Monday, March 2, 2009

I, Leper

Second Sunday of Lent—of the Leper (Luke 5.12-16).

I thought today about what the leper’s cleansing meant to him. He was sent to the Temple to make the requisite offering before the priests (and who is the “them” to whom his healing was to be a witness?), but was he more excited about being reconciled to his parents? wife? children? best friend? How long had it been since he last ate a meal with childhood friends? tousled his son’s hair? kissed his wife? made his parents dinner?

Leprosy: alienation from God and man. It’s not difficult to see why the Fathers moved so easily from his leprosy to another disease, quite certainly a greater one. Sin: hatta, hamartia, missing the mark, heading off-course, going the wrong way, running into a wall, sawing the limb I’m sitting on.

Sometimes I wonder if the leper was more fortunate: at least his disease was known both to himself and others around him. Sin, on the other hand, is so often locked up in private closets, hidden in the heart’s cobwebbed corners and, maybe worst of all, buried far beneath the anxious, self-protecting layers of own consciousness. That’s where they fester best, I think.

“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” Sometimes I have to ask the Lord if He wills it because I’m pretty sure I don’t. I mean, I’ve gotten pretty used to living outside the city, you see? I’ve gotten used to alienation, being an outcast. I relish in that kind of pain sometimes—sometimes it hurts so good to be a victim, to know that the trajectory and the outcome of my life are not in my hands. It’s a rut I’ve learned to like.

But the word, His word—always this word: “I will. Be made clean.” Could He actually want this? More than I do?

“Eschatological power,” one New Testament scholar calls it—the energy that goes out from Jesus and turns the tide on the whole world. I might’ve gotten used to uncleanness trumping cleanness, sin overshadowing goodness, but His power reverses what I’d come to believe was a law. His cleanness is contagious because it comes from God’s future where everything in creation is as it can be, as it was meant to be—the future which bursts into time with every “In the Name of the Father…”, or “Blessed is the Kingdom…” or “Mary who brought Thee forth….”

“Lord, if you will.” How risky, to start a prayer like that.

And what if what He wills is more than what I will? Something I’ve never dreamed of bargaining for?


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