Ordinarily, with this being the second Sunday in February, I would be writing about the Boy Scouts and the God and Country award. It was the study for and the completion of the God and Country award in 1965 that started me on the path that I have walked this past 41 years.
But the Scriptures this week don’t lend themselves to talking about the Boy Scouts. Second, the decisions of the Boy Scouts about who can be an adult leader and who can earn the Eagle award (which, by the way, I never did) have lead me to disavow any association with that once proud organization. The decisions that the Boy Scouts of America made were made out of fear and ignorance and have very little scientific validity. And that is what the Old Testament reading (2 Kings 5: 1 – 14) and Gospel (Mark 1: 40 – 45) for today are about. Leprosy was once one of the most feared diseases of the ancient times. Like all disease, people had no idea what caused it or how someone got sick. But leprosy added to these fears the additional stigma of disfigurement. A leper was feared because they were not only sick but hideous and frightful to look at. Fear was often the most common reaction by the public.
But, like most diseases today, we know the cause of leprosy and how to treat it and cure it. But there is a disease, perhaps a virus, that runs through all of society that produces the same results as disease did in Biblical times. It is the disease of fear and ignorance and it produces great amounts of hatred and intolerance.
Think back to the early 1980’s when the AIDS epidemic was first beginning. We knew nothing about the disease and we made comments that it was God’s retribution for the lifestyles of those affected. Then Ryan White got sick. Ryan White was a twelve-year old hemophiliac who contracted AIDS. He and his brothers did not fit the profile of the typical AIDS patient and we had to wonder why God would inflict such a punishment on a family. Then we learned that one could get AIDS through a blood transfusion. But that didn’t help Ryan, who was ostracized by the parents of the other children in his elementary school. These parents, out of ignorance and fear, demanded that their children be protected from Ryan and his disease. Yet, it should have been Ryan’s parents who should have called for protection from the other children; for children bring all sorts of maladies and illnesses to school with them each day and any source of infection was a threat to Ryan’s health, not the other way around.
Parents are fearful that their children will not get into the right schools. But instead of working to make sure that their children learn, they demand that the schools bend to their wishes and insure that their children will pass. We now have children who spend more time preparing and taking tests than we do learning and critically thinking about the world around them. We are becoming expert test takers but we know nothing about the world in which we live.
We do not understand the violence in the Middle Eat that has occurred over the past few days because of the Danish editorial cartoons. We think of the right to free speech as automatic and do not understand that not everyone has that right. In addition, because we hold such a laissez-faire attitude about religion in this country, we cannot understand how someone would react in the manner that many Muslims are doing right now. I am not condoning violence by anyone; I think it is wrong but the responses over the past few weeks point out how much fear and ignorance play in our lives.
We view other cultures warily simply because we do not know anything about them. We see their responses in our eyes and cannot understand why they do not react like we do. And our reaction turns to hatred because other cultures refuse to act as we would. We cannot accept the fact that not everyone believes in or understands our Western concepts of freedom and democracy.
Our own day-to-day lives are dominated by fear. We are conditioned to believe that we could be attacked any day by any group from any direction. And we are told that we need to sacrifice our rights and liberties in order to placate this fear.
We need to stop and think about what is going on in this world. We need to look around us and see what is happening. Instead of acting negatively or out of fear, we need to pause and consider what we are going to do. Look at how Naaman reacted when Elisha told him to go wash in the River Jordan seven times. He could not believe that the waters of the River Jordan were sufficient to cure him; there were other rivers far greater and better suited for a man of his importance. His was a reaction of ignorance, not one of a man seeking to be cured of a major illness. But his aides and servants pointed out that, if Elisha had commanded Naaman to do something difficult, Naaman would have done it without questioning it.
In this world where hate and ignorance so dominate our lives, it is time to stop spreading the virus. It is time to break away from what has dominated our lives and walk another path. The leper came to Jesus seeking that new chance and sought to become clean and free of disease. He came of his own accord and he sought Jesus; that is what we are called to do today.
Repentance is to begin again, to denounce the old way and begin a new way. Paul writes of running a race that only one can win. In the old world, that is true. But in a world in which Jesus has entered, all can win. But it is up to us to work for that goal. We cannot allow ignorance to define our lives; we cannot allow hatred to grow because we are afraid.
In the Gospel of John, we are reminded that it is the truth that will set us free, free from sin and death. The truth is found in Jesus, not in the darkness that surrounds hatred and ignorance.
Listen to your heart this day and open your heart for Jesus. Let the Holy Spirit come into your life so that your work and direction are guided by the flame of the Holy Spirit, not the darkness of the world.