A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
Sometimes when we hear things like today’s scriptures, which tell the OT story of the leper shouting “Unclean” and the Gospel story where Jesus heals the leper, it is easy to blow them off as something that happened a long time ago. I recently heard someone say “We need to update the bible so that people understand it.” Yet those stories are ever true today.
Who is it that we avoid like the leper or the plague? Do we turn our heads away from the homeless one on the street, or the obese man, or the woman with Down’s Syndrome? Do we steer clear of the person who obviously has some mental health issues? Or just the person who annoys the heck out of us? (For me, when I find myself shunning or avoiding someone, or passing judgement, it usually means there is something about them that I see in me and it bothers me. So when I want to turn away is really when I should go forward and embrace them.)
Or, how many of us are like the leper in dialogue with Jesus. Maybe we don’t have the “scab or pustule or blotch of leprosy” but if we are honest with ourselves, we all have something that we long to be freed from.. that we long to be made clean.
There are many demons. Every day on the news we hear of the growing heroin epidemic, depression and anxiety abound, many struggle with cancer or terrible illness, others with the memories of abuse, or the memory of something that they have done and they cannot forgive themselves. Others struggle to get out of debt, or to overcome other stigma and handicaps.
But if you go back to the story of the leper, there are a couple key things to note. We can’t just wish for our problems to go away and magically kick our heels. First, we have to name the issue. The leper goes to Jesus and begs for healing. The person with a tumor must go to the doctor and present them with all relevant facts. The one approaching a 12 step program has to admit they are powerless, veritably screaming out “I can’t do this on my own, I need help.” To do any of these things is humbling. It means naming a part of self that we may prefer to keep hidden, or that we’d prefer to be like an ostrich about, burying our own heads in the sand.
Then, there is another thing. Healing in the scriptures always require an action! Jesus says “Go show yourselves to the priests” later on in this scripture passage.
The person on a diet needs to change their thinking and their lifestyle about food and exercise. Messy house woman may need to just buckle down and clean, or know when it is time to ask help beyond that, and call in a professional organizer or or a friend to help pitch.
The woman with cancer needs to have the surgery, and follow through with the treatments. The one with health issues must take their medications and follow instructions. The man burdened by his infidelity may need to seek a clergy person or a counselor so that he does not become frozen in a place and a pattern for ever.
Lastly, I don’t think we can ever predict the timing or the outcome. For one person, a medication may take care of an issue. For another, alcohol may always prove to be a temptation….. this taking care of self is usually an ongoing process. And in some cases, like the story of Jesus with Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus, there was simply nothing he could do. The man was already dead. Hard things happen. Bad things happen. But Jesus doesn’t offer some overworn platitude. He simple offers the gift of presence to the two, He is with them, and he weeps.
So often when one is sick or hurting that is all we can do. Shed a tear, share a mug of coffee…. give the precious gift of time.
I remember when Mother was dying, many would say “If there is anything you need let us know.” and they were sincere in there words, but they just didn’t know how to help or what to say. (I know I have been in that same quandry so many times I can’t even recall, as I’ve blurted out that or something similar….) But the thing I remember something else too…. the woman who just came to the house and made Mom a cup of coffee, and then went and got the vacuum out, and didn’t listen to any protests. She just did what needed being done.
As many approach Lent it may be a time to ask? What do I want to change? How do I need to be healed? How can I do this? BLess you, and may you have the courage to cry out for what you need!.