The Gift of Vulnerability – The leper and my story entertwine

 

“All of us are old. And all of us are frail. All of us, indeed, are handicapped. It’s just that some of us can pretend better than others.” John Kavanagh

Mark 1:40-45

All around the Galilee region the wind was kicking up dirt and throwing it around, exposing hopes that came to the surface and false dreams of manmade kingdoms.  The eye of the hurricane was right over Jesus head and in his wake he left a flurry of redemption.  Word was spreading fast, maybe too fast causing joyful mobs unable to contain centuries of disappointment.

Messengers spread out from villages running across hills to family in another town with news that a new kingdom was brewing, and a new prophet healing.  Family members hurried out to the countryside where lepers were huddled, a colony of the living dead.

Ancient Jewish society believed these lepers carried pollutants from the inside which boiled to the surface and contaminated all it touched, human or inanimate.  Dignity disintegrated.  Fear sliced through bonds of love and lepers were discarded to the land beyond the village never to return to healthy society unless a priest pronounced them “clean”.

The flood of good news spread across the region even penetrating these hovels of poverty and disease and in this one man from today’s scripture, igniting hope.  I wonder: Had a family member waved him down from the food drop off point thirty feet away?

Hope climbed into courage and despite opposition (isn’t there always opposition?), he wraps up his open wounds and starts walking…toward the village…toward people…toward this Jesus.

This man, this leper holding only naked courage, strode directly into the fire of rejection.  He was not only not welcome, he was not allowed to come near.  There were laws on the books, in the Torah against this, and yet, his desperation created a courage, and the stories he heard, ignited a faith that drew Him closer, positioning Himself in front of the Healer.  I imagine folks gathered, listening to Jesus, watching Eden life spread into one pain-racked person at a time.  Into this joy-drunk gathering, marched this leper sending villagers spreading like shotgun pellets in all directions.  Society’s contamination was walking in their midst, personified death.  Horrified with the sight and stench of moving pollution, they fanned out.  Only Jesus would stand still.  Only Jesus had eternity’s eyes and a compassion which pierced through the jumble of rags and wraps, the white skin flaking, the maimed extremities and recognized a man He had created, a person carefully made in His image.  He recognized a man as vulnerable as a baby bird, mouth wide open to Him, the Giver, Nourisher, Healer.  A man holding his skin, his heart out for healing.

Standing alone before this Jesus, desire for life completely exposed, he begs: “If you so choose, You can heal me.” Faith rising bursts out of him.  Jesus had been seen healing, was filled with power and that is all this man knew.  He had heard stories. He had left his life and could not go back.  Jesus to him embodied Life.

Jesus had just proclaimed to the synagogue his mission statement:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”(Lk 4:16-21)

This same Jesus was moved to compassion for this walking forsaken and a slow anger built against the maker of disease, this evil captor.  Compassion rises and Jesus does not just speak healing as Elijah had to the gentile Namaan hundreds of years before, not coming out of his house, Jesus places Himself in the very center of this man’s cavernous abyss.  He sees beyond the spoken need to the hidden wound.  He reaches out his hand, and risking contamination and society’s rejection himself, He places his hand on that white flaking skin, touching him.  And this leper, he who has lived without human touch, he who had been discarded by family and society, is healed, body, mind and spirit.  The touch that once created the Universe, now remakes a man.

I have been living in this scripture for a week and am struck by this man who wore his pain, his disease on the outside of his skin.  His bold audacity is disquieting as it works into our plastic surgery world.  This leper unabashedly runs toward Jesus, exposing his true need and we remember, God can only answer questions we ask, He can only heal when we position ourselves before Him…  He heals wounds we vulnerably lift up to the light of His Presence.

This leper teaches us and exposes vulnerable while we try so hard to smooth wrinkles, to erase pain with medication.  We live maimed, wounded, but covered in a world which worships the pristine, the sunny.  We try to conjure faith, devoid of desperation, do not weep repentance on Christ’s feet.  We pray, whisper for abundant life but do such a make-up job covering our sin, our scars, that  we often cheat ourselves into believing we are fine Jesus, thank you.   We have no need of your touch, your free resurrection.  We have found and drunk from the waters of sanctification or honestly, at least we are better off than Betsy two rows down.  Instead of laying a hold of healing ourselves, we settle for enough and then run to isolate when the pain geysers.

