There is the story of a Texas rancher whose ranch was named: the Circle D, the Broken Arrow, the Rolling Hills, the Bent Creek, the Lazy B, the Double Moon, and the Crooked Stick Ranch. A visitor admiring the large ranch said to the owner, “That’s quite a name. How many cattle do you have?” The rancher replied, “Just a few; not many survive the branding.” We live in a time when branding can kill not only cattle but when branding can kill people. More and more of us can’t survive the branding.
Consider Jesus and his relation to lepers. The Gospels relate the several times he interacted with lepers, those with that contagious disease. They are declared unclean whenever they are sighted. “The leper shall dwell apart, making his home outside the camp.” Leprosy is in our time as well. It’s not a physical disease but a disease just as contagious. There’s a movement in our time to brand people who differ from us as lepers. David Brooks wrote in the New York Times about the growing cultural divide in America and about how people are enclosing themselves more and more in homogeneous groups where everyone thinks the same and votes the same. And worse than this divide is the judgment that if you disagree with me than something is wrong with you. You’re a leper. As Christians we affirm that our primary allegiance is to Christ and citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We are in trouble when being Republican or Democrat is more important than our baptism. We put labels on Democrats, labels on Republicans. The Catholic Church, however, celebrates diversity. We should be a church where liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, Christians, Jews and Muslims, can pray together and talk face to face about what is important to them, where we refuse to label one another. Where no one is a leper.
It means for me as a Franciscan that I must take special care to honor and understand those who take different positions than I do. To be upfront, I lean a bit to the left on most things, so I must take special care to listen to people on the right. The great South American Archbishop Dom Helder Camara said with a broad smile and thick accent: “Right hand, left hand – both belong to ze same body, but ze heart is a little to ze left!” What is “our manner of life,” the way in which we work and live together in society, not just our “positions” and “opinions”
but how we live with others’ positions and opinions. We are a church, a society, where no one should be branded a leper.
St. Paul’s words to the Romans are a kind of church covenant for how to live together as the Body of Christ and how to live in society with those who are different. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil hold fast to what is good.” Paul says hate what is evil, not hate who is evil. William Sloane Coffin, the great New York Protestant preacher at Riverside Church, said, “To love what is good without hating evil is pure sentimentality; but to hate evil without loving what is good just makes us damn good haters.