Lessons in Life, Learned from Lepers

By , on April 16, 2014


Four lepers bring the news to the guards at the gate of Samaria; by the illustrator of Petrus Comestor's 'Bible Historiale', France, 1372; Miniature; at the Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, The Hague  (Wikipedia photo)
Four lepers bring the news to the guards at the gate of Samaria; by the illustrator of Petrus Comestor’s ‘Bible Historiale’, France, 1372; Miniature; at the Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, The Hague (Wikipedia photo)

 

It’s that time of the year!  Where religious bones in bodies of countless people start to ache and creak.  Conscience makes itself felt in ways akin to hunger pangs, refusing to be ignored.   Yes, it is undeniable: as Holy Week nears, people with a certain religious bent grow a shade more religious. And perhaps, a shade more guilty (which, if I may so myself, is the most unflattering shade for anyone to wear.)

Mind you, mere outward religiosity is entirely different from true spirituality.  The former devoid of the latter is likened by Jesus Himself to hypocrisy, as is seen in Matthew 6:5 (NIV):  (5) And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

But that is not quite my topic; just thought I’d throw that in, for free.  Wink, wink.

I would like to share a story from the Bible; it is a tale that is a tad more obscure than your traditional Sunday School fare, but it is one that has helped me on numerous occasions on this journey called life.  Shock of shocks!  “You mean we can apply the Bible to our daily lives even when it ISN’T Holy week??? “ “You mean we can apply the Bible to ur daily lives, AT ALL???”  Yes, and yes.  Resoundingly so.

Let’s look at the story of four lepers, sitting at the entrance to the city gates – some translations say they were on the walls of the city gates. “What??? Lepers sitting at the city gates?  Why on earth were they there?”  Well, I’m glad you asked…

 

The lepers’ conundrum

The account can be found in the Old Testament Book of Kings; Second Kings, to be precise.  Quoting 2 Kings 7: beginning with verse 3, from the easier to read and comprehend New International Version (NIV):  (3) Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? (4) If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die.

Here you have four leprous men, and one very big conundrum:  they were not allowed in the city of Samaria, because of their leprosy.  Lepers, back in those days, were considered unclean or unholy.  So much so that they had to announce their presence by yelling out “Unclean!  Unclean” as they went about their business or approached others.  Imagine the stigma.   Imagine the shame. Imagine how non-existent the self-worth.

The book of Leviticus details this in chapter 13, verses 45-46: (45) Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ (46) As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.

They were outcasts; considered outsiders amongst their own people.  Now I certainly am no leper, but there are times that I have felt like that.  Life has a way of sometimes making you feel cast out of the best it has to offer.  Problems and extreme challenges come against you.  Or perhaps you have done something so terrible; sinned so “horribly” that you now feel unclean and isolated from the “good folk.”  Just like the lepers.  Believe you me, I can SO relate.

 

City under siege

Creating an even bigger conundrum, the city was under siege by the Syrian army (point of clarification, the Arameans settled in Syria, and as such, were known as the Syrian-Arameans.  The King James translation of the Bible indicates that it was the Syrian army, in reference to the same passage), and famine had gripped the land.  No supplies were allowed in or out, which is kind of the point of a siege.  So why would they even want to enter the city, in the first place? No food at the gates, no food within them, either.

Whatever could they possibly do?

The lepers were, pardon the intentional pun, falling apart.  Literally, and figuratively.  

“If we go to the city, we die; if stay here, we die,” they thought to themselves.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. 

Now remember, these lepers had already come from the city; they were cast out because of their disease.  They were a pariah in their own community.  They could not go back, and – with the famine – nor would they have good reason to. 

It is interesting to note and is truly ironic that many times, those people we look to as “having it all” are themselves under siege, and are unable to offer any real solutions or answers.  Those who we perceive as living a better life on the greener side of the fence may very well be struggling, themselves.   Sure, they may not be isolated and dealing with the same set of challenges – but they have their own struggles.  This is why people we generally considered as successful, rich, well-adjusted, beautiful, socially accepted sometimes commit self-destructive acts of desperation (like suicide), or end up in a vortex of abuse – drugs, alcohol, sex; you get the picture.  These people, too, are under siege and falling apart – only they are falling apart in ways that may not be quite as obvious to the onlooker.

 

Get up, and move forward!

So what do you do when you find yourself at a point in your life at which EVERYTHING, and then some, seems to be falling apart?  When you cannot stay where you are, and you cannot go back, because both places have nothing left to offer?  When you feel all is lost in your past (city under siege), and nothing more remains there for you, yet your present is just as terrible?

 What do you do when you don’t know what else to do?

 YOUR BEST BET IS TO KEEP MOVING FORWARD!!!  Boldfaced, with three exclamation points for emphasis.  I would underline and italicize it, too; but I think you get the point.

 Don’t give up; don’t quit.  Think about your situation, wallow for a bit in your misery if you have to; then use reason and play the options out in your head.  THEN, IN FAITH, GET UP, AND MOVE ON.

 The lepers realized they had nothing left to lose, and they chose to move forward: 2 Kings 7: 4(b)-7:  (4b)So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.

They took a giant step of faith.  True, their faith was tempered by fatalism (“If we die, we die…”), but the act of moving forward involved lots of faith, nonetheless.  Others may have opted to give up and stay put, instead of venturing forward.  The lepers knew that moving forward, at least, gave them a fighting chance, and they acted on it.

 

The rewards of faith

 Here’s the thing about faith that many who have tested it know:  when you act in faith, even that as miniscule as a mustard seed, your actions will be rewarded.  To avoid  falling off religion’s deep end, or losing those who are of the non-spiritual persuasion, I’d like to postulate that faith has many anchors; with  faith in God, being the most solid and obvious one.  But perhaps we can also view faith as rooted in the belief that things will get better; faith that if we do not give up – and continue doing what is right, and continue putting one foot in front if the other to move forward – somewhere, somehow things will turn around in our favour!

 Now maybe that is the remnant of the cockeyed optimist in me, rearing up its chirpy head.  But honestly, I refuse to live a life ruled by despair and hopelessness.  And so, I choose to believe. And I know where and in Whom my faith lies, and I am neither ashamed nor hesitant to admit it.  Have I been disappointed, at times?  Of course.  Severely so. We all have. BUT I KEEP MOVING FORWARD, nonetheless.  I cannot wallow forever in the misery of past mistakes: I cannot live in a present plagued by lack – so I press on to what is hopefully a better tomorrow.

 This is what the lepers chose to do, and God did not let them down.

 2 Kings 7: 5-9 reads: (5) At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, no one was there, (6) for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!” (7) So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

 (8) The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp, entered one of the tents and ate and drank. Then they took silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.

The spoils of war awaited the lepers, even though they had not fought the battle themselves, FOR THE LORD had fought it for them!  Their part was to step out and move forward in faith.  “To keep on keeping on,” and not give up.

 But wait!  There’s more – the rewards of faith are not only reaped by those who move forward and do not quit, but also by others who see this, and are likewise inspired to keep on .

The lepers chose to return to the palace, to tell others of the news: (9)Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.

 So they returned to the gates of the city, to share the good news with the gatekeepers; four outcasts now bringing hope and salvation to an entire city.

 What do you do when you don’t know what else to do?  YOU KEEP MOVING FORWARD. Tomorrow may very well be the day that things turn around for you, for the better!