Lepers in our lives
Is there anyone causing so much trouble that you wish you could get rid of them?
Ask Jesus to show you the love He has for the people who make you miserable. He said “yes” in the Garden because He had great pity on all of us. He saw us as lambs who had gone astray. He also saw our woundedness and decided to heal us through His wounds. If we truly want to follow Jesus, we must do as He did and obey what He said: “Go rather to the lost sheep…. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:6-8 NIV).
In proclaiming the Good News, we don’t just talk about it. We prove that the kingdom of heaven is real by healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and overcoming the demons. In our everyday lives, that means taking care of the needs of those who are sick and praying for them. It means taking time to reach those who are spiritually dead and bringing them back to life in God. It means identifying the lies and temptations of the unholy spirits that are affecting the people we know and pointing the way to truth and holiness. It means touching the lepers.
Who are the lepers in your life? In biblical days, lepers were outcasts. They were forced to spend the rest of their years in leper colonies because healthy people were afraid of catching the disease. Touch was forbidden.
How important touch is! Abandoned babies in institutions die from lack of touch. Marriages wither from lack of hugging. Children grow up with poor self esteem from lack of physical nurturing. Jesus knew how important touch is. Despite being able to heal people long distance without even seeing the one who was suffering, when it came to dealing with lepers, He not only healed their bodies, He also healed their spirits by giving them what they needed most — human touch.
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. ” ‘Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured (Mark 1:40-42 NIV).
Who are the lepers in your life? Do they need God’s healing touch? Perhaps God wants to give it to them through you!
Lepers are the ones who are outcast and forced to keep their distance. They are the people who are the most difficult to love, the ones we reject because they keep hurting us, the jerks who make our lives miserable, the trouble-makers we dump to protect ourselves.
Some are lepers because they are addicted to alcohol or drugs. It’s difficult to have good relationships with them because their thinking is clouded by their disease. We get hurt by their lack of dependability, the loosening of their inhibitions (leading to lust, for example), the warped understanding they have of themselves and of us, and their foolish behaviors.
Some are lepers because they smother the significant persons in their lives; this is called co-dependency. Perhaps you have a friend or relative who has latched onto you in a desperate attempt to feel whole. These lepers hurt us by demanding from us what we cannot or should not give, and when we refuse to behave co-dependently toward them, they interpret us wrongly and increase the misery, attacking us verbally and then clinging to us all the more.
Some are lepers because they are violent and abusive. Others are addicted to sex and pornography. The hurts these people cause can be very traumatic. Professional intervention is usually the only way to begin the process of healing and reconciliation.
Some are lepers because they love power and crave control — more than they love us. They squash us and trample on our wills. They reject our dreams and our desires and disregard our feelings so they can pursue their own agendas.
Some are lepers because of greed. They care more about money and possessions than about us. They take advantage of us to achieve their goals of accumulating more. They snub us if we can’t help them get richer.
The types of leprosy that exist are as numerous as the ability we humans have for finding substitutes for God. Only God’s love can fill the holes in their wounded hearts, but because they lack an understanding of that, they try to get more love from us than we can give, and when that doesn’t satisfy their needs, they try to stuff their holes with anything that seems appealing. It’s an attempt to anesthetize themselves from the pain that never heals, the pain that comes from insufficient love.
Jesus tells us, “Freely give to others what you have received” (Matt. 10:8). What have we freely and abundantly received from Him? Love! What do lepers need most? The healing touch of love! Jesus still touches lepers today — He touches them through us.
This is difficult. It is so hard to give love — and persist in it — when it involves suffering. We prefer to love only those who love us back and to cast away all others. We accept that we have to work in the same jobs with them, but we won’t invite them to our homes for dinner. We give them a friendly hello in church, but we won’t sit down with them and ask how we can help. We tolerate leprous family members on Thanksgiving, but we won’t invite them to join us on vacation. And yet, what they need most is our love — or more accurately, Jesus’ love coming to them through us.
We need boundaries to protect us from what is unhealthy or harmful, but we must leave room in those boundaries for Jesus’ love to reach out and embrace them.
Love cannot help but to give itself to others, regardless of the outcome. If we are willing to love others only when it will be given back to us, what merit is there in that? If we are willing to love others only when they treat us well, we are not loving them unconditionally. In fact, if love is conditional, it is not love at all! Love is not love unless it is giving love. Love can do nothing but love, even when there are no good results that come from its efforts.
To love these lepers, we have to be willing to forgive them over and over and over, seventy times seven times every day. We have to be willing to go to the cross for them. They don’t know how to receive our love. They don’t even know how to recognize it, so we have to persist and forgive and persist and forgive so that gradually our love breaks through more and more. If there is no breaking through despite much time and effort, then the time comes when God says, “Enough!” He will thank you for how hard you have tried, and He will lead you out of that person’s life for the next phase of the healing process.
In the meantime, we can only persist if we continually turn to God for comfort and endurance. We have to repeatedly ask Him to give us renewed love for the people we’d rather be rid of. This is a supernatural love. We cannot do this without extra help from Jesus, who freely gives us everything we need in order to progress on this journey of the Passion Spirituality.
When it gets hard, when it really hurts a lot and our instinct is to give up and cast out the lepers, look at Jesus being scourged, Jesus being tortured, Jesus being crowned with thorns, Jesus falling as He carried the cross when He had no energy left, Jesus hanging on the cross and dying. You can unite your sufferings to His. You can feel more closely connected to Him as you lay down your life for the sake of redeeming the lost lambs He has given you to love.
Remember: The way of the cross always leads to resurrection.
Saint Peter wrote: “For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:5-7 NIV).
© 2002 by Terry A. Modica