Homilette for Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 8:1-4)

We often think of pariah as describing the untouchables of the Indian caste system. The actual term, however, is dalit. Dalits are considered as not having been formed from any of the body parts of a Hindu divinity. Dalits include leather workers, street cleaners, landless peasants, and a host of other humble professions. Discrimination against dalits has largely disappeared in urban areas and in the public sphere. It still exists, however, in rural areas of India where Dalits may be blocked from eating places and water sources.

In the gospel Jesus meets a “dalit” of his time and place. Lepers were so feared among ancient Jews that they were banished from populated areas and had to wear a bell to warn others of their presence in rural places. Yet Jesus shows no fear of the leper who encounters him as he descends the mountain after delivering his famous sermon. Showing what it means to treat others as he would be treated, he touches the untouchable and cures him of leprosy.

And the dalits of contemporary times, who are they? Twenty years ago people were often afraid to touch AIDS patients. In some locales today the undocumented may be resented with the animus felt for dalits in rural India. Alzheimer patients and, often enough, elderly living in nursing homes suffer such neglect that they may feel as if they lacked any relationship to divinity. Like Jesus we must remember to treat all these groups as we wish to be treated.