The leper teaches us to leave the fine, walk away from the tortured comfortable, all that is known and pursue God Himself.  It is here that I listen for the voice of God calling me.  This is what He seems to be saying: Summer, do not fear the vulnerable.  It is in your vulnerability that I will build a cathedral of grace, a place of healing for others.  Only under the shelter of your vulnerability will they be able to risk taking off their bandages, risk exposing their wounds in front of Me.  Build an authentic community bold with vulnerable grace.

People cannot heal, cannot uncover their sores where it is not safe, where there is a veneer of perfect.  Our Jesus’ grace developed an atmosphere where sinners were rooted, convinced they were loved and so could confess freely, where grace could do its good work of revelation. My friend, unsure of how to heal, opens her wounds every once in a while in front of various friends at church.  Her daughter was brutally raped five years ago.  Exposed, she is told in placating tones uncomfortable in the presence of suffering that “she should be over it already.”

Last year at this time, I stopped writing. I put myself in my Surgeon’s hands and both learned and with lovely women in my church simultaneously taught Terry Wardle’s 16 week inner healing small group.  Through the fall and winter I was landscaped, dug up, sin excavated, wounds exhumed and I was left in February raw. Emotions that usually surfaced only a few times a year, now screamed for attention. Fear of rejection spread across my body as if I was diseased with it, making me hungry to uproot, move, isolate.  Others around me in the small groups were singing victory but I was left sitting in an empty garden, upturned earth, completely back hoed.  I was the one teaching this stuff, yet it was I who was discouraged, short-breath fearful that the emotional pain would never go away!  In desperation, I began to spend hours in scripture accompanied with the materials, fiercely walking right into the pain positioning myself in the healing Presence of God.

I couldn’t go back, didn’t know how to go forward and so like the leper I took to begging.  I encountered a phrase in Isaiah 51:14 which spoke truth loudly to my pain and I claimed it as a lifeboat, “The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread.”  What started whispered sometimes in the privacy of the minivan would be yelled, stomach doubled over, anxiety sharp. I demanded healing because I could do nothing else.  The possibility of living in so much emotional pain was sparking anger with my children, sandpaper over the kindness of my marriage.  “Abba,” I cried, “don’t leave me this way!  Jesus, I know who You are, You are the healer and ‘The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread.’  If you so choose, You can make me well.”  Like the leper, I had watched others get healed, heard stories.

Francis MacNutt in one of his early tapes on healing gave an illustration of being with God, our Abba at a dinner table.  He asked us to imagine a scenario around the dinner table where we are asking our father for food.  “If you ask your Abba, ‘Abba, will you please pass the chicken?’ He is not going to deny one of His children:  He promises He is going to pass the chicken!”  We can be certain, Francis was reminding us, it is in His mission statement: He will always choose to release the captive, to heal brokenhearts, create beauty from ashes when the captive positions him or herself  before Him.

And through the next few months, the healing spread creating healthy scars with little emotional power left.  He touched and He healed and He proved time and time again that He is more than able and that it is His absolute joy to make all things new.

I told my friend still aching with her daughter’s pain about Journey and the hard work of healing and God’s intervention in my life.  She could lean on me and we would go together to Christ.  She could be fierce for her own freedom.  He, the Healer, the One who knows the landscape of her wounds, will always choose to meet her when she decides to take off her bandages.

Thankful:

for these women who with courage Journey with me

for a powerful God who does not leave us without HELP

for a Prayer Clinic where I get to stand on the edge of heaven and hell and healing with dear ones

for a church who is spreading healing from the inside out

for a senior pastor/rector, my husband, who allowed me to share this story, to preach redemption yesterday morning

for God who speaks truth at the point of my great need

The Holy Spirit who anoints, refreshes, builds

A husband who takes our beautiful children out on the ice to explore and fish in an icy world

 

Summer Gross

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