Will God's Love Heal My Deepest Hurts?
Luke 5:12-16; Isaiah 53:3-6
WILL GOD’S LOVE HEAL MY DEEPEST HURTS?
October 29, 2017
Luke 5:12-16; Isaiah 53:3-6
Last week I spoke on the way that we view ourselves, how we define ourselves, and sometimes the struggles we have of actually knowing who we are.
Today, I want you to use your imagination and try to put yourself for a minute or two into the shoes of someone who is nothing like you.
Imagine for a moment that you were born near a small village in the countryside of India into a family that belonged to the untouchables or outcastes. You may be known as a Pariah or a Chandala, but you call yourself a Dalit, which means “oppressed one.”
You are completely segregated with other Dalits in a slum outside of the village. When you entered village, you are only allowed to do certain jobs that are considered unclean, like working with human waste, removing garbage, cleaning latrines, getting the dead ready for cremation and working with cow hide. Chances are that you are a bonded laborer, forced into working for others without even getting paid.
You are not allowed to enter the house of a caste member or any of the temples.
You’re not allowed to attend a school where children of caste members attend.
You may not be able to walk on the same paths inside the village as cast members do.
You are not allowed to sit anywhere near them.
You can’t ride a bicycle inside the village.
You are not allowed to wear clean, bright or trendy clothes, wear glasses or open an umbrella in town.
You are not allowed to touch anyone.
You have to be careful that even your shadow doesn’t fall on a caste member.
You are not allowed to sell produce in the town market. And because of your standing, you will
never get a good job,
never be able to afford good clothing,
or medical attention
or an education.
Worse of all, you live in constant fear of being mistreated, tortured, raped or killed with impunity by the upper castes and the police – without recourse to justice.
Thankfully there have been some changes regarding the systematic abuse of the Dalit in India, especially in the larger cities. But in the country side, the caste system is still alive and well.
If you are like me, you will have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be viewed as less than human, as unclean, as untouchables, as outcastes, and be mistreated in horrendous ways.
But in some ways, the same was true of those with contagious skin diseases and leprosy in biblical times. For example, the rules were laid out in Leviticus 13 and 14. We read there in part:
The leper who has the infection must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt (or: uncovered). He must cover the face below his nose 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. Leviticus 13:45-46
In Jesus’ day, Pharisees would pray: “I thank you God that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, a ‘leper’, or a woman!” A leper was one of those categories of people who had no standing in ancient Jewish society.
The Hebrew term Tsara’ath, was translated as Lepra in the Greek OT and so as leprosy in the English. But the word was used in the OT to refer to all kinds of infectious skin diseases, including what is known today as Hansen’s disease or true leprosy. Hanson’s disease is a chronic bacterial infection that causes lesions on the skin, leading to bumps, swelling, open sores - to the point of disfigurement, particularly the face. True leprosy deadens nerves to the point where a person cannot notice being injured - which usually leads to loss of limbs. Leprosy attacks membranes and so can result in blindness, the loss of the nose, and kidney failure.
Without access to antibiotics, either in Jesus’ day when they did not exist, or today when they are not accessible or affordable, the disease ends up blinding and disfiguring people.
Leprosy can be passed from person to person through inhaling or touching droplets expelled from the nose or mouth of an infected person. While it cannot be transmitted through casual touch, people did not know this and were deadly afraid to get anywhere near a person who had it.
But whatever the condition that a person had, it resulted in being an outcast, someone who was not allowed into the city or town, who was considered contagious and therefore unclean.
In biblical times, if you were in the unenviable state of having being declared unclean, you were segregated and your torn clothes, unkempt or uncovered hair, and covered mouth were sure to identify you as an outcast. As if that wasn’t bad enough, if anyone came near, you had to shout at them that you were unclean – warning them not to come near.
You were avoided like the plague. Crowds parted when you came along. People moved to the other side of the road. Children may throw stones at you and ridicule you, shouting after you, “unclean, unclean.” You may NOT have endured the same mistreatment as the Dalit, but like them, you were shunned, had to live off what others threw away. Money had little worth because no one would take it from you.
