I, Leper

Lately, I have been going through quite a few changes in my life. After graduating from an Internship program, transitioning back into “normal” life has been difficult to a degree; often seeming as though everything is working against me as I try to adjust to a new schedule, work, and home life. This time is not without benefit, however! Not only has Holy Spirit been teaching many new things, refreshing me on old things, and urging me forward, but I have also been blessed with an amazing wife; having gotten married just last week.

Admittedly, this past couple of months has been brutal in a few ways, almost pushing me to my limit at times. It seems that every time I get ahead there’s a setback, from losing job opportunities to my car breaking down. Thank God that I have a wife who corrects me, encourages me, and edifies me in so many ways! She has absolutely been a light to me in this season!

That happens though, right? Life swings at us, one solid haymaker to the jaw, and we cave under the pressure… I would be remiss to say that I haven’t dealt with some aggravation during all of this, however, through this the Father has taught me so many incredible things. Often times, when life throws those punches, it is easy for us to get caught up in the fight and wear ourselves out forgetting that He has already overcome the world. It is hard to fight an enemy that is already defeated, albeit easy to become worn out when you’re swinging at air.

The truth is that, for the most part, we can tend to get distracted by ourselves and forget that He has overcome the world. That includes what we are going through. Everything that we face, He faced. Everything that we feel, He felt. Everything that we experience, He experienced. The only difference is that He defeated it, and so much more often than not we find ourselves getting hung up on it defeating us… Which doesn’t really make any sense at all when you think about it. We say that we believe He overcame the world and then act as though the world can overcome us. We say that we are victorious, but then we cave in under the pressure of the issues of life as though we are defeated. If Christ has overcome the world and it is Him Who lives in us, then He has overcome the world in us.

While thinking on these things, and dealing with some personal pride, Holy Spirit returned some punches to the issues that were on my heart and it hit me like a ton of bricks (for the lack of a better analogy). We all know how easy it is to get lost in the idea that what we are going through is too much, that the stress is too hard to handle, or that if things keep going a certain way we should just give up. We all know how easy it is to begin to let the circumstances we face define us and even affect the way that we conduct ourselves. When our circumstances become so bad, according to our own perception, that they begin to affect how we treat others then we forget that we are called to love others despite our circumstances. I really want to focus on this particular issue in this article.

While I was driving one day, heading to interview for a job opportunity, I began to become impatient. Sitting at a red light, behind a slow driver, having already lost a couple of job opportunities, I was finding it difficult to keep from becoming altogether angry with how things were going— I had put in so much effort, time, patience, so much of myself into things and it seemed as though everything was working against me— so I began to pray. Later that night, while watching a movie, my focus was drawn to a specific scene in the film where Christ embraces a leper who was being beaten and chased away by some villagers.

The floodgates of my tear ducts opened as I watched the scene play out and, as I sat there sobbing, Holy Spirit said to me “The fullness of the living and effectual love of Christ is made evident in His unwavering and compassionate embrace of the leper who, despite being cast out and despised by family and community, was not deemed unworthy of His affection.”

That sounds complicated, I know, but hear me out. At the time I was relating to the leper. I felt as though everyone was chasing me out of the village. I felt that after I was no longer labeled as a volunteer, I was no longer useful at all. I felt that people were turning against me and that my character was being attacked. At the time He needed to give me something to think about and that certainly did the trick!

Of course, there have been many other times that I have felt like a leper. Truthfully I am certain that for the most part all of us have at the very least five experiences in our lives where we could relate to the leper. I can’t speak for anyone else but, in my case, I remember what it was like to be stared at and laughed at as a child because I only had one arm. I remember what it was like not to be picked for certain things because people thought I would be incapable or would have limited capability. I remember distinctly the feelings of hurt associated with being turned down for jobs because of my appearance, left behind by “friends” because I no longer suited them and their lifestyles.

Hopefully, I’m getting the point across! At some point, whether as a child or an adult we have all experienced the very same pain associated with being pushed out, chased away, or left behind in some area of our lives. That is simply the way of the world, we will experience hurt. The harder thing to admit, though, is that at some point we have been the ones to inflict hurt in someone else’s life. It’s easy to say that we know how the leper felt in that situation and that we can relate, but much harder to openly say that we could in some ways also relate to those who were chasing him out. The great thing about Jesus is that His love is the same for the leper AND those who were persecuting him.

The most important thing that we can do in this life is to love God, and love others. Ironically, if we do one we do the other. If we love God we will love our neighbor, and if we are loving our neighbor we are loving God. Love is the greatest of our duties as children of God and we say that we love, but do we really?

