I want to talk to you about “Those People.”
How many of you know Those People? Have you seen Those People? Do any of you know whom I am talking about? You do, I am sure. Let me give and example.
Those People are at the intersection of Dundalk Avenue and Hollabird Avenue. You know them. They’re the folks with the homemade placard of cardboard and Sharpie, that reads, “Hungry,” or “Please help,” or “Homeless,” or “Disabled Veteran: Need work.”
Sometimes, as I approach that light and I see Those People, and I realize that I will not make it before it turns red, I become very interested in the workings of my car radio; or I begin to assure that my rear-view mirror is perfectly calibrated; or I decide at that moment to try and find whatever that thing is under my passenger seat. Anything – to keep from making eye contact with Those People!
Those People are everywhere. Maybe they are the guys who hang outside of Home Depot early in the mornings waiting to be grabbed for a daily contracting job. We might call them “Mexicans” – although none of them are actually from Mexico.
Those People are folks who have made different lifestyle choices than we have, and are therefore “Different.” Those People may be misshapen, or pigmented differently, or wear their hair in a funny way.
Those People are everywhere. They are not “Us.” They are “Them.”
Sometimes, we might be Those People, but most often, we are not. Those People have always existed – ever since we began to notice that certain things make us different from one another: male, female, black, white, Christian, Muslim, gay, straight. There has always been a Line, and we have always been on one side or another.
Those People existed in Jesus’ day. We hear about them today – the lepers. They were definitely Those People – not Us, but Them. Even better, they had a law that said it was perfectly fine to avoid them and shun them. “I’m just doing what Moses prescribed, after all.”
However, this is not what Jesus does.
“If you will it, you can make me clean.”
“I do will it; be made clean.”
And Jesus erases that Line between Us and Them, as “He stretched out His hand [and] touched him.”
By this simple yet significant act, Jesus declares that He does not want there to be Those People – that when we see them, we are to encounter them, not shun them. They too are children of God and they deserve to be treated with love and dignity. Maybe we judge them to be wrong – like an illegal immigrant, or someone who won’t work, or someone abusing a welfare system. That does not matter here. They deserve our love and respect.
We are not above loving others – no matter who they are or where we encounter them. At those stop lights, you don’t need to give money, but you can smile and wave hello. You can acknowledge their existence. Sometimes, when I am aware, I will share a bottle of water that I usually have in my car for my tennis games. There is love to be shared, and Jesus’ call to us – His challenge – is to share it.
After his encounter with Christ, the leper could not help but share his joyful news. He even went so far as to “spread the report abroad.” He became an evangelist.
Those People are out there, and we will encounter them this week. Will they meet Jesus? Or will our Lord be about to move among us unnoticed? Will Jesus have to be one of Those People too?