These pictures are of a few poor individuals in the developing world who suffer from Hansen’s disease or leprosy.
Being a leper was an awful state of existence – then as it is now (depending on where you live). No one would have dared come near you, talk with you or ever think of touching you.
And then we read our passage in Luke 5 that Jesus in fact did all those things.
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him.
What Jesus did was completely out of the norm. Others would have thought that he put himself in huge danger of being infected by getting near the man and then touching him.
Then Jesus ordered him, "Don't tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." Yet the news about Jesus spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
If a person with an infectious disease somehow got well again, he had to send for a priest to examine him outside the town. If the priest agreed that the person was no longer diseased, then the person had to shave himself from head to foot, bathe his whole body, but still remain seven days in quarantine. On the eight day a variety of offerings were made at the temple and the person was anointed with oil on his head, and with blood and oil on the right earlobe, the right thumb and the right big toe (Lev. 14). This is what Jesus told the healed man to do.
As I thought about this truly remarkable encounter, Jesus touching someone who was covered with lesions all over his body and so likely had true leprosy, I was struck mostly by the thought that in some ways, you and I are like that leper, and in quite another way, Jesus himself would become a leper as well.
This might seem like quite a stretch – from Jesus healing a leper to thinking of Jesus as being another type of leper or outcast. But what was true of the leper, the fact that he was rejected in society at large, also would be true of Jesus, in ever-increasing ways.
Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders, the Pharisees and the powerful families of the high priest and his cronies. He was considered an outcast, a target, eventually to be arrested by them and dragged in the middle of the night to the Roman governor in order to be declared a rebel against Rome and executed the next morning.
In another sense, Jesus is rejected and an outcast in our own society as well. You hear his name mentioned often enough, but not in a good way. It’s as if his name has become a byword, something filthy. Or an exclamation when something is really, really aweful.
In part, Jesus is derided and rejected today because of the failings of those who call themselves his followers – using his name to get rich off the gullible or to be hateful toward others.
In part, Jesus is rejected today because he calls people to repentance- and many people in our society do not want to repent or turn away from following their own desires and turn toward God and directing their lives according to God’s will.
Few people want to be told what to do and Jesus made it clear that being in the kingdom of God means allowing God’s will to reign in our lives. So many reject Jesus because they cherish the freedom to do as they please.
The prophet Isaiah spoke about an individual, a servant, a shoot, who would give himself for a guilt offering for others even though he himself would not be guilty of any transgressions. In part, we read in Isaiah 53 ...
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering (literally: grief / sickness). Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities (literally: griefs / sicknesses) and carried our sorrows, yet we ourselves considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:3-4
Jerome, the Christian translator who produced the Latin Vulgate from the Hebrew, translated the term “stricken” into “leprosum.” If you translated the Latin into English, it would read,
“we considered him, as it were, a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.”
Jerome knew full well that this passage was applied to Jesus. He also knew full well that Jesus was not a leper in the clinical sense. But he used the word on purpose because he also were aware that Jesus WAS considered, as it were, an outcast, a reject, as someone unclean.
That may not be obvious in our passage in Luke 5, where people were flocking to Jesus in order to see this new miracle worker and be healed by him.
However, already back in chapter 4 of Luke, when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, his own former neighbours turned on him and tried to kill him when they felt insulted by what he had said.
Let me continue to read from Isaiah 53.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his scourging we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and YHWH has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:5-6
While the previous two verses in Isa 53 speak of the suffering servant carrying the sufferings and sicknesses, the sorrows and griefs, of the people, that is, external healing, ...
... these verses speak of an even deeper need that people have, and that is being forgiven and freed from their sins, healed from their past and their mistakes, in other words, inner healing.
Comment: God has laid all of our sins on the suffering servant, much like the scape goat on the Day of Atonement was to carry the sins of the nation away into the desert.
