When I was accepted into the Royce and Jane Reynolds Program in Church Leadership I felt honored. Out of over 100 applications went in and I was one of the 24 that was accepted. I came into this program with this preconceived notion of what they were going to teach me. I knew in my head that they were going to be giving me some skills or some procedures that will enable me to be the leader I’d envision I needed to be. I was wrong, dead wrong.
In this passage of scriptures Jesus heals a leper. Leprosy or Hanson’s disease as it is called now is a bacteria that infects the nerves all along the body and in the mucus membranes. If left untreated like it was in the time of Jesus, it can leave permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. One bad rumor is that body parts can simply fall off is not true but nasty skin lesions are the primary external symptom. Also this disease is spread through contact and so the easiest way to deal with this disease was through quarantine, which is why leper colonies were started.
In Leviticus 13 and 14 gave the Jews rules to follow when it came to skin diseases. They were to come to the priest and get examined. There is a laundry list of things that that the priest will look over and in the end pronounce him unclean. If that person had leprosy that meant that had to follow Leviticus 13:45,46 “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” This is no way to live and we can see why the leper came up to Jesus to be healed.
The first day I walked into this leadership program we were given a quote from Warren Bennis, who is a scholar on leadership. The quote was, “Your task is not to become a leader. Your task is to become yourself, and to use yourself completely, all your gifts, skills and energies, to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, be one, the person you started out to be and, two, enjoy the process of becoming.” I had really no clue what they were talking about back in August. I didn’t realize what that meant but Thursday it was all becoming clear.
This week we learned that as we grow up we learn to build walls around who we are. When we are between the ages of 2-5 we do not have a filter or wear a mask and whatever is one our minds we say. My aunt will always tell a story of my cousin and her waiting in line at the grocery store. My cousin was about 4 at the time and he noticed that the woman in front of them was a large woman. He looked up at my Aunt and using the mouth of a 4 year old asked her, “Mommy, why is that woman so fat.” Whatever we thought back then we said but soon we learned differently.
Our parents, teachers, and society told us we should act differently. They told us stuff like, “If you can’t say anything nice…” “Big boys don’t cry.” “Big girls don’t get angry.” “You don’t really mean you hate your sister.” All of these things soon taught us as teenagers and young adults that we need to live behind a wall. We need to hide our true inner self from the outer world. Soon we all have this wall in front of us and we will peek up from behind it and at some points get in front of it. This happens all the time in the church. We hold in our truest thoughts and feelings because we don’t want to cause conflict. We want to spare feelings. So we hide behind our walls and think we are doing okay.
But that is not what we were created to be. God took the DNA from your mom and dad and created you. God knew what God was doing and he took different things from here and there and created you just the way you are. Yet, just like the oldest sin, we think we know better than God and we see all our junk and we don’t like it, so we build a wall around our inner self and create a façade for the world to see. I truly think God weeps when he sees the walls we put up around his creations.
The leper comes to Jesus and asks, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” He doesn’t specify what he wants to be clean from but we all make the presumption he wants to be cleaned of his leprosy. The scripture then says that Jesus has compassion on him, reaches out and touches him, and the man is healed. I love this piece of scripture because the Greek word used to describe Jesus touching him actually means to touch or caress. Jesus reaches out and touches a man no one would touch. He puts his self aside and reaches out and provides healing touch to his man.
I am lucky man being married to Alycia for many reasons but one being that she is a massage therapist. Massage Therapy is the art of healing touch. It is the ability to touch people and provide healing. It can be relaxing but for more critical and chronic problems it can be at times painful. I have learned a lot though about my own body as I have asked her to help pain go away. Because I sit in front of the computer a lot I also suffer from Seated Chair Victim. My lower back hurts because of this. Early on in her Massage Therapy career I would ask her to work on my back because it was acting up again. I soon learned it wasn’t my back it was my hamstrings that needed the work.
