History of Hymns: Hymn describes Christ as "Outcast Among Outcasts"
“An Outcast Among Outcasts”
Richard D. Leach
The Faith We Sing, No. 2104
An outcast among outcasts, dismissed with double scorn,
Belittled by the labels: “unclean” and “foreign-born”;
Came back with thanks for Jesus, and then went on his way:
An outcast among outcasts showed grateful faith that day. *
Though this hymn writer is relatively new to United Methodists through the supplement, The Faith We Sing (2000), Richard Leach’s (b. 1953) texts, with their strong biblical roots and sound theology, are bound to be found in more hymnbooks in the future.
His most popular hymn, “An Outcast Among Outcasts,” takes the singer through time, beginning with Jesus’ ministry to the poor and the socially outcast, through his death and to the present with Jesus’ gift of a life full of love as a child of God, ushering in the kingdom of God here and now.
The opening stanza makes use of alliteration, as each line flows beautifully to the next: “dismissed with double scorn” and “belittled by the labels.” Narrating the scene in which Jesus heals the 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-19, Mr. Leach refers to the leper as “unclean” and the Samaritan as “foreign-born.” Jesus declared that the man’s faith healed him and he was incredibly grateful. The outcast recognized the incredible gift Jesus had given him and bowed before him in complete gratitude.
The second stanza places the singer at Calvary where three men were crucified side by side. The synoptic Gospels account that the two men who were hung beside Jesus were criminals. Jesus is the outcast in this stanza in many dimensions. The most obvious reason for Christ being seen as an outcast is that he was sent to his death. However, even in his death on the cross, Jesus was an outcast because he was certainly not a criminal like those who hung on either side of him.
“God had the final say” because death could not contain Jesus. God’s will was done in saving creation. The final line of this stanza exclaims that Jesus conquered death through his resurrection and that this “outcast” continues to show “God to us today.” Mr. Leach creates a shift in this last line and into the last stanza, moving from the events of Jesus’ life and death to the application of these events to our lives today.
The final stanza summarizes the points of the first two stanzas and emphasizes that through Jesus, the status quo is turned on its head. The outcasts are no longer to be forgotten or oppressed; they are blessed and are examples of how to live in the love of God and not in the love of the world. In this love, the kingdom of God is not in the distant future, but is “found now everywhere.”
Influenced by great contemporary hymn writers such as Brian Wren and Thomas Troeger, Mr. Leach explains that he “often writes in response to particular Bible passages. I try to tell familiar stories in new ways, or listen to less familiar passages for what they might say to us. I want my hymns to enliven those who sing, to give singers something new which they can make their own.”
Mr. Leach was raised in Maine and received his B.A. from Bowdoin College. He received a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, after which he served as a pastor for the United Church of Christ for 21 years in Connecticut. He later left full-time ministry and joined the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Currently, he is a sacred and secular poet, visual artist and homemaker.
He has co-edited three books for Selah Publishing Company: The Selah Psalter, Hear the Angels Sing and And Jesus Said: Hymns on the Parables. His most recent collections of hymn texts are Tuned for Your Sake: Hymns 1987-2007 (2007) and Banquet Without Walls: Hymns on the Psalms (2009).
Along with numerous anthems and hymn texts, Mr. Leach has written three cantatas with composer Curt Oliver, For the Healing of the Nations (1999), The Book of Waters (2004), Blessing Without Borders, a Christmas Celebration (2005); and a requiem with composer Amanda Husberg, A Feast Prepared, which was premiered in Elizabethtown, Kentucky in March 2011.