It seems that Jesus had compassion on those who were outcasts in his society or those looked down upon by others – the lepers, the tax-collectors and so-called “sinners”, women, children, and non-Jews or Gentiles.
But what about us? Are we in some ways like a lepers as well?
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty aware of my failings and short-comings. As a result, I can easily be my worst critic. I spoke last week about the potential of disliking myself, thinking poorly of myself. Sometimes I marvel that God continues to love me.
Those of you who are perfectionists, or who were told that you were useless or worthless, may also consider yourself like a leper in your own mind, someone who is outside of the reach of God’s love or forgiveness.
But that is not true of everyone in our society. There are enough people who do not seem to have, what used to be called, “a God-shaped vacuum” inside them. They think that they are doing quite well on their own. They feel no need to be saved, from themselves or from anything else for that matter. As such, to suggest that they may have a flaw, something leprous about them, may be considered a misrepresentation of what they feel like.
The bad news is that we in fact can walk away from God’s love with our attitudes and actions, in part because we feel no need for him.
The good news is that for those of us who feel that we may be outside of the reach of God’s love and forgiveness, Jesus’ life and teaching made it clear that he did not think this to be so.
Jesus said that the sick need a doctor, not the healthy, and that he came exactly for those who know they aren’t perfect and need to be saved from themselves, from their sins.
That does not mean that we are smarter or more important than others. Christians cannot think of themselves as part of an upper caste, worthy of God’s blessings in ways that others aren’t.
If we have that attitude, we can become overly critical and negative about other people. We turn into those who are attempting to remove a speck from the eye of another, all the while being unaware of the log in their own.
A while back while when I was at the Panorama Rec center, I overheard a diatribe by a young woman as she went on and on to a coworker about how lazy and inept someone else at work is. Venom just continued to pour from this girls’ mouth and it felt as if there was a negative cloud emanating from her, souring the whole atmosphere. It almost felt oppressive.
And I was reminded how easy it is for me to bring down people who I am with when I display a negative or critical spirit – which is especially easy to do when it comes to my own family.
Also a while back I spoke with a group of pastors who have moved into this area, one from the US, one from Alberta, one from Ontario. They all mentioned that they had a hard time adjusting to the tendency of Christians in their churches complaining about this and that, that is, the general grumpiness of people living in this area.
As I thought about this comment, I thought about myself, and perhaps that we have it so good here that it breeds a spirit of discontentment.
It seems to me that a negative disposition or grumpiness is a contagious disease that can infect those around us. We have the potential of either spreading peace and goodwill - and so our relationships are blessed - or spreading discontentment and criticism and finding fault with others, with the result that our relationships suffer.
The other thing that happens is that if we fall into the general grumpiness of our society, when we are chronic complainers or critical of others, not only will others around us become more negative, but some will avoid us because our spirit causes them to feel bad.
I believe that all of us are lepers in the sense that we all need to be cured of something, and I’m not speaking about physical diseases. We all carry with us, emotional wounds or illnesses, past injustices, rejection, bullying, neglect, abuse. We all carry with us spiritual wounds or illnesses, a propensity toward sinful attitudes or behaviours, past actions that have injured our conscience, our inner moral compass.
Whether emotional or spiritual, often those things results in us doing or saying things that are hurtful.
Many people are blissfully unaware of this. If there are problems in their lives, it is always someone else’s fault. They never take personal responsibility and they are always able to justify themselves or make excuses for themselves, even when their actions and choices are incredibly selfish.
This kind of sickness is not as obvious as the external sores and lesions, or damage to the extremities of hands and feet due to leprosy, but it is real never-the-less.
We may not think we need Jesus’ touch, but really we all do. We may think that those who want God in their lives are weak without realizing our own weaknesses, our own inner brokenness.
I would venture to guess that a fair number of you have watched the movie the Matrix with Keanu Reeves that came out 18 years ago in 1999. I’m not advocating that you watch the movie, but let me describe to you the situation in it.
It is around the year 2200. Most of humanity is enslaved by thinking computers, sentient machines. Human bodies are kept in stasis inside of pods as the heat and electrical energy of their bodies are used as living batteries to produce energy for the machines.