When someone “comes out of the closet” and we kick them out of the church, tell them that they should not lead or be in a small group, or no longer speak to them as a friend are we really loving them? When someone flips us off in traffic or yells obscene things at us and we react in anger are we really loving them? It’s easy to say that we love until we’re in line behind someone with two carts full of groceries at the store, or behind someone taking a few seconds too long to go when the light turns green. In those situations we often find ourselves becoming aggravated and assuming things that may not be true; i.e. “Great… they get food stamps and they have to get everything at once…” or “Come on! Stop looking at your phone and go!!!!!” Assumptions that may be entirely untrue, become judgments of people who may not be doing what we are projecting on them. When we do this, we make them the leper and we become the people persecuting them.

For instance, just today, I was at a store here in town and as I approached the checkout this lady gets there before I am able to. This shouldn’t be too bad because she got there first, so it’s fair, but this particular lady had a cart packed to the brim with things. It was so full things were almost falling out. Now, it could be easy to get aggravated and assume that she was there to get things with food stamps even though she had what was clearly a new phone and nice clothes but in reality, she was there to get food for a daycare for the week. My point? Making a judgment in that situation could have put me in the position of the persecutor and her in the position of the leper, and unrightfully so. We say that we love, but in truth more of us get caught up in agitation over those little things than we like to admit and when we do we make them the metaphorical leper.

Leprosy in the bible is something that we look at and imagine a person who is horribly disfigured and unclean when in reality the Old Testament (OT) Aramaic term covered a variety of things, not simply one disease. In fact, the word leprosy wasn’t even used until the bible was translated into Latin. The term used in the Old Testament, TSARA’ATH, included a variety of ailments and referred primarily to uncleanness according to biblical standards. This symbolism also extended to things, not just people, and could affect anything from leather to the walls of a home.

Even then, the Latin translation of leprosy from the Greek “lepros or lepra” is a more specific translation than the Ancient Aramaic TSARA’ATH. Where the New Testament lepros or lepra refer to a specific disease, the one that we imagine when thinking of a leper, the very same disease was not TSARA’ATH; though TSARA’ATH did include this disease. In fact, the OT “leprosy” we’re thinking of had a different name entirely, ELEPHANTIASIS or ELEPHAS (not to be confused with Elephantitis, think the movie The Elephant Man), and was only a part of the much broader TSARA’ATH.
Furthermore, the disease ELEPHAS (Hebrew) and Lepros (Greek) was not even all that contagious. STICK WITH ME there’s a point that I am getting to.

Although we have a tendency to think that it was very easy to contract, the truth of the disease is that it was rather hard to contract. The bacillus Mycobacterium leprae can only be spread from bodily fluids, namely the mouth and nasal fluids, so unless you were going around drinking after, kissing, or being sneezed on by someone afflicted with leprosy your chances of catching weren’t all that high; you certainly CANNOT contract it simply from touching them as the misconception commonly assumes.

My point is that Jesus was not blind to this when He went around hugging them, yet it was common practice in the culture of the time (even still in some places to this day) to separate lepers entirely. To think that lepers needed to be separated because it was so contagious is a mindset issue, not an issue based on reality.

Leprosy itself has been used for millennia as symbolism for the punishment of sin, yet sin has been forgiven and leprosy still exists to this day. I present to you that the symbolism of the leper, however, has not lost its potency! How often do we cast people out because they don’t meet our standard of normality or righteousness? How often do we cast out someone who has “come out of the closet,” rather than counsel them? How often do we get aggravated at the person in front of us at the checkout, rather than help them load their groceries onto the conveyor belt? We still cast out those who do not meet our standards, the same as we are cast by those whose standards we do not meet and that is not love; not even in the smallest of ways is it love!

The ugly truth is that our own opinions, perceptions, and ideas often reflect that of the culture of our society than they do those of Christ. If this wasn’t true the person with two carts full of groceries, the person taking too long at the green light, the person who came out of the closet, the person who said something bad about us behind our back, or anyone who has ever done us wrong or done any wrong at all, in any way, would not cause a negative response to arise in us!

I go back to what Holy Spirit told me that day, “The fullness of the living and effectual love of Christ is made evident in His unwavering and compassionate embrace of the leper who, despite being cast out and despised by family and community, was not deemed unworthy of His affection.” Our actions toward others, whether they have done us wrong or done wrong in any way, should by no means reflect the opinion of the culture of the world but of Christ; Who walked up and embraced the lepers!

Our circumstances should never cause us to react negatively to another, for any reason, rather they should urge us to reach out and embrace them! Help pay for some of those groceries, gladly wait a few seconds longer at the green light, invite the person who came out of the closet into your home and show them what it is to truly be loved; more likely than not they do not know what it is to truly be loved so they are seeking it elsewhere!

To live our lives in a way that reflects Christ we must rid ourselves of the perceptions and opinions of society or worldly culture, and put on the perception of the Father who loves generously and without preference!

For the sake of those who may be reading this, I will end this article here and continue it later! Making a series of this is more preferential than writing it all at once, so I thank you for your time and pray that it blessed you in some way! I look forward to seeing you all again soon! God bless!

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