Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
(II Kings 25:1-12; Matthew 8:1-4)
We often think of pariah as describing the untouchables of the Indian caste system. The actual term, however, is dalit. Some Hindus evidently consider dalits as not having been formed from any of the body parts of their deities. Dalits include leather workers, street cleaners, landless peasants, and people from a host of other humble professions. Discrimination against dalits in India has largely disappeared in urban areas and in the public sphere. But it still exists in rural areas where dalits may be prohibited from sitting in eating places and using 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 in rural areas had to wear a bell to warn others of their coming. Yet Jesus shows no fear of the leper who encounters him as he descends the mountain of his famous sermon. Showing what it means to treat others as he would be treated, he touches the untouchable and cures him of leprosy.
We still have dalits in western society. 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.