Meanwhile their minds are kept busy living in a simulated reality – an illusionary construct by a huge computer of what earth was like in the 1990’s – this construct is called the matrix. In effect, humans are enslaved. They are in bondage without even being aware of it, without even knowing that the reality created for them is only to keep them from finding out the truth.
At one point in the story, the main character, Neo, is given the choice of swallowing a red or a blue pill by a character called Morpheus.
If he chooses the blue pill, everything would be as it was before. But if he took the red pill, Neo would find out the truth by being physically removed from the Matrix.
The choice came with a warning: "Remember, all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more." In other words, what you think you’ve built your life on, what is comfortable and known, will no longer be there for you. Things will be changed forever. The journey with the red pill is a lot harder than the journey with the blue pill. Are you sure you want to swallow it?
Neo chose the red pill.
Inside the Matrix, you could eat steak and drink wine, even though neither steak nor wine was actually real. Outside the matrix, you were relegated to eating a nutritious sludge and drinking water.
The villain in the movie is called Cypher, and Cypher is willing to betray Neo and have hundreds of thousands of people who live outside the Matrix in a city called “Zion” killed by the machines, only so he could be plugged back into the Matrix where he wanted to be a person of importance that can live the high life.
In one sense, he’s exactly like Judas Iscariot. At another point in the movie, Cypher admits that ever since he left the Matrix he’d been thinking: “Why, oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?”
Some of us think of our own choice between God and our own will along the same lines. If we live for ourselves, we can enjoy all the good things in life. We can be selfish and live only to please ourselves.
But if we chose to live for God then it means a life of self-denial, something we’ll be sure to regret.
So, why should we come to God, accept the offer of forgiveness through Jesus, when we could just live our lives like everyone else – no need to change anything - wouldn’t that be so much easier?
There is a reason why sometimes people will only choose God when they’ve reached the very end of their rope, when their lives have bottomed out, when they have lost their families, their jobs, when they are at death’s door. It is only then that they become open to the possibility that they are separated from God and that they carry within themselves the disease of unforgiveness, sinfulness, and spiritual death.
It is only then that the benefits of being changed, of being healed, outweigh the discomforts and sacrifices that may come along with doing so.
If we come to the point where we realize that we need to be forgiven of our past, to be healed of our emotional wounds, to have our minds renewed from our negative assessment of ourselves or others, to be freed from the chains of our addictive and self-centered personalities, to overcome our negative habits and propensities, to be reconnected to God - then we have to come and approach God, just like the leper approached Jesus, who fell with his face to the ground. There is no pride at this point, only humility.
We need to be willing to have Jesus touch us with his love and compassion. But it is our choice – and we had better be aware that there are consequences of what it means to make that choice.
Jesus’ act of touching the leper is what the love of God is all about. God, in his love, desires to touch us, heal us, comfort us, save us, change us. Some of that salvation we experience right away, but mostly it is a process which the Bible calls sanctification, and some of that salvation we can only appreciate after we die and enter God’s presence.
So how do we experience God’s healing touch, how are we changed for the better? It begins with what I just mentioned ... a humble desire to be forgiven.
Beyond that, God heals us in a number of ways. At times, God brings healing and wholeness through some circumstance in our lives. It may even be something that others don’t consider good, such as physical illness or pain or sorrow.
At times, healing takes place as the Holy Spirit motivates us to take action ... to change jobs, to eat differently ... to do whatever is necessary to improve our circumstances or attitudes.
It may be through experiencing something life-changing, like a young man I had in my office some years past who spent a month working at an orphanage in Haiti.
God can speak to us and touch us and heal us sometimes through the words or actions of others – friends and family who support us, who tell us they love us or care for us or are proud of us.
Sometimes it can be a spiritual mentor or a counselor through whom we experience God’s healing touch.
At times God will touch us through something as mundane as a movie or a book. I know there have been some movies and books that have indelibly impressed themselves on my mind so that they have made me a better person.
