Reach out to help the lepers among us

By Vinal Van Benthem | February 12, 2015

Lepers. We all know them. Sometimes we even work with them.

Susan was bright, intelligent and articulate, and she knew computers inside and out. Newly hired, she exhibited an expertise that her co-workers saw as a threat to their job security. Rather than invite her inside “… the camp …” they determined to get rid of her as quickly as possible. “Leper!”

“Good morning.” She greeted them in the elevator; she greeted them at the coffee machine; she greeted them as they passed in the hall. But there was no response. People brushed past her as though she wasn’t even there. “Leper!”

Her phone rang constantly. Word of her hiring had gotten out and everyone seemed to be calling to take advantage of her experience. Even customers who had gone to other suppliers began to call, often asking for Susan specifically. She had a reputation as someone who knew what she was doing. “Leper!”

People whispered behind her back. “Why was she always in such a good mood?” “What was she hiding behind that smile?” They whispered to each other, but they rarely spoke to her. “Leper!”

Two of her co-workers decided to find out for themselves what Susan was all about. They invited her to lunch and as they talked they realized that they had a lot in common. Knowledgeable and talented, they, too, had initially been feared by some of the other employees and made to “… dwell apart …” It had taken months for them to convince the others that they wanted to help them, not replace them. Susan’s new friends left the restaurant determined to help her achieve the acceptance they had worked so hard to achieve for themselves. It took a while, but in the end they were successful. The other employees no longer felt threatened by Susan and the department began to work together again.

And so the story had a happy ending. But what would have happened if Susan’s co-workers had not reached out to her? “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Lepers. We all know them. Sometimes we even work with them …

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.

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