All we like lepers
Lately I’ve been developing my holy imagination by meditating on the Gospel accounts of Jesus.
Instead of reading the stories for “information-about-Christian-living” or for “principles-to-live-by,” I’ve been simply seeking to get to know Jesus. I want to watch him at work, observe how he is with people, and listen to what his words convey about him.
I came across Luke’s story of Jesus’ interaction with a leper (ch. 5). In his account, Luke points out that the man is “covered with leprosy.” Not just a rash hidden under his shirt. Not just a spot on his arm.
No hiding or faking his condition.
As horrible as leprosy itself was in this culture, the physical condition paled against the emotional pain of shame that leprosy inflicted on its victims. Lepers were labeled (the name itself is enough to cause one to shudder). They were ostracized and minimized and shunned. They were untouchable–a blight to society.
The self-disgust and shame this man defined himself by is seen in his approach to Jesus. “If (and that’s a big IF) you are willing you can make me clean,” he tentatively offers to Jesus in his request for help.
All this while laying face-down.
This man has fully bought into his shame and learned his place in society well.
Jesus is unfazed by the man’s leprosy and all that it was supposed to represent. Apparently Jesus hadn’t got the memo that such a person was too gross, undesirable and dangerous to interact with.
Jesus reaches out and touches the man. Touches him. This guy probably hasn’t experienced this basic demonstration of acknowledgment of his humanity in years.
As Jesus touches the man, he speaks words of life. “I am willing, be cleansed.”
These aren’t merely words packed with physical healing, as incredible as that is.
Jesus’ words obliterate the shame, rejection and unworthiness that have chained this man.
“You’re clean.” It’s a message of belonging, value, validation and permission. Permission to join in life. Permission to participate. Permission to contribute.
As I imagined Jesus interact with this man, Jesus’ seemed to turn his focus on me.
I realized that I’ve been carrying my own leprosy–the shame of my own sin and the accompanying assumption that I don’t really belong. I’ve believed I’m not worthy of participating in life-giving contributions in Jesus’ kingdom work.
I contemplated Jesus’ words to me. He was offering to remove my leprosy.
I was struck with the audacious nature of Jesus’ grace.
Jesus doesn’t seem to care that we’ve been covered with leprosy.
Jesus has the nerve to reach out and touch us in our grossness. His only interest seems to be cleaning us, setting us free and giving our value back.
It’s as if he were saying to me, “Come on and join the party. I don’t want you to miss out.”
It’s almost scary to take it in.
I don’t think I’m alone, either. As I shared this experience with some of my friends, each one acknowledged they, too, have their leprosy.
As we explored our respective leprosy we concluded that at its core, leprosy really isn’t the particular sins we’ve involved ourselves in–addictions, lust, porn, jealousy, prideful competition, whatever.
Rather the real leprosy is the sense of shame of not being good enough. Whatever our stuff is, it tells us that we don’t measure up, don’t qualify and don’t belong.
I’m thankful that Jesus doesn’t buy into our beliefs in and loyalty to our leprosy stories. I pray we can hear him loud and clear.
“I don’t believe a word of your leprosy. All that stuff it says about you doesn’t mean a thing to me. I’m all about cleaning you. Come on and join in the party. You belong. You’re enough.”