The Leper Within

Our return trip to Israel stirred memories of our first adventure there. As was the case last time, it rained a bit for a few days. Still, I appreciated the weather. The fifty and sixty-degree temperatures provided welcomed relief from the cold we’d left behind in Gurnee. Our guide Yossi shared our gratitude for the weather. However, it was the rainfall which pleased him. Israel currently suffers with a drought and Yossi viewed every raindrop as a precious commodity. While driving between sites, I marveled once again at the stark contrasts in Israel’s geography. Because Yossi’s commentary was familiar this time around, I concentrated more fully on the view beyond my window. A short bus trip often carried us through both rocky stretches of desert and lush greenery. While the bulk of Israel’s population fills its flourishing cities, a persistent remnant of its citizenry abides in the desert. Those who make their homes in these arid conditions are particularly attentive to any decrease in rainfall. Their struggles multiply when this occurs. So it was that this rainfall was a much appreciated blessing.

Community takes on great importance for desert-dwellers. Their survival depends upon their supportive interactions with one another. One of our fellow tourists is a seasoned traveler who has learned a great deal along the way. She was familiar with a sort of “desert code of hospitality” which compels those who dwell there to welcome travelers. Offering shelter to one who happens by is simply the humane thing to do. Yossi pointed out that though some who inhabit these tiny hamlets voiced displeasure with government supported settlements which abutted their property, they eventually welcomed these newcomers as well. Their new neighbors’ efforts have provided improved irrigation, fresh crops and work opportunities for them. In spite of the difficult conditions, these cooperative efforts have transformed vast lifeless parcels into productive green oases. I smiled each time I passed one of these Bedouin settlements. “What amazing things God’s people can do,” I thought, “when we work together,”

Today’s scripture passages drew my thoughts back to those unlikely desert communities. Both today and in ancient times, relationships with ones neighbors made the difference between survival and extinction. This is the reason a leper’s plight was so completely devastating. Leprosy was one of the most dreaded afflictions encountered by our Old Testament counterparts. Today’s passage from Leviticus (13:1-2, 44-46) tells us that isolation was the indisputable remedy for the disease. Though being plucked away from ones life and loved ones did nothing for the leper, isolating him or her from others protected the community from the same fate. The people felt no sympathy for lepers because they considered sin to be the cause of their disease. They believed that those afflicted were simply living out the consequences of evildoing on the parts of their parents or themselves. Centuries later, Jesus’ contemporaries treated lepers with equal contempt. In today’s gospel (Mark 1:40-45), Mark tells us of a leper who ignored the law’s mandates to remain isolated and who boldly approached Jesus. This man had lost everything and he had nothing more to lose. Jesus welcomed the poor man in spite of the sores which betrayed his disease. Then, somehow through his ravaged skin, this leper felt the warmth of Jesus’ love. Somehow, in spite of the hatred and disdain in the eyes of his neighbors, this man saw acceptance in Jesus’ eyes. Somehow, this leper found the courage to kneel before his Lord. Moved with compassion for this suffering soul, Jesus cured him with a single touch.

I think each of us can recall moments when we’ve felt the misery of the lepers chronicled by Leviticus and Mark. Painful circumstances chip away at our spirits. They wound us both psychologically and physically. Sometimes, they isolate us from those whom we need most. Fortunately for us all, Jesus recognizes our pain. Jesus separates the appearances of things from the reality of our suffering and Jesus heals us. Though our recoveries may not be as visually dramatic as that of the leper, we do recover.

The desert communities I observed in Israel will continue to flourish because of their unlikely liaisons. Those involved have set aside their religious, political and cultural differences in order to dwell with one another on common ground. Today and every day, you and I are invited to do the same. Though each of us has a bit of that loathsome leper within us, we also carry a bit of Jesus everywhere we go. Like the leper who couldn’t keep his healing a secret, we share our good news with those whom we meet along the way. Through one act of kindness after another, we bring life to the deserts of suffering which afflict us all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Love Thy Neighbor

He pitied them for they were like sheep without a shepherd…
From Mark 6:34

As we drove into the driveway, my husband noticed an odd twinkle coming from a small bush at the corner of our garage. With that, he announced, “There’s still a string of lights on that bush!” When we dismantled our Christmas decorations weeks earlier, we missed those lights. As I made a mental note to retrieve that light string, I couldn’t help reflecting upon another unexpected twinkle from de-decoration day…

After doing most of the dismantling together, Mike finished up while I ran an errand. His last task was to store a huge bale of hay which had served as a base for our Christmas figures. Though working out has benefited his biceps, dragging that bale was a challenge. After pulling it a few feet, Mike stepped back to analyse the situation further. As he pondered, our neighbor strolled over with a suggestion. “If we both pick up an end, I think we can do this!”

Though my husband would have eventually moved that hay, our neighbor’s help saved him the trouble. Though this gestures may be small in the grand scheme of things, it preserved my husband’s ailing back. It also touched my heart in a big way.

You know, we’re all pulled from every direction from time to time. Still, we make an effort to respond to those who need us. In matters great and small, unexpected acts of kindness can make all of the difference in the world. It’s up to us to find the time to do just that.

Loving God, thank you for the many caring people whose kindnesses speak love in simple, yet inspiring ways.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Travel Light, But Travel!

He instructed them to
take nothing on the journey
but a walking stick…

Mark 6:8

Yesterday, when I gathered up the newspaper to recycle, I found the travel sections from three old papers in the pile. Since life with our new grandson has settled into a bit of a routine, this should not surprise me. We postponed a trip when we discovered it coincided with Daniel’s alleged due date. So it is that my husband is searching for an interim adventure.

The truth is that during the planning stage of any of travel, I simply bite the bullet and allow myself to be dragged along. The further truth is that my husband’s wanderlust guides his planning with such precision that the results never disappoint. We both enjoy a wonderful time once we reach our destination regardless of where it is. The planning, packing and other preparations are what drive me crazy. Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage. Perhaps he didn’t want anything to keep them from making the most of their travels among us.

Dear God, thank you for my persistent husband who continues to plan much-needed times away for us. Bless him with many more wonderful trips and bless me with the courage to embrace his plans and to enjoy this beautiful world and its wonderful people.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved