One of the most extraordinary birthday parties that ever occurred did not take place at a palace or a fancy hotel. It occurred at a small rundown diner in Honolulu at 3a.m.. The birthday girl was a 39 year old prostitute, all the guests were prostitutes, and it was organized by a Christian minister.
The minister was at the diner one morning having coffee at the counter when a group of prostitutes came in and took up the stools around him. He heard one of the girls, Agnes,lamenting that tomorrow was her birthday and she had never has a birthday party.
Perhaps it was a nudge from the Holy Spirit but after the girls left, the minister approached the owner of the diner. He learned that the girls came in every morning at around 3:30am and together the owner and the minister agreed to hold a birthday party for Agnes. Somehow word got out onto the street and by 3:15 the next morning the small diner was packed with prostitutes, the owner and his wife, and the minister.
When Agnes walked in she was met with streamers, balloons, cheering friends, and the owner of the diner holding a birthday cake. Everyone screamed “Happy Birthday!” and Agnes was overwhelmed. The crowd sang happy birthday and the diner owner called for Agnes to cut the cake. Agnes looked at the cake and paused. She had never had a birthday cake and wanted to take it home to show her mother.
Agnes left and a stunned silence fell over the diner. That was the minister’s cue. He stood up and led a roomful of prostitutes, the diner owner, and the owner’s wife, in a prayer for Agnes.
For Agnes, this was the first time anyone had gone out of their way to do something for her, without expecting anything in return. The actions of friends and strangers had a tremendous impact on her.
Our Lord teaches us by His actions as well as by His words. In healing the leper He teaches us a great lesson. Not in the healing, we have come to expect that of Him, but in this; “He stretched out His hand, touched him…” Jesus could have healed the man without touching him at all, why was that detail so important this time?
Lepers in the time of Jesus were the walking dead. No one would come near them let alone touch them. Can you imagine going years without even the touch of a handshake, or a comforting hand on your shoulder? And worse, no one coming near enough to even talk to you, unless it is to tell you to go away.
In our time leprosy is not the scourge it was 2000 years ago. But are there others we ostracize from our community? There are still terrible diseases that ravage the body, physical deformities that cripple and maim. Jesus challenges us to reach out to them, touch them, and bring them into our community. And not only those with physical disabilities, which are easy to see and therefore easy targets for bigotry, but also those whose pain we do not see.
Whether it is some trauma they have suffered in their lives or a choice of lifestyle that is not approved of, their pain is no less real. And sometimes a touch or a kind word or just the offer to listen can begin the healing process.