FORGIVENESS: The Nine Lepers

My Writing

ten lepers forgiveness Julia Marks

The wounding and healing of a person is an interesting process.

The truth about the priest on whom I am focusing my forgiveness process – a stand-in for the line of priests in my life who have shunned me – is that what he did to me, at that time, bothered me no more than a mosquito bite.  Because the rest of my life was complete chaos.

That day, and for so many thereafter, I didn’t have the time, the energy, or the interest to even think about what that priest said.

Or did.

So the pain was efficiently stored away.

It was a shock to me, then, when God said at the beginning of this last Advent, It’s time to heal your priest-wounds.

My first reaction was, What priest-wounds?

And then, there they were.

Spread out, like dishes on the tables at a church potluck.

Different shapes.  Different sizes.

But what an array.

Recently, and for good reason, I have seen myself, not as Road Runner who manages to escape the falling million-pound weight by a nosehair, but Wile E. Coyote, who is flattened every single time.  Not that I relate to Wile E.’s goals.  Just the result of his efforts in this world.

I exist.  I get flattened.

So there I was with the telling vision showing me all about my pent-up feelings of pain about the priests in my life.

And here comes the weight.

Why move?

It’s from God.  His weight will find me no matter where I go.

But for a time this revelation had me in shock.

Pain that I never had time for, at least with the Sample Priest, now electrocuted my body.  Confusion overwhelmed me.  I felt that while the feelings were true ones, I had no idea how to approach them with forgiveness.

It was like riding over a ridge and finding a vast army standing there just waiting for me.  I neither imagined that they were there this whole time, nor was I prepared to do battle with them.

This was not a good beginning of Advent for me.

Not good at all.

Fortunately for me, there were resources surrounding me.

At the time I was in a healing prayer ministry class, part of which was working in a small group of fellows.  This was one of my resources.

In this small group, I was blessed with two particularly astute and compassionate ministers.

The grief I was feeling poured out that week.  That first week of Advent.

And the ministers in my group went to work.

The first very gently suggested that every time I worked with this issue that I place Jesus Christ between the priests and me.

The second, enigmatically, referred me to Jesus’s healing of the ten lepers.

I will admit that I looked at this second minister and wondered.

In reality, I just sat there and stared at him.

I live an hour away from where the class is held.  So I had a nice long time to think all this over.

I like car rides.  Time to think in silence.  Nothing else to do but think.

The first half-hour of the ride I practiced putting Jesus Christ between myself and “that” priest.  And it shifted the whole dynamic significantly.

My first big problem with the situation of being told that I was what was wrong with the church after sharing with him my presence, my participation, at the healing of a deaf woman was that I approached it with, Why me?  Why did he treat me like that? 

When Jesus was there with me, however, all those feelings of victimhood fell away.  I became just a witness, along with Jesus, to the scene.  I was no longer the person being “done to.”

I just happened to be there at the time that all this was going on.

Which calmed me.

Then I had the puzzle of the scripture passage to unravel.

Lepers?

Returning in gratitude vs. running with joy to where Jesus pointed me?

What?

So I sat with the story for the rest of the ride home.

Jesus.  Lepers.  Single leper.  Jesus’s complaint.

And it was the complaint that was the key.

You came back. Why didn’t any of the others?

And something snapped.

It didn’t matter if the leper came back, all ten were healed.

The healing was what was real.

The gratitude was a thank-you gift for the healing by that single leper.

And when did all those others Jesus healed reach out to say thank-you?

If they did, it wasn’t recorded.

Sometimes they ran from him.  Sometimes others around the healing moved in for nefarious reasons.

Sometimes Jesus healed and that was that.

That grateful leper is a stand-out.  A paragon of virtue.

The other lepers, to my mind, were so out of their minds with joy that they could easily forget proper behavior.

But then, what is the proper behavior toward someone who has just cleansed your body in a way that, in reality, couldn’t be done?

I think that is very telling: when God meets man and gives him a gift, and man runs away.

On this day, a day of finding the key to the door of forgiveness for shunning priests, there was a certain dynamic shown to me.

Jesus gave a gift to the lepers.

And that’s the whole point of the story.

The entirety.

That’s it.

Period.

How Jesus is treated in return has nothing to do with life.

It’s nice for him to have a leper come back and give him thanks.

But, in God, there is no such thing as nice.

There is healing.  Which Jesus performed.

And then there’s walking on to find the next healing.

There’s getting the message to people that this is what God is all about.

But how should people respond?

Eh, if they don’t like it, kick the dirt.  Etc.

Do and move on.

So I imposed this formula onto what happened to me that Saturday.  The words wound.

Was I there to give the priest a gift?

Not that I could see.

However, I had been sent there by God.  It was not something I thought of.

I could barely think during that period.

And the last thing I was bound to think about was healing what happened the day I touched the hand of a woman and she smiled back at me.

So here I was, sitting in the office of the curate of the parish, being yelled at.  Being cursed.

Bring Jesus Christ into the picture.

Done.

Bring the formula with me: It doesn’t matter how they react.  What matters is that you have given them the gift.

The gift of God living in the world with us.

The gift of God’s love.

I love you so much I will send you Julia and she will tell you that miracles are real.

Huh.

Father, miracles are real and I….

And then the screams.

Finding the light of God in a small box placed on his desk by me that day frightened him out of his skin.

And I was just the embodiment, for that moment, of what frightened him.

To this priest, miracles weren’t real and anyone who said they were was the problem with the church.

And needed to be cleansed from the church.

Quick, everyone, see this woman?  Don’t go near her.  Watch me.  Just turn your back on her.  That will get her out of the church.

But there was nothing wrong with what I had said.

There was nothing disrespectful or discourteous in what I said to him.

I was just a messenger for God.

Only I never saw it that way.

A worker bee for God.

All I have to do is open my mouth and fear and horror come back at me like a hurricane wind.

And the irony of this?

I don’t blame them for being frightened.

Our minds and our hearts and our bodies just really are not set up to meet God on any given Saturday.

We pretend we are open to God on Sundays.  We have our hats and gloves on.  Our smiles.

But, really, if God walked up to the altar and took communion and people realized he was there with them, their reaction would not be pretty.

Sometimes I imagine what God looks like.

And, to me, he’s this ever-changing form: first a leaf, then a star, then a microbe, then a….

Images of creation flipping every millisecond.

How do you do?  I’m Creation, but you can call me Heaven.  What’s your name?

Time for the smelling salts.

So that was the beginning of the process.

It was helped greatly by receiving prayers from a priest, amazing in his compassion.  Prayers of forgiveness.  Prayers that served as a reconnection between myself and God.

Because I had always blamed God for sending me to the Shaming Priest.

But, you see, I got the wrong end up.

As usual.

God didn’t send me there for me.  God sent me there.

The Gift.

On that day, anyway.

That wasn’t received well at all.

But that is not the point of God, now is it?

God is all about giving.

Not receiving.

Not being thanked.

Or even listened to.

Just giving.

Amen.

 

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