Illness

Lately, when I have been at church or work, there has been a cacophony of sneezing and coughing.  This disturbing music is likely introducing the approaching flu and cold season.

It’s an early snowy October, and I hope that this early chill kills some viruses.  Many of my poor students have been going home with nasty sinus infections.  Could this be allergies?  Stress?  Back to school illness?   Just getting people together in large groups makes the presence of illnesses seem more imposing.

I have a dear friend worried about her daughter’s breast biopsy.  I know and I have known so many who have had cancer.  So far, I have been very lucky with my health.  Sure, I have had my bouts of flu, colds, surgeries for carpal tunnel, and most recently, a mysterious allergy that makes me get hives for months and my eyes swell shut.  I feel very blessed to be well today.

Many years ago, people used to view those who were sick or deformed as the result of sins (or their parents’ sins).   Think about the strange behaviors of parents who would kill or throw away babies were were not “perfect,” like the mother who abandons the infant Quasimodo in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Even Disney’s version of the film shows the poor hunchback at hated or sinful, although he tries to do the right things more often than not.

Is this why Jesus is shown curing so many people of both their ailments and cleansing them of sins?  Are we meant to see sin as an illness or a symbol?  We all sin.  We all get sick.  We get sick from sin as well.

Jesus sees people as people, not as simply sinners.  Of course He seems to know that none of us are perfect.  He is found to be “at fault” by the Pharisees for dining with sinners, being in their company, or going to their homes.  He helps people get to get “clean” by forgiving and curing people who are: adulterers, Roman soldiers, tax collectors,  Samaritans, Gentiles, men, women, children, etc.., and by telling parables, like the story about the prodigal son who was forgiven by his father.

One recent story really gives me pause, whether this is because I have read the novel Ben Hur or because leprosy is still an uncured disease in our modern society.  Lepers still have to live apart from others today; Mother Teresa spent time caring for the people viewed as the lowest of the low:

“Mother Teresa helps those most desperately in need–lepers, unwed mothers, discarded infants, the ill, the insane, the retarded, the dying… she dreamed she went to Saint Peter. “But he would not let me in, saying ‘There are no slums in heaven.’ In anger I said, ‘Very well, I will fill heaven with slum people, then you will be forced to let me in.”   She won the Nobel Prize for her efforts and …”in Oslo, she canceled the scheduled celebratory banquet for 135 and had the $7,000 it would have cost sent to her mission in Calcutta, where it would feed 400 people for a full year.” according to writers from Life Magazine, both Harriet Heyman and Philip B. Kunhardt Jr. Managing Editor (http://www.maryellenmark.com/text/magazines/life/905W-000-014.html).

Lepers had to live apart in Jesus’ time as well and were viewed as unclear.  I wonder if those who wrote the Bible used a leper as a symbol for sins that none of us can every fully avoid?  As sinners we can never be “clean” 24 hours 365 days a year (nor likely for even one day).

Leprosy is a horrendous illness.  A person cannot conceal leprosy since the skin sloughs off and it is highly contagious, whereas sin may be entirely hidden from view.  All of us sin and all of us try to behave as though our sins are somehow better or lesser than the sins of others.   I do not mean here that we should all stay sinners and revel in poor behaviors that are sins of the flesh or mind. All of us are blemished in some way and unclean, unless we continually seek forgiveness.

Instead, perhaps we should try to avoid judging others and be thankful for the opportunity to become clean.  In Luke 17: 11-19, Jesus cured ten lepers, but only one returned in thanks:

“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.   Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

I hope that I can be the one leper who gives thanks instead of the others who take God for granted.

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