Sometimes we experience God’s healing touch when we come to him and ask for him to change us. Sometimes we only need to ask once and the change is immediate.
For example, God may give us the ability to locate that inner switch in our minds that controls our anxiety and turn it off. We are somehow able to make the decision to live more calmly, to no longer over-dramatize, to no longer catastrophize, to no longer live a fearful life or create unnecessary anxiety for ourselves.
However, most often, it means bringing the same issue to him again and again, laying it at his feet, asking him to intervene, to change us, to forgive us of our past, to heal us of the things that cause us to trip up again and again.
I find that when I pray many times during the day, thanking God for all that I have, for the people in my lives, even for being able to speak with him, miracles of change happen inside of me.
One of the most important changes that can take place when we come to God, is that our hang-ups and hurts do not have to determine who we are. We do NOT have to become hardened, cynical, jaded, uncaring, critical, negative, or selfish at heart. Part of receiving Jesus’ healing touch is that we are no longer condemned to live with guilt or a critical spirit, of self-condemnation or self-righteousness.
It is more than unfortunate if we are quick to judge, quick to find fault, quick to take offense; if we allow the actions or words of others to rob us of our own peace and sense of well-being; if we are put out and grumpy simply because others don’t live up to our expectations.
As Isaiah put it, Jesus took up our infirmities, His death brought us peace, his suffering brought us healing. He became an outcast, a leper of sorts, so we don’t have to be.
It is God’s love that we emulate when we proclaim our love to someone else, someone who isn’t perfect, who makes mistakes, who may even hurt us at times. But even more so, it is what we emulate whenever we “touch” someone else with some act or word of kindness or mercy.
One person who worked extensively with lepers in India was Mother Teresa.
I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper's wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience? Mother Teresa
Yes there are still colonies of lepers in different parts of the world, even today.
And there are believers willing to minister to them. Becky Star, founder of Rising Star Outreach, writes this:
One of the most healing things we do with the leprosy-affected people of India is simply to touch them: to give them "high-fives", hugs, handshakes, and kisses. Greater than the suffering caused by their disease, is the suffering caused by society's declaring them to be untouchables.
But maybe you and I will never see a person with leprosy because in the Western world the bacteria which cause leprosy can be treated with antibiotics before they damage the nerves, eyes, and skin.
Never-the-less, we are surrounded by family members, friends, acquaintances, and every other human being on this earth, who have faults, shortcomings, foibles, and insecurities, and who face problems and suffering .
So, on the one hand, there is not one human being on this earth who does not have the potential to disappoint us, and there isn’t one of us who is not able to disappoint others.
On the other hand, there are few people on this earth who would not want to receive a smile, an encouraging word, a compliment, a kind deed, a prayer – simple things we can all share with them – and with each other. In fact, the small acts of kindness or thoughtfulness, can transform those around us for better.
Our words and actions have the power to hurt, to heal, to open minds, to change someone’s world.
AM I WILLING TO CHOOSE “THE RED PILL” OF TRUTH?
IF YES, WHAT DO I NEED TO DO?
INTO WHOSE LIFE CAN I BRING HEALING SIMPLY THROUGH MY WORDS OR ACTIONS?
If Jesus could touch a leper and bring healing, can’t we touch those around us who are hurting and bring a healing, encouraging, comforting touch into their lives?
Jesus put it this way:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36
May that be true of you, of me.
Heavenly Father, I come to you in utter humility as the leper did to Jesus. I know that you can heal all of my wounds, all of my short-comings, all of the hurt and pain and the sin I carry with me. I know that you so desire to do this, but that I need to be willing to lay aside myself, to place myself in your hands, to follow you with all my heart and life. This I now do. Help me to do so daily.
And God of love, fill my heart with so much gratitude and contentment and peace, that wherever I may go, wherever I am, I would be able to speak peace and healing and comfort into a hurting world. May I rise above the mundane of every day life and keep my eyes focused on you.
Open my heart, my eyes, to the needs of others, and open my mouth that I may speak at the right time.