July 29th 2018
Speaker: Brother Newman Cheung, Member of The Executive Committee
Passage: Mark 1:40-45
We are all God’s children but since ancient times we have designed barriers to separate people for socio-political reasons. Not only is this a physical separation but it manifests into mental barriers and spiritual ones where we create our own division with God. Let’s see how the story of the leper and Jesus teaches us to mend this relationship.
Our natural tendencies to judge a book by its cover
I recreated a quick social experiment during the sermon. 3 men were displayed on the screen and you are asked to critique on them.
The congregation reacted with comments mostly on their physiques and external features that relate to the individuals.
In the second round, 2 women were shown the slides and the parishioners are asked to give encouraging comments.
Most of the comments the congregation gave revolved around the inner beauty and personality of the individuals.
Without actually knowing any of them personally, we made our own biased conclusions based on their looks.
For things we don’t fully understand we fall back to what we do know and make quick assumptions, sometimes at the expense of another’s well being.
Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy
40 A man with leprosy[a] came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Jesus was indignant.[b] He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
The Greek word traditionally translated leprosy as an umbrella term for various diseases affecting the skin. One could have had a pimple or simple lesion on the skin and be isolated from the whole community. The stigma was great and healthy citizens would discriminate against the lepers and isolate them. It is not unlike our simple experiment where we judge others by their physical appearance and separating them.
Miracles and their pitfall
Many conventional churches choose to focus on the miracle healing Jesus provided to the leper and choose to project a transactional relationship with God.
Do we pray just to ask for these earthly ephemeral goods and solutions? When God doesn’t do what we ask we are prone to turn our backs on Him.
An immature relationship with God doesn’t only set us apart from Him but our pride takes over and we start casting blame on those who are less fortunate for their lack of faith. Suddenly, if a neighbor is suffering, we narrowly focus on what sin he must have committed to deserve this treatment. The love and compassion Jesus has been calling us to exemplify are forgotten.
Courage Leading to Faith
For the leper, it was a risk to him to enter the village. Everyone would be yelling at him and question why he is not isolating himself. Even with these difficulties he still chooses to find Jesus. This courage is something we all need. When we fear our conditions so much we can’t even muster the courage to face Jesus that is when we push him away.
I struggled with very serious eczema growing up. It marks my entire back with scars. It is itchy and shameful to the point I don’t want others to touch me or come close to me. I don’t want others to think any less of me when they learn of it.
Every day I pray for my sins to go away, berating myself because I’m not worthy of God’s love and that’s why I am punished for this lifelong ailment. I’m never good enough for God.
My perspective changed when I met Pastor Joe and joined GSKL’s Kingdom Culture retreat in Malaysia a couple of years back. One of the participants was a dermatologist. I wasn’t hoping some miracle prayer to cure my ailment.
Love and Acceptance Happened– Not some Miracle Cure
The doctor looked at my back and concluded it wasn’t that big of a deal and prescribed some run of the mill ointment for my condition. Then Joe gave me a genuine hug with all his heart. At that moment all the false images and negative thoughts about myself just melted away. I felt genuine care and love from another person, it was a feeling I haven’t felt for so long because I was too scared to be this close to another soul.
Overcoming Uncleanliness, Overcoming Labels
I was dumbstruck that the doctor considered my ailment “not the worst”. He was right. I stand here today steadfast and in control of my eczema. Turns out eczema is strongly related to stress and emotions. All I really had to learn was the courage to step out of my comfort zone. Like the leper, I’m no longer afraid of myself my uncleanliness. These labels will not stop me from expressing and receiving love from Jesus and from my brothers and sisters.
Do we call ourselves unclean? Do we have such low esteem and chain ourselves to such poor self-image that we push away people who love us? When we learn to let go of this not only do we have a healthier body and mind but also we find God’s love within.
Stop beating up yourself. We are more beautiful than we think.