As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
In the years since I last wrote regularly, I have moved back toward my family’s historic roots in liturgical tradition (i.e.,, Episcopal, as we were historically Roman Catholic) and away from more Reformed denominations (e.g., Presbyterian, where I was contemplating working toward ordination). I find good things in both ecumenical traditions, but I always felt very hampered within the Reformed realm with respect to my devotion to admiring various saints and with respect to a lot of good liturgical and spiritual practices which were deemed centuries ago as “too Papist,” and because “this is how we do things because it is always how we do things” in most religious traditions more broadly, missed out on learning a lot of different disciplines and spiritual practices that I have since deemed to be quite useful and beneficial to spiritual development.
And as I had been poised to begin study to finish my undergraduate degree at a Jesuit university, I started learning about Ignatian Spirituality among them. I learned a few other things among the Episcopalians at a former parish, Lectio Divina among these, so here we are.
And as a former pastor once said about Lectio Divina: “You can’t keep a good spiritual practice down.”
I also keep the Divine Hours as much as possible, and find the Daily Office a good starting place for that. At the very least, it gives a structured reading plan for the Bible in alignment with the liturgical seasons of the church, rather than trying to just randomly read whatever parts of the bible I feel like reading on any given day. That is not to say that I don’t still occasionally depart to read an entire epistle independently, but I find it a very structured way to read through the bible in a thoughtful way that will also ensure I read through the entire bible (except for some of the weirder bits) over a three year period. Works for me.
And so I read. In parking lots, parking garages, waiting for appointments, in whatever public space or natural retreat I find myself. I don’t always read all the readings for all the hours every day, but I do try.
So after a terrible night of being sick and miserable in the rain that is soaking Southern California, I found myself reading in the parking lot at the local YMCA this morning as I tried to rehydrate and put my body back in some sort of order such that I didn’t pass out in the shower (for so many reasons, passing out in the shower is a bad plan).
My apologies to Peter’s mother-in-law, but the thing that really struck me and jumped off the page this morning was:
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’
I did not have a secondary translation immediately available (I think this one is NRSV), but the phrase really struck me as both moving and odd. “If you choose, you can make me clean.” That’s such a loaded statement honestly. Surely some measure of Jesus’ fame as a healer had reached this man, but what BOLDNESS would be required for someone who was required by religious law to stay away from people? Were his words in bold faith? A challenge? In desperation? Some combination of the three? It isn’t particularly clear in this translation the intent, but what a way to approach someone who was clearly of God (though not known as Christ at that point in his ministry).
I think the other thing that struck me was that there is a measure of humility in the request. It’s a request veiled in such a way as to almost be a question. There is the oft misused “you have not because you ask not” people so often cite as justification to approach God as some kind of cosmic vending machine (put in a prayer, get what you want). This request was not that, there was some measure of recognition that Jesus was connected to God, but also a reverence in the desperation of the bold request. I hesitate to cite impertinence because this unnamed man did give Jesus an “out” (while simultaneously putting him on the spot). I believe that you are capable of making me clean, do you choose to make me clean?
Jesus, of course, did so choose.
I think on this as I think on so many of my most desperate prayers. The world is always still “good,” but is messed up in so many ways. There are some things that are too big, too complex, too much beyond my control or any one person’s control, and sometimes too broken for anyone or anything in this world to hope to fix. I have spent so many hours sobbing over things so terribly broken in ways that only God can fix. And the request of this man reminds me of how I pray in those cases, the prayers when I remind God who God is: “This is too much for me to hope to be able to help or fix. You can fix this, please do.”
But God isn’t a cosmic vending machine and I know that. Providence is beyond my control, but — as so many bible passages remind me — not beyond my scope of influence. It is possible to change God’s mind.
So I sit now, many hours later (and in a different parking lot). A new storm is moving in, and the sickness that kept me awake and miserable all last night still lingers on (and may for some days yet). I think on all the things broken in our world, all the things broken in our country and government, all of the marginalized people stuck out in the rain this night just trying to hang on to life with some shred of human dignity (because I promise you, nothing is more miserable than sleeping outside in the wet, unless it is also cold and wet). Locally, most of the homeless population lives in the canyons and the river bottoms: it is worse still to be wet and displaced. I was always very blessed to stay safe and mostly dry in bad weather when I was out in the hills (my campsite was in a canyon protected by bluffs on three sides and far above where the creek might flood). Not everyone has those kind of geographical advantages, sadly. But at the same time, the resources to help those folks are very meager locally. I can’t really qualify if it is “fair” or not, but given the amount of churchgoing folks in my county and regionally, it certainly isn’t just.
I embrace that God can choose to help us when we ask. I rejoice that God so often does choose to help us when we ask (though sometimes in unexpected ways). But my question and my challenge is whether or not we are also called — as Christ’s disciples — to “choose” to help those who ask. I have been at different churches where the answer to that question varied WIDELY!!! I am happy and blessed to be a part of a congregation who takes the “I do choose” sentiment seriously, but I also know that sentiment is not universal.
So as I think on this passage this wet and rainy night, I am reminded that we are all called to think on Christ’s response when we are asked for help by those in need — even (and perhaps especially) — those who we think are somehow societal outcasts. I am called — we are all called — to love and care for those in need as they present themselves to us.
We can choose to do this.
Do we so choose?