Widdershins was supposed to be a shop cat. From a large litter of kittens, she was the only jet-black one of the family. A perfect familiar for a little meta-physical shop. At six weeks she was transported from her country-outdoor birthplace to be introduced to her new home, The Scent of Sage on Markland ave. It was the Friday on the 4th of July weekend. As Annie was closing up the shop she began to make sure the new kitten had plenty of water and food. James was there giving her goodbye cuddles. He then suggested that it did not seem right that the new kitten be left all alone during a three day weekend. Would it not be better for her to come home with him and returned on Tuesday? That happened on a Friday in 2005. And what did NOT happen, was Tuesday. Widdershins never became the iconic black shop cat. She remained in our home to this day.
She is now a senior cat who requires attention only when we require sleep. Annie has been worried about some dramatic weight loss. Indeed, she was diagnosed by Dr. Hiss with a hyper-thyroid. Dr. Hiss gave me several options how to manage her illness. The first attempt was a daily tasty treat. Unfortunately, Widdershins has never eaten from a hand. Her lack of cooperation forced option two, a syringe filled with a crème, one milliliter applied and gently rubbed in. It has become a daily routine, which I have discovered, is to her liking. As it turns out, my aloof cat loves having her ears rubbed.
In this morning’s readings people are being healed of leprosy, a scourge of ancient cultures and one that not only devoured physical health but rendered a person ostracized and quarantined away from family and community. We are all familiar with the medieval depiction of wandering clans of lepers who are required to clang loud bells whenever anyone came near so as to ward them away from their disease. Leprosy was a scourge that not only brought horrible physical suffering but social shame as well. In our own time and culture some saw direct metaphor between the disease of leprosy and our cultures’ response to the aids epidemic.
With or Without a society’s ability to understand serious illness and disease, being found with a terminal or debilitating disease brings its own burdens of suffering and isolation from the community of health. Being told you are the bearer of cancer, of aids, of autism, of dementia, various mental disorders, of heart, liver, kidney disease, hyper-thyroid, etc… Any of these and many other diagnosis dramatically shifts who we are and where we find a sense of belonging. The point I am about to make is one that is generally lost when we read the gospel accounts of healing. We tend to think the healing is in the eradication of the disease. But I think the real story is the welcome, compassion, and dignity exchanged between those who bear the burden of illness and Jesus. Far from being someone to avoid, Jesus was available and at home with those who bore serious illness and social contempt. This morning’s gospel reads,
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
17:12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,
17:13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.
Yesterday morning I was at the Saturday morning breakfast. Over the years there have been a stream of new faces, but for the most part, the faces are familiar and regular. It occurred to me, that this had become their weekly place, their own version of the Eucharist where they were invited to break bread and share the cup amidst the fellowship of friends and hospitality. It was also a place for me and the others who come on a monthly and weekly basis to serve, to be present, to be with those whose lives bear debilitating burdens of illness, addiction, and disadvantage. They are not the fortunate ones. Just as the ten lepers were not the fortunate ones. And yet, we share together this house of God who welcomes, who loves, who attends, who heals. This is the way it should be, a sacred community, a church, whom lepers feel safe to approach.
As we consider what St. Andrew means as home I hope we recognize that it is home for those who bear the burden of serious illness and the wounds of social rejection and marginalization. I hope the community that we are being and wish to be is a place where the compassion and acceptance that Jesus demonstrated to lepers, to the mentally ill, to the incurably maimed, to the blind, the deaf, the criminalized – is found and experienced in our midst and in this community there is healing compassion.
Isaiah wrote of the Messiah, Surely “he bore our iniquities, he carried our shame…” What a redemptive and healing gift that is for those who must bear the burden of illness to discover the intimacy and compassion of God as companion and caregiver.