GOSPEL MESSAGE & RECORDING
As we bring to a close the first week of the Great and Holy Lent, we are introduced to a leper in the Gospel reading. This leper is an outcast of society, quarantined outside the city limits, and forbidden to have contact with anyone. He is treated as sub-human. Further, society has labeled him as accursed by God. Due to this ill treatment, the feelings of despair and hopelessness set in. Life seems almost not worth living. However, a possible way out of this despair seems to be available--Jesus Christ. This “healing-messiah” has been conducting his healing ministry and the leper wanted to receive healing from him.
The Gospel of Luke records the following, “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.” Jesus replied by saying, “I am willing.” And gave the command, “Be cleansed.” The Gospel records that the leprosy left the man and he was made completely well.
This is indeed an interesting exchange by the leper and Christ. The leper asks if Jesus is ‘willing to heal him’ and Christ responses by saying ‘yes.’ Reflecting on this passage, we can see that Christ responds to a request. There is, in other words, a verbal engagement with Christ. This is akin to our prayer time. At least, I see it in this way! We ask during our prayer time, however long or short it might, for healing, blessing, provision, restoration, so forth and so on.
The surprising fact about this Gospel reading is not the fact that Jesus was “willing” to heal. Meaning, God is always willing. He is the loving God, who has compassion, and cares for his people. This is the Orthodox view of God. However, people are not so willing! Yes, the leper approached Jesus and asked to be healed. But what about the “work” and “effort” that led up to that exchange? First, the leper had to have planned to leave his leper colony, which is in fact a bold decision. Second, he had to have found out exactly where Jesus was ministering in that town. Third, he had to make an effort to travel to where Jesus was ministering, which would have been extremely painful, and torturous. Not to mention, the many people berating him as to why he is approaching Jesus. The point is: him asking Christ for healing was not only a “willingness to ask” but also a “willingness to do.” You see, we as Christians, we pray, but how many of us are willing to make the effort, or put in the work, to overcome our sinful behavior. For example, praying that we overcome lustful temptations should be backed-up by an effort to not watch TV, or restrictions should be placed on our phones or laptops. Simply praying is not enough! Another example is: we can pray for God to heal our bodies, but if our illness is tied to our eating habits, praying will not work. We must eat well, that is, put in the work to become healthier, reducing the number of illnesses that occur.
Here are a couple of reasons why we are “willing to pray,” but not “willing to put effort or work?”
Priority: sometimes there are things in life that come before out relationship with God. If we want to believe it or not, the truth is, God is not first priority. For example, if we are struggling with alcohol it would seem wise to stay away from situations that would lead us to that vice, such as, going out with friends to the bar, or going to a party that serves alcohol. If the priority is to grow closer to God, then the choice is simply: no bars or certain parties. But our priorities are mismanaged, and therefore, our prayer does not manifest into work or effort. Like the leper who struggled to get to Jesus, so also, we have to struggle after our prayer time with managing our life, so that the priority is Christ.
Fear: sometimes the idea--how life will look like if I stop my sinful behavior is not a pleasant one. Sin feels good! Of course the results, or the after effects, are painful. When we want to move away from our sinful behaviors questions arise such as: Will I need to get new friends? Will I have to alter my social life? Will I have to do more at church now? O no, will people think I am a “Jesus freak.” Will have to go to prayer meetings now? Wait, I can’t watch certain movies? I have to give more money to God? I have to go to church more often?