There is this biological phenomenon called Pain Referrals. Pain Referrals are sources of pain that radiate from a different place. My lower back hurts because when I am seated at the computer for long periods of time my hamstrings shorten. When I then stand up they pull on my lower back, causing pain in that area of my body. The problem is not in the back but it is actually the legs. The same can be true for neck pain. When a person sleeps wrong and wakes up with a crick in their neck the problem can be in their upper back. There possibly is a knot around your shoulder blades. The spot where the pain is located is not necessarily the spot of the problem. A trained massage therapist will understand that and instead of working the pain will work the spot of the problem.
Jesus looked at the leper and had compassion on him. He understood how bad leprosy made him feel and wanted to make him feel better. So he touched him. The issue though was not necessarily the disease but the fact that he was shunned. Jesus tells him to go at once and have the priest have him pronounce you clean again. When the priest would do that the man could come back into the community again. He could be let in and welcomed as one of them. It seems that the true healing wasn’t the fact that his disease was cured but that the social pain of being an outcast would be over. That was the deeper problem. That was the pain that the leper hid behind the wall. The outward signs of leprosy simply masked the inner pain of knowing that he wasn’t accepted by his peers and that he was alone.
As we live through this tough time in our society I think there are more and more people who are feeling like the leper. They feel lost and alone. They feel like they have to suffer in silence and they put up such a huge wall that no one can see their inner struggle and pain. Yet this is the church and this is a place where we can express what is happening on in the inside. We can let our guard down and let people see who is on the other side of that wall.
We as a church though still ban people like they did with lepers back then. We still see people as unclean when we find out they have committed adultery, when they suffer a divorce, when they come out as homosexual or an addict, or when they commit a crime. We, as congregations, have a tendency to ban them as unclean and force them to walk the earth feeling alone and not welcomed. When we do this we are not the church. The church is a place for the unclean for we all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. If church was for the clean and perfect, it would be empty. We have to rid ourselves of that notion and realize that God wants us to come and be a part of a community in order to feel whole once again. Not because we are forced to change who God created us to be in order to participate in this community but that we can be who God created us to be. We are being church best when we knock down our walls and we are honestly being who we are in the inside.
The leper came to Jesus and Jesus saw his inner struggle that is the source of his compassion, not just the outside disease. God wants us to be honest with where we need healing too. God knows our inner struggles and asks us to confront them in order for us to be whole and to be who God created us to be.
God called to Adam and Eve, asking where they were, that they might risk letting go of their shame. God called Abraham to go to a new land, that he might risk letting go of an old identity. God wrestled with Jacob that he might risk letting go of his independence. God dealt with Joseph that he might risk letting go of his pride. God told Moses to throw down what was in his hand that he might risk letting go of his security. God met with Gideon in the threshing place that he might risk letting go of his fears. God speaks through the prophets that the people might risk letting go of their idols. Jesus called Peter and James that they might risk letting go of their lifestyle. Jesus commanded the rich young ruler that he might risk letting go what possessed him. Jesus spoke to a woman at the well that she might risk letting go of her past. Jesus taught that the father looked for the prodigal son that he might risk letting go of his pride. Jesus taught that the father went out to the elder brother that he might risk letting go of his resentment. Jesus spoke to Pharisees that they might risk letting go of misunderstood doctrine. Jesus spoke to John and James when they were arguing that they might risk letting go of their self-centeredness. Jesus offered sight that they might risk losing their blindness. Jesus offered healings that they might risk letting go of their sickness. Jesus said to His followers that they must be holy as God is holy that they might risk letting go of being like everyone else. God sent a vision to Peter on the roof that he might let go of his prejudice.
We are in front of Jesus today and we have the ability to ask to be healed. Let us offer up our inner self. Let us be honest in front of the one who created us and knows who we truly are. Let us be willing to let go of the idea that we need to shield who we are from the world and that we can be healed from the idea that we know better than God of who we are suppose to be. Jesus knows the source of our pain. God is looking at his children and can see where we are suffering. That can be cured, that pain can be healed, that suffering can stop if we let Jesus in and let him touch the source of our pain.
And all God’s people said…Amen.
 Taken from a worship reflection by Rev. Steven Brown.