Not long ago, I was walking down the street and I saw a man who was bent over at the waist, walking with a cane, painfully shuffling along. Crippled by some illness, his worldview was the ground beneath him. So painful was he gait, I wondered if he found relief in sitting or lying down. If I were to venture a guess, I would say he finds little relief from his physical suffering.
In the instant I saw him, a wave of sadness and longing came over me. His inability to look up and around seemed more tragic on that day because he could not see the beauty that was all around him. The sky sparkled blue with a breeze that caused the leaves to dance. The sun stretched out its rays and wrapped the Earth in an embrace. I found myself wanting to search his eyes, to see what story they would tell of life, love, sacrifice, acceptance, and patience. How strange, to feel so connected to this stranger.
I was reminded of the story of the woman in Luke’s gospel was crippled by a spirit leaving her bent over for eighteen years (LK 13:10-17). Jesus healed her by placing his hands on her saying, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Upon being healed she gave praise to God for being released from what had kept her bound for so many years. Jesus was criticized by the religious leaders for this act of love and compassion because in his action he broke the Sabbath law of rest. But how could Jesus rest in the face of such pain?
This challenge to rule and social structures was a fundamental dimension of Jesus’ ministry. Whether it was healing the sick on the Sabbath or breaking bread with outcasts or welcoming the stranger, Jesus witnessed that the one rule above all others was to love one another. Jesus came to set free not just the crippled woman, or the woman at the well, or the tax collector, but all who were bound. Some were bound by illness, exclusion, and injustice. Others were rendered slaves to greed, power, and law. To all of them, Jesus promised a New Way.
At the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, we see how national and international economic, migration, military, and environmental policies keep Creation, people, and communities bent over at the waist. But just as my heart longed to look into the eyes of the man on the street, Columban mission at its heart longs for a world in which the wounded are healed, the sapphire sky is revealed, and the stranger is welcomed.