We all know the experience of going about our business - coping with the familiar stresses and strains of life - when something unexpected happens, which pressurises and challenges us. At moments like that we tend to reveal our true colours. The usual internal mechanisms that strive to project a positive image to the world do not have the chance to adapt. Caught off balance, our deeper instincts take over, and the world gets a glimpse of what we are really like under the surface.
This happened to Jesus one day when he was travelling with his followers. Unexpectedly, a man with leprosy came right up to him and begged him to make him better.
In those days leprosy was thought to be highly contagious; it was also understood to be a divine punishment for sin. Someone who had leprosy was not permitted to enter a town or village for fear of physical contact. Anyone who touched someone with leprosy immediately became ritually unclean, and could not return to normal life until they had performed a complex set of religious cleansing rituals. No wonder leprosy was greatly feared!
Most people, guided by social convention, would have backed off from the infected man. They would do so to protect themselves, claiming - in their defence - that they were following the requirements of law and custom. Jesus was not that sort of a person.
In that off-guard moment when Jesus reacted on instinct, his instinct was to reach out and to care. He touched the untouchable man. That’s the kind of person Jesus was. His impulse was not directed by personal fear, social habit or religious law, but by pity (arguably even anger) for the wretched circumstance that society had put the man in.
In the 21st century we also have our own social conventions that make us shy away from people in real need. We easily justify our lack of compassion citing something that we have seen on television, or been told by some expert of the other.
Jesus demonstrates that humanity can be better than that. We can become people whose primary instinct - like his - is to care and to help.