When Love Hurts:
Healing the Lepers of Today
Who are the lepers of today? The people in your life who need your healing touch but who repulse you.
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 (Matthew 10:6-8 NIV).
Jesus spells out very clearly what He is calling us — His followers — to do. 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 lepers, and overcoming demons.
In our everyday lives, that means taking care of the needs of those who are sick. It means taking time to reach those who are spiritually dead and bringing them to life in God. It means cleaning out the hearts and minds of lepers. It means identifying the lies and temptations of demons that affect the people we know, while helping them become stronger in obeying God’s ways, in living out the truth and in resisting evil choices.
Cleaning out the hearts and minds of lepers — what does that mean? In biblical times, lepers were outcasts, forced to spend the rest of their years in leper colonies because healthy people might catch 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. He not only healed the leper’s skin, he also healed his spirit by giving him what he 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 today, i.e., the people who need your healing touch but who repulse you?
I propose that they are the addicts you know, the ones who are outcast and forced to keep their distance because of the damage caused by their addictions. It can be any kind of addiction, including the most subtle. The primary symptom is that they are difficult to love because they never try hard enough to change. They repeatedly give us more grief than anyone else.
These addicts are in my life and your life, usually on a daily basis. 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 stay away from to keep our lives more peaceful.
Some people are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Their thinking is clouded by the buzz they like to get. We get hurt by their undependability, the loosening of their inhibitions (leading to lust or uncontrollable anger, for example), their warped understanding of themselves and of us, and their foolish behaviors that harm them while they believe they are doing good.
Some are addicted to significant persons in their lives, which is co-dependency instead of genuine love. They latch onto parents or lovers or spouses or friends in a desperate attempt to feel whole. They hurt us by smothering us and 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, bad-mouthing us and clinging to us all the more.
Some are addicted to violence and abuse. Others are addicted to sex and porn. The hurts these people cause is very traumatic.*
Some are addicted to power — these are the control freaks. They squash us and trample on our wills. They reject our dreams and desires in order to pursue their own agendas.
Some are addicted to 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 addictions that exist are as numerous as the ability we humans have for finding substitutes for God. All addictions are a substitute for God. Only God’s love can fill the holes in their wounded hearts, but lacking an understanding of that, they try to get more love from people than the people can give, and when that doesn’t satisfy their needs, they try to stuff these holes with anything that seems appealing. They use the object of their addictions as an anesthesia to dull the pain that never heals — the pain that comes from not being sufficiently loved.
The reason why addicts are addicts is because they are in desperate need of love. They have received less of it than we have. Often, they have never received real love — their only experience of so-called “love” was really co-dependency or control or conditions. And until they receive the appropriate therapy and spiritual healing that enables them to rely on God’s love, they do not know what love really is. We want them to love us, but they cannot give to us what they do not have.
Jesus tells us, “Freely you have received, freely give.” What have we freely and abundantly received from Him? Love! Real, unconditional, faithful love! What do addicts/lepers need most? The healing touch of this love, which is the gift of mercy for those who don’t deserve it. We have it! We have it to give!
Jesus loves them unconditionally. He wants to touch each leper, but He is no longer here with a physical hand unless He touches them through us. He needs us to reach out for him. They need us to be His healing hand. We are called to this. It’s our vocation if we take seriously the commitment to be followers of Jesus. But this is a very difficult ministry. It’s hard to give them unconditional, always-forgiving love — and persist in it. We naturally prefer to limit our love to those who love us back.
We cast away those who make our lives difficult. 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 vacations. And yet, what they need most is our love — or more accurately, Jesus’ love coming to them through us.
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.
To fulfill the mission of cleansing lepers of their lack of love, we have to be willing to forgive them over and over and over, seventy times seven times, often in the same day! They actually 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 until finally — finally! — our love breaks through and the cleansing begins. And when they slip back into their old leprosy, we love them more and forgive them again.
Our persistence in love, when combined with persistence in pointing them to other helping hands of Jesus, such as doctors and therapists, will eventually bring them all the way to the full cleansing that Jesus wants to give (although sometimes it doesn’t happen until the moment of their death when they meet Jesus face to face).
The process is long. But remember, you do an important ministry with Jesus when you serve as his healing hand. Although it’s one of the most difficult ministries on earth, if we really want to be good Christians, we absolutely must say yes to this calling.
And remember this also: We can succeed only if we continually turn to Jesus for strength, healing, and guidance. We have to repeatedly ask Him to give us renewed love for those we’d rather get 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 remain in the process of loving the unlovable for the cleansing of their leprosy.
When it gets hard, when it really, really hurts and our instinct is to give up and cast out the lepers, we can look at Jesus hanging on the cross for us. He did not give up on us. Neither is He going to give up on the lepers we know. We can become like Him. We can unite our sufferings to His cross. We can feel more closely connected to Him as we lay down our lives for the sake of redeeming others.
Dying to our desires to get rid of our lepers becomes easier when we pray: “Father forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.”
Remember: After crucifixion there is always resurrection!
* NOTE: If you are in an abusive relationship, your love will not make a difference unless the pattern of abuse is broken. Create separation until the abuser becomes safe to live through therapy and anger management training. And go to a counselor yourself to learn how to avoid enabling the disease.
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© 1999 by Terry A. Modica