Monday, November 05, 2012

Having Jesus in Your Heart 13

“Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.’” (Matthew 8:1-4)
“Those who maintain that a person is saved by faith alone cannot explain the things which the Lord speaks of as ‘works’ as anything else than the fruits of faith, and that He made mention of these alone for the sake of the simple who know nothing about mysteries. But even this opinion of theirs shows that the fruits of faith are what make a person blessed and happy after death. The fruits of faith are nothing else than a life led in keeping with what faith commands, and therefore it is a life in keeping with what faith commands that saves a person, not faith apart from life. For a person takes with him after death every state of his life, so that he is like what he was when in the body. That is to say, anyone who during his lifetime despised others compared with himself continues in the next life to despise others compared with himself….Everyone retains in the next life the essential character he has acquired during his lifetime; and it is well known that it is not possible to get rid of one's essential character, for if one does so, no life at all remains. This then is the reason why solely the works of charity are mentioned by the Lord, for anyone who practices the works of charity - or what amounts to the same, leads the life of faith - possesses the ability to receive faith, if not during his lifetime, then in the next life.” Secrets of Heaven §4663

I have a very clear memory of the first time my High School Junior Varsity team won a basketball game. I was a sophomore. I ran, leaping repeatedly, with my arms high in the air! A few seconds into it, I was headed towards a teammate who was a Senior. He was good enough for JV, buy not Varsity, yet he loved to play. He was much more sophisticated than I, and, while he enjoyed my elation, was not very excited. I became self conscious, and calmed down right away.
Perhaps you have had such an experience of elation at a success. Maybe you were on a winning sports team, jumping around, yelling, and laughing, giving each other high fives. The adrenaline is running and your heart is pounding. The tension is completely gone because you have won.
Or maybe it is that your favorite professional team just won at the last second with a tremendous effort. Everybody around you is clapping, cheering and reliving their favorite play. You all are excited and relieved for the team, and happy for them. You look forward to the next game, especially if they are going to go on in the playoffs.
Or maybe you just completed a presentation you had worked long and hard on and it was a complete success. Your bosses loved it and will be using your ideas, what you created, and giving you credit. It is definitely a contribution to your future success. Maybe it is an immediate reward. You leave the meeting “high” on an adrenaline rush, looking for someone – maybe anyone – to tell what just happened. And of course you whip out you cell phone to tell the people you love the most!
In every such event, in a few minutes you will come down from your “high.” What you do then is really important. Some of us try to make the moment continue longer than it can. They tell the story again  and again, seeking to feel the rush again. Their life at that moment is rather artificial. Some of us get depressed when the moment is passed. The victory is short lived, and their spirit and bodies swing really low relative to the earlier high. Most of us have wonderful memories of the moments of excitement we have had, which establish life-long attitudes about the game of life and the people in our lives.
Matthew introduces us in the short story above to this part of Jesus’ character. We have just experienced Jesus as a powerful preacher, who challenges all our attitudes, all our assumptions and our preconceived notions. He urges us to change, modeling ourselves after His example. And now, so wonderfully and powerfully, Jesus actually does what He has preached. He comes down from the “high mountain” of emotion established by the entire Sermon on the Mount. He would not have done it, but today He would be “high fiveing” the Apostles as He started down the mountain’s path. And, at the first opportunity, He walks the walk.
Imagine meeting a “leper.” Let’s call him or her “TT.” TT is someone everybody sees clearly is nasty and ugly inside his (or her) mind and heart, and perhaps also on the outside. Everybody knows very well how TT can hurt people, and is able to infect others with her negative attitude. You and your friends have come to have a rule about TT: avoid her. Don’t let TT into your group. You know that TT’s whole personality will kill her in the end, because everyone with whom TT becomes close eventually leaves her.
Jesus was confronted by such a person. A leper was someone with a highly contagious and often life threatening, skin disease (and not just the specific disease of leprosy, but lesions and boils and so forth). Everyone could see that the person was sick because it showed on their skin, maybe disfiguring their faces. They would look scary or repulsive. And so, in accordance with Mosaic Law, they were put out of the town, by force if necessary. They were cared for – at a distance – by relatives and friends. Their lives are unbearable. They are isolated, shunned, and there is little hope for cure. There are even laws keeping them from getting help.
Complete desperation combined with stories of healings is the only explanation for this leper to break the law in approaching Jesus. And only a total commitment to healing all people can explain Jesus’ touching the infected, contagious man. Thus we learn two things: Jesus has overcome any prejudice based on the fear of infection, and He is sure He can heal the man without getting infected. In other words, He has a consciousness of being God on earth, and His human mind and heart have evolved beyond such fears.
Jesus is asking us to believe that we can do for our neighbors what He did for this man. Jesus wants us to expect and accept His healing, even as the leper expected and accepted His healing. Such a reliance upon Jesus Christ will make us fearless. We can live spiritually healthy lives at the same time as being in contact with evil people. The prerequisites are a deep faith on our part, and a willingness to be loved on the other person’s part.
So when TT comes to you and asks for help, he is saying, “If you accept me, I will be able to be a better person.” Now, you know only the Lord can change people’s hearts. And you remember that the Lord works through people like you to heal people. And you remember how Jesus modeled loving your neighbor as much as yourself. And so you reach out and touch his heart with a gentle stroke of the Lord’s truth. You hold his hand and look into his eyes and say that He loves him and will heal him. You tell him that you are sure the Lord will do this, and that, of course, you accept him, too.
Jesus wants you to walk beside Him down from the mountain of “high” appreciation of His teaching, from the ecstasy of His Spirit’s effect on your heart and mind. And He will be with us when we express love for our neighbors without fear, for we trust that what has caused us to fear them will be healed by the Lord This is loving your neighbor as yourself!

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