There is an unforgettable incident in the book, Days of Our Years, by Pierre Van Paassen. I first read this story many years ago, but every now and then I hear, read, or experience something that brings it back to mind like a flashing red light.
When Van Paassen was a young man in the village of Bourg, he knew and learned to love a hunchback named Ugolin. He said that Ugolin had the kindest eyes of anyone he had ever met.
Ugolin never knew his father. His mother, with whom he and his sister Solange lived, was a drunken outcast. Solange was falsely accused of theft and sent to prison; when she was released she could not find work. The crippled brother fell ill and the sister provided food and medicine to save his life with the only option available -- selling her body to men in the community. One day Ugolin was surrounded by a thoughtless and cruel crowd which taunted him and jostled him until he fell. As he lay on the street they formed a circle and danced about him, chanting in derision, "The lovers of my sister pay a franc apiece". The elderly village priest came out and saved the cripple from further injury and carried him to his own house. The next day Ugolin walked into the river and drowned himself, and Solange killed herself with a gun. The old Abbe said, "Those children are not suicides. They have been murdered by a society without mercy". The mayor of Bourg was aghast at what had happened. He said to the Abbe, "Oh, the eternal barbarians we are!"
The old Abbe sent for the congregants to come to the church for the funeral. (I loved that part of the story. He "sent" for them to come.) Attendance was not optional! We Methodist "priests" have never been able to exert that kind of authority. We have often wanted to, but have never been able to make it happen. I doubt that my brother Roman Catholic priests fare much better.
And the congregation came! The church was packed. The old Abbe mounted the pulpit and began his sermon with a voice that cut the air like a whip lash. "Christians!!" "Christians, when the Lord of life and death shall ask me on the day of judgment, 'Pasteur de la Roudaire, where are thy sheep?', I shall not answer him. When the Lord asks me the second time,'Pasteur de la Roudaire, where are thy sheep?', I will still not answer him. But when the Lord shall ask me the third time, 'Pasteur de la Roudaire, where are thy sheep?', I shall hang my head in shame and I will answer him, 'They were not sheep, Lord, they were a pack of wolves.'"
This story brings to mind several "Thou shalt nots" and even more "Thou shalts." In a day when so much of our public discourse lacks civility and common courtesy, this is a story to remember. Next time you are tempted to make sport of someone who is different, or who in some way has been marginalized by misfortune, remember the hunchback with the kindest eyes, his sister who loved him more than she loved herself, and the pack of wolves that murdered them.