Lepers and soup

Published 2:22 pm Saturday, February 15, 2014

by Brandon Robbins

One day, Jesus was walking down from a mountain when a man with leprosy came and knelt before him.

Now one of the things that you must understand about leprosy in Jesus’ day is that it was perhaps the most painful of all diseases. The pain, however, wasn’t so much physical pain. In fact, often, leprosy would cause a person to lose feeling in the infected parts of their body. No, the pain form leprosy was social, emotional.

To be marked as a leper was to be instantly ostracized by society. In the Old Testament, it says that all people with such skin diseases “must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’… and as long as they have the disease…they must live alone…outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-46).  So, not only did they have to make their affliction obvious to everyone who passed them by, they were also prohibited from having any form of interaction with them.

Just imagine how lonely this sort of life would have been. To not be able to have any form of human contact – physical, emotional, relational – would have been almost too much to bear.  Some saw the pain of this disease to be so great that whenever a person was healed of leprosy, they compared it to resurrection, a transformation from death to a completely new life.

And that’s exactly what this man is seeking as he approached Jesus. The man with leprosy kneels before Jesus and says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). You can almost hear the desperation in his voice. Perhaps he has tried dozens of remedies, doctors, late-night infomercials, but nothing has helped. He has lived his entire life with the sting of social rejection. But when Jesus passes, he has a real hope that things might change.

While we don’t have much experience with leprosy in our society, there are other diseases that impart upon us the same level of fear and loneliness. I remember, several years ago, watching a family friend undergo chemotherapy and other forms of cancer treatment. She was clearly afraid, terrified of the idea of leaving her young daughter behind without her. And while people offered her much more compassion than was afforded to people with leprosy in the first century, she definitely endured loneliness – the loneliness that came from losing the hair she’d taken for granted her whole life, the loneliness of hospital rooms and treatment centers, the loneliness of feeling as if she were the only person in the world who truly understood what she was going through.

There is truly worse pain in this world than physical trauma. The sting of emotional and relational wounds seems to slice much deeper and heal much more slowly. But just like the man who waited at the base of that mountain, I, too, believe there is hope in Jesus.

I believe that there is hope in the one who can make storms to cease, diseases to be cured and the dead to walk again. And I believe that there is hope in his church, his body as the Bible calls it, his hand and feet that remain here on this earth in those who follow him.

That’s why, on Sunday, Feb. 23 at Courtland United Methodist Church, we are planning to spread some of that hope to those who desperately need it. Right after our morning worship service (so, around 12:15 p.m.), we will be hosting a lunch called “Souper Sunday” in which we will be serving an amazing array of soups and desserts. All are welcome. There is no set cost, but a love offering will be accepted, all of which will be going to support local Relay4Life teams. During the lunch, we will be sharing some of the ways that Relay4Life provides hope to people in our community, and why our church sees such great value in supporting it.

The truth is, far too many of us know the pain of the man with leprosy. We may not share the same physical ailment, but we know his emotional pain. We know the need for hope. And I believe Jesus is where we will find it.

So may you look to Jesus to be your hope and salvation. May you share his love with others, that they too may be freed from pain. And may you consider coming to our Souper Sunday lunch, that together we might spread a small measure of hope to those struggling with cancer in our community.

BRANDON ROBBINS is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or pastor@courtlandumcva.org.