Touching the Untouchable! Reflections on Garbo Sunday
The study of the Bible is absolutely necessary for the nourishment of Christian life. The facts which the Scriptures present are the basis of faith in the Trinitarian God. Acquaintance with these prophetic and devotional facts in the light of the contemporary world realities is the only sensible means to imbibe and disseminate a true dynamic Christian faith. The nourishment of the Scriptures is necessary to the spiritual life as that of food to the body. The following Bible study is based on the Gospel reading on the ‘Sunday of the Leper’ from St. Luke 5: 12-16; and St. Luke 4: 40-42.
And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.” However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed (St. Luke 5: 12-16).
When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!” And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ (St. Luke 4: 40-42).
To me these beautiful verses portrait various dimensions of Jesus ministry; for example his Gospel ministry, Social ministry, Prayer ministry, and Healing ministry are all mentioned here in an integrated fashion. The beginning of chapter five depicts Jesus gospel ministry; And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men” (St. Luke 5:10). This is followed by a portrait of Jesus social ministry; a depiction of his interaction with a marginalized, stigmatized and dehumanized leper is portrayed followed by a miracle of healing. Finally, Jesus prayer ministry is also depicted; he went to wilderness for prayer and to refuel the spirituality for sustaining his ministry.
Let’s have a look at the context of Jesus social and healing ministry with the leaper. Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him (St. Luke 5: 13). If you look into this story, cracking the healing part, it is very clear that Jesus did something unconventional! He challenged the cultural misconceptions and social prejudice by ‘touching a leper’. The word challenging has got different meanings to different people. What does challenging means? Challenging does not mean ‘shoot first and ask questions later’, or disobeying parents or elders. Believe me sometimes they are sick, idiosyncratic in their value systems and Hippocratic! But challenging does not mean raise voice against something that stands in our way, I mean against our freedom of choice, our freedom to dress, to talk or to date!
The term challenging has got a social meaning and implication, especially in a Christian context. Number one, it assumes that we human beings are capable of using our freedom in a responsible way. Imagine you are standing on the top of the Sears Tower. You can see the traffic, cars and trucks moving on the road like ants marching. When you watched closely you could see a car moving in the wrong direction. You could easily anticipate that it’s going to hit another car coming in the opposite direction. Can you do something? Of course something can be done; but the point here is there are traffic rules and regulations and the car driver is supposed to follow them. She has the freedom to travel in wherever way she likes, the only presumption is that she will have to follow the driving regulations or rules. Friends, it’s up to us, whether to follow the right way or to head against the expectations; this is a kind of irresponsible and aimless challenging! Moreover, it’s our choice whether we want to enjoy the ‘myth of total freedom’ or behave in a responsible way.
Number two, challenging in a Christian context aims at social transformation. Social transformation is not a familiar concept in the Orthodox context. But it’s very important to live in the current sociopolitical context and to meaningfully involve and live in the present. Many times we are ignorant about the political and economic chaos and struggles around us. We may have little idea about what is happening in Syria or in Egypt; May not even heard that the fast-food employees in New York are on strike demanding minimum wages. The people and the world around us are going through various turmoil and challenges. What I’m trying to say is as an Orthodox Christian youth we also should get exposed to the social transformation activities like human rights-non-violence movements, Anti-war movements, and free software movements! The spirit of this argument is the bottom-line of Christian ideology; never dissociate our faith and life with the society, culture, art, work or with politics.
Young adulthood is the best time in human lifespan. You guys are full of energy, you guys look for fun, you guys look for innovation, and I believe you can also take part in Jesus social ministry. As we become older our energy level and enthusiasm declines. I believe in the power of youth. Take my words, the youth in our church can do lot of challenging activities in the ministry of social transformation.
Follow the daily news, not the Cowboy or Mavericks insider; but news about what is happening around the world. Get updated about people’s struggle like what is happening in Wall Street in New York? Who is helped by raising the minimum wages? Why does the richest country (USA) in the world have the second highest child poverty? Why the land of the free is the home of the world’s largest prison population? Many youths are very alive in the social networking sites. Get involved in the social campaigns for peace, justice and humanity by sharing or liking in Facebook or twitter. You may think you have better works to do, I know, but keep an eye on this too.
Why I’m saying this because, we should acknowledge one thing: the so called freedom we enjoy and the rights we have is not our privilege! We enjoy freedom because somebody fought for us sometime back and it’s truly Christian to do something back to society. Moreover, it’s a Christian ministry to take care of our fellow beings and our environment.
The bible verses says Jesus touched the leper; touching the leaper reflects the call for not to ‘discriminate’ anyone based on illness, cast, class, sex, race or even based on sexual preferences. This may be controversial, but the Kingdom of God is for everyone. Remember, touching a leper was controversial at the time of Jesus, but not in the 21st century. Believe in the magic of time and walk ahead of time!
At a more personal level, we can see Jesus is ‘empathizing’ with a leper. I mean there is an action component, not just the faith alone- he touched and healed. A proactive action is much higher than simply sympathizing (which we frequently do in our daily life). We feel sorry about a lot of things, we feel sorry about others illness, others fate, others helpless situations. We may say one hundred times that ‘I feel sorry about him/ her’ but there is any action. Of course it is easy to sympathize and move on with our busy schedule. And that’s quite okay. But do something meaningful in your daily life (at least occasionally!) that can relieve someone’s stress, pain, or burden.
If possible, get involved in volunteer work, be a good listener, listen to someone, especially listen to old people, listen to their stories (Please, do not charge on hourly basis!) reassure them to make them feel their existence meaningful, write a blog, tweet something that can help and inspire your friends about your experience with a helpless person or situation. Let all these become part of your efforts to empathize with your fellow-beings in a Christian way. Remember it’s very hard to be a Christian!
The next theme portrayed is the prayer ministry; So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed (St. Luke 5:16). Jesus withdraws to the wilderness for solitary prayer and meditation. And this is to refuel spirituality. We all need this kind of ‘spiritual refueling’ to get inspired for a meaningful life and to advance in our ministry as a true Christian.
The most important focus of this gospel passage is the fourth dimension; the ministry of healing. All those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them (St. Luke 4:40). However, I want to look healing in a broader perspective. We usually equate healing with well-being. We are working hard throughout our lives because we all need happiness, financial well-being, social well-being, health and security. And that’s quite okay. But that’s not complete, remember, Christian life is not a buffet! We are not supposed to take or eat what we like. And reject or ignore what we do not like. What I’m trying to say is, we need to accept illness just like health, bad things just like good things; sadness just like happiness, failures just like victories. And remember, healing need not always mean a ‘positive state of well-being’.
There are hundreds of Saints, Martyrs and Blessed fathers whose story depicts their agony, pain and suffering in their Christian life. They all accepted suffering, they all praised God even in the midst of deadly sorrow! That could be one reason why we call them Saints.
Orthodoxy is a way of life that is continuously inspired by the life stories of the Saints. Unfortunately, the popular modern pleasure theology depicted Saints as the agents or mediators of blessings. But they are actually the witnesses, inspirations and role models of Christian life. Keep in mind that God’s primary purpose is not to bless us with pleasures, wealth, or happiness. But he is there to heal you! I may have to use St. Paul’s words to facilitate our understanding of healing. My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I hope this bible study could illuminate some insights into our perceptions and help us to reflect on our attitudes, behaviors, thoughts, and actions in our faith journey. May God bless!