A new look at leprosy … and numbness … Reflections on the Sunday Gospel from Mark 1:40-45 by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

“A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)  That’s in this Sunday’s gospel.

from Community Eye Health
from Community Eye Health

Leprosy is a disease that affects nerves. Most people think about leprosy as a horrible skin disorder. But that’s only part of the story. Leprosy tragically affects the nerves of the body, especially in the hands and feet. Leprosy stops people from “feeling.” So for example, someone with leprosy might not “feel” the red hot pot on a stove. Their bare hands would be terribly burned. Because there’s no feeling. Leprosy creates numbness.

Leprosy can also be a “spiritual” affliction, something under the skin. Some call it “leprosy of the heart.”

It’s an overall, generalized “numbness” that deadens our feelings and reactions to life.

Because we’re so busy and distracted we can become “numb” to what’s really going on with our kids or spouse.

Because we “overdose” on  headline news and stories of terrible things happening all over the world, we can be “numb” to the pain of the co-worker sitting a few feet away.

Because we’re surrounded so much noise and distraction, we can be “numb” to our own feelings and emotions. (One day, someone tells us how angry we get over the smallest thing. Or, that we’re no longer fun to be around. Or, that we’re so “negative.” Then we wonder, “How long have I been like this? How long have I been “numb” to what I’ve become?)

Numb by Tony Alter
Numb by Tony Alter

Part of healing involves assessing our own personal leprosy or numbness. It might mean asking some hard questions of ourselves. It might mean making some daily  lifestyle changes. It might mean changing our circle of friends if they are people who seem content with their “numbness.”

(Let’s remember that lots of folks actually pursue “numbness” through alcohol, workaholism and drugs, so… we may need to make some new friends!)

Above all, the path to healing requires asking God  for the grace needed to live a fuller, more abundant life: Day by day, hour by hour, situation by situation. Healing is rarely self-induced. It requires openness to a power that is bigger and higher than ourselves.

If you can at least allow yourself to “feel” the need within yourself, you’ve taken the first step toward healing. Pray for the “nerve” to go further.

copyright 2015 Steven Michael LaBaire

Artwork: photo of Father LeBaire by Susan Bailey; “Leprosy” by Community Eye Health. Community Eye Health–Elderly multiple disabled multibacillary (MB) leprosy patients with a long history of disease are most at risk of developing severe eye complications and blindness.
© Swapan Samantha, IS Roy. Flickr Creative Commons; “Numb” by Tony Alter (Pink Floyd Comfortably Numb Lyrics; Songwriters: WATERS, ROGER / GILMOUR, DAVID JON) Flickr Creative Commons

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The Gift of Pain – guest post by The Holy Rover, Lori Erikson

Lori Erikson is an Episcopalian minister who writes a beautiful blog which I have featured here previously known as The Holy Rover. I would like to highlight her homily from Sunday, October 13, based upon the Gospel of St. Luke depicting the ten lepers begging Jesus for healing and the one who returns in gratitude.

This, however, is not a homily about gratitude but the story of a remarkable doctor, his discovery about leprosy and most importantly, what that discovery has to say about the value of pain.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

jesus as healerIn the Gospel reading this morning, we encounter the most feared, isolated, and vulnerable people in the Bible: lepers. Ten of them have been healed by Jesus, but only one comes back to give him thanks. We are meant to notice the fact that this man is a Samaritan, a member of a group considered to be social and religious outcasts by most Jews of the day. While the other nine rush off to begin their new lives, only one returns to express his gratitude to Jesus for the miraculous transformation he has undergone.

There are nearly 70 references to leprosy in the Bible, which is not surprising given the fact that it was the most dreaded disease in the ancient world. Biblical scholars say the term likely included a wide range of skin conditions, of which the most devastating was the illness that is now termed Hansen’s Disease. In Jesus’ day, this virulent bacterial infection not only crippled people’s bodies: it also robbed them of their home, family, community, livelihood, and dignity. Because of the contagious nature of the disease, a leper was cast out from society, reduced to begging for food and prohibited from participating in religious rituals. It is no wonder that lepers dogged Jesus’ steps, for once it became known that he was someone who could heal this deadly affliction, they must have flocked to him at every opportunity.

While leprosy has not been completely eradicated in the world, its terrors are greatly lessened because of advances in medical treatments. The story of how these breakthroughs were made is recounted in a fascinating book by physician Paul Brand. Published in 1993, it bears the seemingly contradictory title The Gift of Pain. I’d like to tell you about it today as kind modern-day parable of healing, one with surprising implications for our own lives.

Click here to read this post in full.

Click to Tweet & Share: The Gift of Pain – guest post by Lori Erikson @holyrover http://wp.me/p2D9hg-w0

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