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March 9, 2014
"Restored by Love"

Barbara Lorbach

Matthew 8:1-4


"When Love Sees You”, a song written by Bernie Herms and Nichole Noredeman, speaks of the people who encounter Jesus in the Gospels. Each of those characters is called "blessed" in this song which asserts that when Jesus sees each of them, it is with love. Over the weeks between now and Easter, we are going to hear 7 of those stories. These stories, although separated from us by two thousand years, are recognizable in our stories as well. I invite us to see ourselves in these stories. The composers tell us the reason Jesus came: “I came for your story. I came for your wounds.” So hear the phrase, "Love sees you" as being for us today and not just for some character from an ancient tale.

Let’s begin with the story of the healing of a leper told in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Here''s how Matthew recalls this encounter:


MESSAGE:

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; 2and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 3He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4Then 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.”

Leprosy - a disease of the skin, painful and disfiguring. If that were not enough, it was thought to be extremely contagious and meant social banishment in ancient times. Lepers lived outside the community, sometimes in groups, sometimes alone, but always identified as unclean. If they came near other people, lepers were required to call out “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn people to stay away. Nobody approached them. Nobody would dream of touching them. A leper was considered already dead by his relatives.

So imagine this scene. Matthew tells us great crowds are following Jesus as he comes down from the mountain where he has just preached the Sermon on the Mount. A leper comes and kneels before Jesus and says, “If you want, you can make me clean.” Imagine the courage it took for this person to even come close to Jesus. And imagine the crowd—most likely trying to get space between the leper and themselves.

What happens next? That’s right. Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the leper. If we were writing this as a screen play, the direction might say, “An audible gasp goes up from the crowd.” Perhaps even groans of disgust. And now imagine what it must have felt like for the leper to be touched by another human being. “Blessed are you, leper, standing alone. The fear on their faces is all that you’ve known.”

Fear is powerful. Fear kept lepers banished from the community. The leper may have been asking for something more than healing when he asked to be made “clean.” To be clean, or pure, had a special meaning in ancient Israel–it had to do with being a part of the community, and able to worship in the Temple.  The leper may have been asking to be healed AND to be restored to the community.  That is why Jesus told him to show himself to the priest. The priest was the only one who could recognize the leper was cleansed.  Otherwise, the leper would be healed but still isolated and shunned. Jesus did more than heal this leper. He restored him to his community.

Eleven centuries later, a man now called St. Francis met a leper on the road to Assisi. “Though the leper caused him no small disgust, he got off his horse and prepared to kiss the leper. When the leper put out his hand to receive a coin for his begging, Francis gave him the money along with a kiss.” Francis did what seemed humanly impossible because he was filled with love and compassion as Jesus had shown and taught.

Centuries of followers of Jesus have continued to show love and compassion to the lepers of their day. Are there modern day lepers? Who is outcast, shunned, unloved?  Listen to the sound bites of our world and you can hear who is judged, condemned, feared and outcast.   The question is who do I intentionally or unintentionally put into that category? And who will God bring into my life that needs to be restored with love? Who will God ask me to see as Jesus sees? I came for your story. I came for your wounds.

In the Message version of this encounter with the leper, Jesus tells the leper to present his healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expression of thanks to God. “Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.” Through the creativity of our Spiritual Formation Committee, we are invited to bear witness to what Jesus has done in our lives by writing on a handprint how love has been shown to us or how we have shown love to someone else. This isn’t about bragging, but about testifying to what God is doing in our world.

Perhaps we think our story doesn’t seem as amazing as the healing the leper received. What if your story is just the one to reach someone who is convinced they are unlovable? What if your story of how Jesus touched you is just the story to touch the wounds someone else is carrying? Is it time for you to bear witness, to testify to the love that sees you? The most appropriate expression of thanks is the grateful story of a life that will be forever changed by the fact that someone testified to love.

"Tell me your story,
show me your wounds,
and I’ll show you what love sees
when Love looks at you.

Hand me the pieces,
broken and bruised
and I’ll show you what Love sees
when Love sees you."