The man sits on the outside looking in. He gazes with longing in his eyes. He gives one last glance and then struggles to stand. What once came easy has now become an exhausting undertaking. He wavers, arms flailing, body leaning in one direction then suddenly going in the other…then in a gasp of pain, he regains his balance. He sighs, looks over his shoulder, and mentally captures a picture of those he once called family and friends. He ambles away one labored step after another. As he walks down the path he hears a small voice filled with something he has not heard in a very long time — compassion. He thinks that maybe he imagined it, maybe Insanity is the next specter to visit. There it is again, listening more closely the man waits, ever so gently he hears, “Do not lose heart.” The leper stops for a moment and wonders if he has the strength to hold out for a brighter tomorrow. With each limp and groan, the brighter tomorrow that he prays for is harder to see.
In the Beginning…
Looking back to the beginning of his now ill-fated misery, he never imagined that the white spots beginning to appear on his face were anything to worry about; in fact, he had pretty much forgotten about them. But when the sores began to get inflamed and quickly turned into raw flesh, his nonchalance faded away and in its place — panic. He had contracted leprosy, the most accursed illness of his time. His condition continued to deteriorate: oozing boils, swollen nose, lips, and ears, his eyelashes and eyebrows gone, and even disfigurement of his fingers and toes. The worst thing about leprosy was banishment from his own loved ones and friends. He was kicked out of his community. He and his kind — the diseased ones — weren’t allowed six feet within reach of a “clean” person. If that wasn’t humiliating enough, he and the other lepers had to cover themselves with rags, let their hair grow long and gnarly, and when others looked their way they had to place their hand over their mouths and shout, “Unclean, Unclean!” Snapping back into reality, he confessed, if only to himself, that the hideous external symptoms, though excruciatingly painful, were nothing compared to the searing scars branded upon his soul by the rejection of his own people. He thought, not for the first time, “What if? What if I can become clean again…like new, without any blemish?”
Who would want to travel in this man’s shoes, if his deformed feet could still fit in them? Yet, how many of us have experienced times in our lives when we felt as if we were diseased? Who at some point has not felt as if he (or she) is worthless, useless, unlovable, or dirty? Any of these labels can lead a person to feel as if they are unclean. Like the leper, they walk through their lives crying inwardly to themselves, “Unclean! Unclean!” Maybe you are one of those persons calling, “Unclean, Unclean!” silently to yourself as you make it through each day of your life. Maybe you feel dirty from abuse perpetuated against you. Maybe you feel unworthy from parents telling you that you will never amount to anything. Or, maybe, you feel filthy because you cheated on your spouse and the circle of trust was broken in your marriage. The list of offenses that we could label ourselves “Unclean” for is unending — both for those we commit and for those committed against us.
We don’t have to suffer through horrible diseases to have scars. We don’t need to wear grungy clothes and walk about with nasty unwashed hair to feel dirty. We don’t need to be kicked out of our homes, families, or communities to feel rejected and alone. For every name called, slander yelled, and every back turned on us, the heart hemorrhages. For most of us, our histories, our stories have brought us to a place of unimaginable soul-rendering. Unlike the leper, most of us have not been called unclean. We have chosen to call ourselves Unclean.
To Touch a Leper
In Matthew 8:1-3 it says, “When he [Jesus] came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” Despite all the years of disease, taunts and sneers from others, loneliness, and horrible pain, he had faith in God. The leper risked so much in just breaking the Jewish law by going within six feet of a clean person. All the leper desired was to be cleansed — to be made new. He fell at the feet of Jesus and with great faith told Jesus that he knew that Jesus could heal him from leprosy, if Jesus willed it. It was not a matter of a question, but of fact. The most beautiful part of this story is when Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper. For the first time in who knows how long this leper felt the touch of a person, but not any person, the Savior of this world. The leper felt compassion and love. As soon as Jesus touched the leper and spoke the words, “I will; be clean” (Matthew 8:3), the leper was healed.
Can you imagine the leper’s face when the agonizing pain he had lived with for so long suddenly went away? Picture him in your mind: he stands to his feet without staggering and without losing his balance because his legs and feet are strong again; his mind
grasps the truth that his healing began the moment Jesus spoke, “… be clean,”; he suddenly becomes aware of a prickly sensation in his feet, legs, arms, and fingers and realizes it is blood rushing through them for the first time in years and he feels it — he had forgotten what it was like to touch and actually feel what he touched; then, if all the rest wasn’t proof enough of his healing, the yellowish-green pus oozing out of all of his sores stopped and the boils began to close up. Where there was decaying skin, new flesh appeared. By bowing at the feet of Jesus and pronouncing his faith that Jesus could heal him, the leper became a new man. By faith he was healed. In Jesus, he was made new. The old way of life behind him; a new way of life before him.
Grip on Faith
While you may not have leprosy, you may have another sickness — one that stems from the heart. You yearn to be truly loved — not the kind of love that comes and goes on a whim. The scars that make your heart and your soul ache are not visible to the human eye. You have been crushed by life’s hurts… those poisonous barbs that sink deep into your inner being. You desperately try to hold on to your faith. You’ve begun to lose hope… faith… that there will ever be an answer to your question of “Can I ever be clean?” For some, years of feeling dirty have almost broken your grip on faith. But, I implore you… hold on! There is one Person who can answer the question and cry of your soul. Jesus. Like the leper, fall down at the feet of Jesus and ask Him to heal you and make you new — for in Christ and only in Christ we are made new. [/show_to]
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