A minister decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon about Godly living.
He placed four worms into four separate jars.
The first worm was put into a container of Kentucky bourbon.
The second worm was put into a container of cigarette smoke.
The third worm was put into a container of Hershey s chocolate syrup.
The fourth worm was put into a container of good clean soil.
At the conclusion of the sermon, the Minister reported the following results:
The first worm in the bourbon – Dead.
The second worm in cigarette smoke – Dead.
Third worm in chocolate syrup – Dead.
Fourth worm in good clean soil – Alive.
So! the Minister asked the congregation – What can you learn from this demonstration? A little old woman in the back quickly raised her hand and said,
“As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won’t have worms!”
Many people in our culture are constantly looking for the right recipe for healthy living. We want to know what we should eat and how we should exercise in order to stay healthy and live longer. Diet fads come and go as quickly as the latest fashion trends. Popular magazines are full of ads for various drugs, products and procedures that promise everything from tighter thighs and whiter teeth, to a better IQ and so called natural cures for cancer. We want to be healthy and we want to be healed of everything that ails us.
Do you know what the Hebrew word for being healthy is? It is Shalem. Now, it s cousin Shalom is a term more familiar to us. Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace, peace in all things. For the Jew having Shalem (health) means more than just the absence of illness. To have Shalem means to be whole, complete, or sound, in the same way that to find peace Shalom means more than just the absence of war. And if we look closely at our Gospel reading for this morning we can see that Jesus was interested in more than just curing the leper he was interested in helping the leper find Shalem wholeness.
Let s look at the passage. The translation that we use says that Jesus was moved with pity when he met the leper and as a result he cured him. But many scholars question whether the Greek word in this case is really pity or anger. Our text says, Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. But it might be more accurate to say, Moved with anger, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him. I really prefer this second translation. Jesus didn t feel pity for this sick man. No one wants to be pitied. Rather, Jesus felt anger. He was angry because everywhere he went he encountered so many people devastated by illness. He was angry at the fact of suffering in the world. Moreover, the man in front of him had a terrible infirmity; his leprosy made him an outcast, a pariah from the rest of society. Lepers were shunned not only because their condition might be contagious but because the fact of their disease was also sign of some notorious sin. It seems clear to me that Jesus also felt anger at this man s ostracism from the rest of society, angry that he was considered an untouchable. And it was his anger, not pity, which moved Jesus to heal the leper.
In the early 90 s I used to give some of my free time to care for AIDS patients during the last stages of their illness. St. Mary s hospital bought one of those little houses in the neighborhood behind them and turned it into an AIDS hospice. Staffed by nurses and volunteers this hospice cared for AIDS victims who were dying and had nowhere else to go. Now in the early 90 s there were still many people who thought that it might be possible to catch AIDS by breathing the same air as an AIDS patient or by touching them. What s more in those days many people thought that if you had AIDS then you must have done something to deserve it. I can remember how disapproving many were when I told them I was involved in this ministry. Several people tried to talk me out of it. Even more people thought that I was simply young and naive. I can remember so clearly sitting in that hospice trying to comfort those poor suffering souls and feeling so angry. I was angry anyone had to die like this. I was angry that these sick people were alone in the world and angry that the rest of the community shunned them as sinful and contagious. The first time I laid hands on one of those patients to bless them I literally remember thinking to myself if Jesus could touch a leper then I can touch this person in need.
C.S. Lewis once said, The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men (and women) into Christ, to make them little Christ s. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. If you buy this idea then Jesus will to heal and his touching the untouchable offer you and me a model for our own ministries. You and I are called to be healers who react to sickness and suffering with the same sense of righteous anger that Jesus felt. You see, Jesus not only wanted to heal the leper physically but he wanted to restore this man spiritually and socially as well. When he sent the leper to be certified by the priest, according to the law of Moses, this meant it was his desire to see the man healed as well as cured. Then he could return to the community accepted, reinstated.1 Jesus gave the leper back his health but he also gave him back his humanity. How often are we willing to reach out to another in order to heal? Perhaps we don t have the skills of a physician to heal bodies, but we do have the power to heal relationships, to heal lives, to heal souls. As followers of Jesus you and I are called to do all that we can to bring about Shalem not only in our own lives but also in the lives of those around us. The question is do we have the faith and love to reach out our hands to the unappealing, the socially unacceptable and the outcasts? Do we have the faith to see others transformed from the inside out? Do we have the faith to reach out and touch another human being who needs our friendship, who needs our acceptance, who needs our compassion in order to find their Shalem, in order to find their health and wholeness?
1 H. King Oehmig.