“Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit.” Here we have a boy that only a father and mother could love. Since childhood he would fall to the ground, roll around, grind his teeth, foam at the mouth and become rigid. He was, at best, an embarrassment to his family. But to those looking from the outside, he was less than human. He was, in the whispers of many, an animal.
We have a tendency, a very strong tendency, to de-humanize the mentally, physically and spiritually ill. I repeat, we have a tendency to de-humanize those who are ugly, disgusting and filthy. Let me say it another way: We have a strong urge to reduce to the level of sub-humans those who hurt themselves and hurt us. We call them nasty names like predators and savages. We must. Otherwise, we may begin to actually think of them as humans, humans with a title like father, mother, brother or sister, son or daughter. I have begun to see the growing trend. But it is an historical reality. It is a far too common occurrence to de-humanize your enemy; to call them by all sorts of names, but never human; and to categorize them into one big group, but never place them under the human family. This is very important to understand. This is how all massacres and all witch-hunts begin. In Rwanda, the Hutus referred to Tutsis as cockroaches. They were not human beings. The Hutus would say to one another, ‘Don’t worry; you’re not killing humans like you. You are killing some vermin that belongs under your shoe. You’re killing cockroaches.” And so the hunt begins and the game is captured and slaughtered.
Many so-called outreach organizations continue to do the same thing. In helping their victims, they tend to de-humanize their opposition, label their so-called opponents as belligerent, hostile, arrogant and deceitful, while at the same time super-humanize the victim who can do no wrong. All organizations must have an opposition, their very existence requires one. But when the opposition becomes sub-human then the dignity of all humans is at risk.
I noticed this also in not too few religious movies. In the Italian movie, John XXIII, the producers, in order to elevate the holiness of the Holy Father, would often criminalize the antagonists; reducing them to sheer conspirators or deceptive manipulators. Those who sincerely disagreed with the Holy Father’s ideas of reform were reduced to ashes and blown away by the wins of the victors.
The Lord teaches us what it truly means to be a Shepherd: to see the humanity of all his sheep. We are all sinners foaming at the mouth. Our sins make us rigid and angry. This young man would grind his teeth because he could not stand losing his dignity, his honor. He would often ask himself, “Why me?” He hated to shame himself in front of others. The curse was upon him, his household and his family name. It is upon all of us. No wonder he would try to throw himself into fire or water in order to end his life. This type of sin requires compassion and love. This is what the father, who suffers with his son, asks for: “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” The Lord does. He took him by the hand and raised him up. He gave to him a human face.
“Lord, give us the grace to speak and to act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13).