An honest and heartfelt question. The problems we are facing, seem insurmountable.
We want to know - Why my child? My finances? Why my relationship?
Maybe you cannot comprehend your ongoing struggle with your health, your depression, your pain or just simple loneliness. Why me? Maybe you want to be accepted - Why don’t I fit in? Why this disability?
But neither answers nor assurance come easily in the darkness, The only certainty is that sense of being alone. The world goes on it’s merry way, and your are stuck dealing with the pain. Let’s face it; it is hard to open up to others about your problems. How easy is it to admit you are hurting and that you need help?
How easy is it to expose your problems to the world? To tell family and friends that your life is not perfect. So we tend to cover them up, like bandages on a Leper, yet underneath, the wounds are still raw.
There have been times in my life where I felt as if I were trapped in a glass room. My life, my faults exposed to the entire world, everyone could look in and see me and my problems. I felt as if they were pointing at me, and I could not hide. My cries were in vain, no one seemed to listen or understand. I could not get out. Not a good feeling, but loneliness never is.
Your begin badgering God - Hello God are you listening? I am over here? Or the ever popular “What did I do to deserve this?” Sound familiar? But are we too blame? We live in a society that correlates happiness and perfection. Perfection can be attained if - you do this, buy that. Perfection is that moving, temporal, yet unattainable ideal.
And we have little patience in our quest for perfection. Even the little things become important. How many of us have been through a drive-thru and if our order is not right, we do one of those mini-frenzy, clenched fist, under your breath outbursts. All for a “happy meal.” Imperfections are bad, Perfection is good.
I was flipping through the television and came upon a show that basically shamed people into perfecting their body. People yelling and badgering the contestants into submission and the contestants tearfully explaining why they were not perfect.
I wondered, how could we treat each other in this way? who are we to determine perfection?
How do you explain perfection to someone who suffered a physical disability because of a horrific accident, or to a young child in a burn unit. Perfection – When was the last time an amputee graced the cover of Vogue?
What is worse, many cannot deal with imperfections so we ostracize, label or even pity. We relegate people to the shadows and our greatest fear is that we too will be relegated to forgotten bin. We do not like to be broken. So we ask, why me?
Now for one moment, take all those emotions, all those instances when you asked why, all the pain, loneliness, anger, and imagine yourself sitting on some dusty street corner in Galilee. You are truly isolated; no one will come near you, you are pelted with rocks, spit upon, you are a leaper. Told you are punished by God, you cannot come near society, friends, nor family. You are a long way from perfection.
In the distance you hear something, through the crowd, through the smelly bandages covering your face, you catch a glimpse of - him. He turns and looks at you and somehow your eyes meet. He looks at you, as no one ever has. In that instant, you matter. In those eyes you feel truth, honesty and love. He emits holiness and acceptance.
What do you do? Do you divert your eyes, turn away? Do you wallow in pity and sit there. What would you say? Do you yell – “Jesus, Are you listening, I’m over here, what did I do to deserve this” Do you ask him for something? Maybe a do over in life or for him to make everything in your life perfect?
But what if you took a chance, realizing that if you did, that through him and because of him, your life will be truly different, but only if you reach out. What if you sense that because of him, you will never be alone, you will not be forgotten, that he will somehow help you off that dusty corner? What would you do?
While preparing this sermon, I found an article that gave me a glimpse of God’s perfection. It is about a mother and her child - Penny. The author describes the birth, it is a normal delivery. She and her husband have a bottle of champagne in the hospital room to celebrate.
However, two hours later, a nurse calls her husband out of the room. When he returns, he takes his wife’s hand and says, “They think Penny has Down syndrome.” As the words sink into the mother’s subconscious, shouts are heard from the next room. Another child had been born. “She’s perfect!” someone exclaimed about the other baby.
They author and her husband have difficulty in celebrating Penny’s birth. The bottle of champagne is left uncorked; the parents are hesitant to call friends and family. They don’t shout, “She’s perfect.” Inherently the author knows what Penny’s imperfection means in a society that idolizes perfection. “Disabled,” as if Penny were a defective piece of machinery that had been turned off; “retarded,” with all its connotations of stupid and subhuman; “abnormal,” like the unnatural.
She asks - Why me? Was her daughter defective, a mistake? The same honest sincere questions we ask in those hours of darkness: why my marriage? My health? Why me?
The author gently takes us on a beautiful journey with her daughter Penny. Where initially she could only see the imperfection, she discovers the blessing of Penny’s life.
She realizes that she was trying to recreate her daughter according to a cultural standard of normalcy rather than according to a biblical understanding of a full human life. Penny, like each one of us - is no more or less human, no more or less imperfect, no more or less blessed, no more or less in need of redemption.
Penny, like each one of you, is a gift, a precious human being. Each one of us, a child of God created with a purpose. And that realization is one of the most difficult tasks in life. We often forget our special place as beloved children of God, especially when things are bad.
We feel singled out when we hear the diagnosis in the doctors office, when our child is in trouble, or when we cannot make that payment, when we cannot deal with life. We find it difficult to live with the conviction of our purpose. But In Penny’s story, and in today’s Gospel, we learn to look beyond the “why me?” and find the world’s idea of perfection is not necessarily God’s idea of perfection.
How do we know? Jesus. Through him we see the love of God and by him we know that God will always holds us near. You are never alone. Through Jesus, the one thing we are chosen for is the indescribable love God has for each one of us.
In Penny, in the Leper, in the brokenness of each one of our lives, we glimpse the purpose of our creation, and learn to listen for that soft healing voice that says: “I do choose, I am with you.” We are reawakened to the fact that despite our problems and imperfections, we are not alone, unwanted or useless. God is always near. Everyone who reaches out to Christ, is transformed, externally and internally. We are never the same.
I find it amazing that the truth and love of God is seen is a young baby with Down syndrome, a forgotten leper and in each of our life stories. Penny’s mother did not conceive of brokenness either hers or Penny’s as potentially good – gifts from God that enabled both of them to admit their humanity, the need for one another, the need for God’s grace.
However in the silence, in those early, dark hours of Penny’s life, it was her baby’s presence—her smiling face and tiny hands and warm body that brought the mother to the realization that Penny’s was God’s beautiful creation and design. That soft voice of Jesus gently saying – I chose Penny, I choose you, it’s ok.
When Jesus says “I do choose” to the Leper he assures that neither Penny, her mother or any one of us will ever be relegated to the fringes of society in his father’s kingdom.
When Jesus says “I do choose,” to that Leper on the street, he takes away all the isolation, pain and rejection for each us who are not perfect. We are only one outstretched hand away; this is why Jesus came into the world.
The article about Penny concludes with the author describing that she and Penny have started reading a book about Jesus. They read the story of Jesus blessing the little children. Penny is fascinated. At the end, the mom tells Penny that Jesus loves her just like he loves the little children in the story. The mom asks Penny if she knows that she too can talk to Jesus.
Without hesitation, Penny nods her head, folds her hands, and says, “Pray.” Go back to that street in Galilee, it is the morning. Move those dirty rags away from your face. He is looking at you, what are you going to do? Remember, you matter more than you believe.