1 Church Street
East Harwich, MA 02645
First Sunday in Lent
21 February 2021
Treasure: What is Valuable
Matthew 8: 1-4
The Rev Dr Dianne ES Carpenter
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 4 Jesus calls his disciples and begins teaching and healing. As chapter 5 opens we see Jesus climb about half way up the mountain side overlooking the Sea of Galilee and he begins with “The Beatitudes” and teachs and interprets the law for 3 chapters on all manner of life situations including giving us the Lord’s Prayer in chapter 6 and in chapter 7 the verses:
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
As chapter 8 opens we hear:
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” – Matt 8: 1-4
When we want to bless people we often think about bestowing the wish that they might be or become Healthy, Wealthy and Wise
What is valuable in life: Our Health, Our Resources and Our ability to make wise choices. Having just taught the crowds that followed Him that God cares and is willing to respond to our needs Jesus is presented with an opportunity to do just that: Respond to the Leper’s request for healing.
Jesus comes down the mountain and the crowd is probably still hanging around Him. He starts for his next destination with the disciples close at hand and suddenly the people around him shrink back, back, back: why? A man with leprosy – an outcast – a dangerous person is coming too close… this man stops Jesus’ progress by kneeling before him and crying
Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.”
To which Jesus responded by stretching out his hand and touching him and saying,
“I do choose. Be made clean!”
Leprosy is a greatly mistranslated word in the Biblical literature and it was the label for an assortment of conditions. The root of the Hebrew noun that is used in the Old Testament (often accompanied by the word for “plague”) probably means affliction, prostration, or defilement; it designates, depending on the context, a condition of ritual or cultic uncleanliness manifested in certain skin disorders and blemishes. (likely a mixture of folks with everything from boils to simple eczema) To be unclean was to be a threat of pollution to the community.
People thus designated were suffering in many ways: they were outcast – unable to live among their relations or participate in any social or religious customs or work and therefore were not allowed in the marketplace as customer or merchant. They were unemployed and unemployable.
Martin Wilson in a book Titled Healing in the Gospel of Matthew states:
“Viewed in the shadow of the cross, Jesus’ ministry of healing can be seen as an extension of his solidarity with human suffering, especially the suffering of those who have been “abandoned” by society. The bodies of those healed, meanwhile, are marked by the power of the divine to create new life out of hopelessness, their stories representing new chapters in the rewritten narrative of human suffering.” (pg. 90)
Becoming more “whole” should not equate with perfection. Our Holy Vessels of body, mind, spirit, and community will always be diverse in form. In a culture where particular “images” of beauty and wholeness take precedent over others, we must offer a different vision of healing that simply means transformation such as namely “new life out of hopelessness.”
We need to expand the concept of healing to mean the way in which we deal with our various limits, personal and communal. We can deal with these in a compassionate way for ourselves and others, or not. In my opinion a lack of compassion is the sin we bear… whether compassion for ourselves or others persons.
All of us have experienced a time when we have felt left out of a group, felt like we did not belong, felt like we were not perhaps “good enough.” We can feel some level of empathy with the man with leprosy. But I imagine not many of us have gone through something so dramatic as to be completely socially exiled. After Jr. and Sr. Highschool in our diverse society we find our place. We are privileged.
A Leper has come to be a metaphor for anyone who is outcast. You might become a leper because of what you think or feel or the way you look! We crave a sense of belonging – we fear the unknown – as this pandemic was clearly very contagious we have felt isolated behind masks and fearful of proximity only to feel helpless and hopeless.
Can you imagine why this man would want to go back to the temple? The worshiping community, despite its shortcomings, must have offered something to this child of God that he could not find somewhere else.
What kind of hope and healing do we come to religion seeking? More specifically what kind of hope and healing do we come to Harwich United Methodist Church seeking?
Suffering is a part of life. When pain comes and brokenness enters our lives, Jesus reaches out to touch and remind us of the Treasure that we all are –We are worthy of new life in the midst of hopelessness. This year when the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our world, we begin by affirming our journey to physical health.
To be valuable and loved, prayed for and touched is God’s plan for human beings. And so this text invites us to think about what our communities offer to those in pain. A healthy society is a healthy society… a society that cares for the health and wellbeing of the people afflicted by little understood and often frightening mental, emotional and psychological plagues. A healthy society has exhausted the alternatives to lives wasted in prisons before locking people away, Many people are literally imprisoned and others are isolated- figuratively imprisoned- because they are ignored or outside the embrace of the community.
In what ways are we stigmatizing certain kinds of pain?
How are we promoting physical health, wholeness, and healing?
Jesus’ touch of the leper was an outrageous act. By doing it, he signaled that these people were not outside of the kin-dom of God, nor ought they be outside of the love of the community itself. They are family, worthy of touch and inclusion. Are we willing to be outrageous for the sake of our brothers and sisters?
Which leads us to consider the ways our communities exclude others, the boundaries we create, the boundaries we transcend. The leper was considered unclean. It does make sense that a community would fear a person with a skin disease. What if it was contagious? Communities create boundaries for good reasons, for self-preservation and to create a strong sense of identity and purpose. The problem is when our boundaries go unchecked and unquestioned.
Jesus crosses social boundaries in every way imaginable. Jesus teaches us that the boundaries we thought were helping us might actually be hurting us and hurting others. As we look at our community we know we need more inclusion across economic lines. We need more affordable housing and food security.
Ancient peoples often depicted illness as the consequences of sin. And this strain of thought continues to hang around today, for some subconsciously and for others overtly. It can really damage our self-worth if we have not been the perpetrators of the conditions of brokenness. Modern science helps us understand that illness and disease do not always happen because we have done something wrong. But we can confess the times we have contributed to the conditions of brokenness and need for healing. If we understand sin as separation or alienation, we might frame the relationship of sin and brokenness (including illness), this way: if I am alienated from my own body, my own needs, I may exacerbate the conditions of brokenness (addiction, lack of rest, lack of seeking medical attention). If I am alienated from a sense of coresponsibility for the well-being of others, I can certainly create the conditions of brokenness (abuse, unsafe practices that affect others, carelessness). If I do not recognize the inherent worth of others, especially those not “like me” or ignore my own complicit involvement in systems of oppression, I create more brokenness and less healing in the world.
Beach glass begins as something whole and yet discarded. As it is tumbled by the sea, it is broken and polished until it becomes a treasured “mineral gem.” In a year when pandemic has wreaked havoc on our world, we begin by affirming our journey to physical health.
We are all treasured by God. We are beautiful. We belong. How can we help people feel this deeply?