For all of us who have been through the pandemic, we know first-hand how disease and sickness have a way of separating us, how they can isolate and cut us off from the rest of life.
That theme of disease causing isolation shows up dramatically in the Scriptures. There’s the ostracized leper, Naaman, along with those ten unfortunates in Samaria who are under the same curse. Both the pandemic and these bible figures raise a perennial question: how does a person of faith face suffering, and especially the exclusion that can go with it?
A first impulse might be to retreat into oneself and in a flood of self-pity withdraw from all else. But the road of faith leads in at least two other directions — inward and outward. Inward toward the God living right within us, and outward toward yet unimagined possibilities for fuller life.
In the Old Testament, Naaman the leper models these options. He is not a Hebrew, but rather than letting his disease close him in, he allows it to lead him to further possibilities. They are the depths he senses in the message of Elisha the prophet as he proclaims belief in Yahweh, the God of Israel. Deep in his heart, Naaman feels the pull of the prophet’s words and so reaches for the healing presence held out. Rather than causing isolation, his stance brings him consolation. What he does with his stigma is allow it to open himself to new life, to a wider and God-filled world.
A similar lesson comes from those ten other lepers in the New Testament. Rather than stepping back in self-pity, they move ahead toward this foreigner from Nazareth. With hearts wide open, they cry out ,”Jesus, have pity on us” — and Jesus does just that. One of them, however, looks not only outward but also inward, realizing where his healing is coming from. He is the exception, tuning in as he does to God’s loving presence as it flows out through this Jesus. This tenth leper spills over in gratitude because he is consciously in touch with the goodness of Jesus’ Father.
We return to that isolation brought on by sickness and suffering — and the challenge a disciple of Jesus hears in the face of it. As with the lepers, the call is to go deeper — deeper into one’s own self — and while there reach for the warmth and glimmer of God’s closeness. But also to go wider, opening up to yet unthought of directions that are inspired by Jesus’ Spirit and hopefully embodied by God’s people.
Naaman, those ten outcasts, and especially the one grateful leper point us toward wider horizons which reach both within and without. These believers would move us from isolation to connection. They would have us hear Jesus’ words of healing being spoken again in our own day, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
In a conference, Vincent mentions how his headquarters in Paris was once a leprosarium, but goes on to say how it turned to minister to a leprosy of another kind.
This house, Messieurs, was formerly a refuge for lepers; they were welcomed in it, and not one of them was cured. Now it’s used to welcome sinners, sick persons covered with spiritual leprosy, but who are cured by the grace of God. Or rather, let’s say that they’re dead persons who have come back to life. What happiness that the Saint-Lazare house should be a place of resurrection! (Volume: 11 | Page#: 13) Retreat Ministry added on 6/28/2011