not only mind and tongue, but with feelings and senses. When Peter denied he knew him, Jesus  “looked at Peter.” (Luke 22:61) He asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water, ate with Pharisees and sinners. He wept over Jerusalem and over his friend, Lazarus, over his city and friend.

And just as humanly, he touched not only the lovely face of his mother, but also the lifeless skin of a leper.  In fact, his touch was as much part of his saving mission, as much a part of his redemptive mission, as his words and his prayers. He touched to heal: not only leprosy but also the leper, not flesh but the wound that is sin and the hurt that scars the human heart.

Have you ever felt the touch of Jesus upon you? Try to take a moment to feel the healing touch of Jesus on your head or on your shoulder. Feel him embracing you in his love. Hear his words, “Your sins are forgiven. Be made clean.” “Open your eyes, your ears, and your tongue.” “Stand and walk.”

Now, we turn from Jesus to ourselves. What is it that moves me, gets inside me, and stirs my emotion, my passion? For some men and women, nothing does. They’ve been hurt, deeply hurt – in loving or trusting, in giving and sharing – with the number of rascals and syndicates that exploit human compassion. Now nothing, no one is ever going to get them fooled again. They throw up a big wall between themselves and the others. From now on it is strictly business – impersonal.

No, to be Christian is to “feel with.” But that is simply one side of the coin. The other side: When I am moved, how do I respond? When touched, do I touch?

A few years ago my friend, the mayor of a small town in Bicol, travelled overnight to Manila to claim the body of a prisoner, who died of heart attack. He told me that the widow was too poor to come along and she could not speak Tagalog. So he, the mayor volunteered to claim the body for her.

Not only that, he had to look for a coffin and clothing for the dead man, for all the dead in the prison morgue were naked. Since the dead man was a big man, I donated a pair of pants of Fr. Helly, who was more than willing to do his good deed for the day!

Touch has many faces. There is the touch of the terrorist: cold, cruel, and destructive. There is the touch of the rapist and serial killer: secret, lustful, and pathological. There is the touch of the swindler: smooth, cunning, and deceptive.

And there is the touch of someone who cares: at once strong and gentle, the kind of touch that brings healing and peace – the touch of Christ.

To be effective, touch does not have to be physical. Skin touches skin is powerful beyond compare if… if it is a symbol, if it says something like, “I care” or “I’m sorry” or “I love you.” But whether you make skin contact or not is not always important; what is important always is that you are reaching out.

It is hearts that have to touch, even when hands do not. There’s something quite unusual about touching. To reach out, you don’t need money in the bank, a brilliant I.Q., macho body, a cover-girl personality. You don’t even need hands.

What you need is what you have, what you are: flesh and blood. You need only the bowels of compassion God gave you, when He shaped you. The trouble is, this birthday gift of God we bury and stifle beneath all sorts of accumulated baggage, all those very human reasons that imprison us inside ourselves: “I’m terribly shy”; “I’ve had a rough day”; “my postnasal drip is acting up”; “sorry, but it’s merienda time” – a thousand and one excuses, and some of them might well stand up in court.

What to do? Brothers and sisters, Lent is around the corner. With it the recurring Catholic question: What shall I give up? Chitcheria (junk food), or ice cream, movies or sex?  Or, the waistline penance – fasting and dieting?

Forget about giving up; simply give! Not something; someone. Give yourself! Follow Christ in his compassion. Walk the same old Jericho road, but now with eyes open, heart outstretched.

Time and again you’ll come upon someone – friend, enemy, stranger – someone who calls to you weakly for a little of your life, a touch of your heart. If you hear that silent cry, try not to pass by on the other side. That silent cry… it just might be Jesus.

 

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