Hope: A Leper Showed Us The Way
By Deacon Walter Middleton – There is a new kind of leprosy spreading; a disease that is difficult to diagnose because it affects the mind rather than the body. This disease is hopelessness.
Like a parasite, hopelessness feeds on the host and thrives while the host suffers a slow death. It numbs the mind of the person by spreading its tentacles in the form of an inferiority complex, depression, lack of confidence, and lethargy.
In my interaction with adults and youths, I am becoming more and more convinced that there is a deep sense of hopelessness and frustration setting in amongst people of all ages.
Amid all the global wars, corruption at all levels, high crime rates, gender-based violence, child abuse, economic crises, loadshedding, water shortages and so on, it seems that there is just doom, gloom, and despair. Adults wonder whether there is any future for their children.
Children, when they hear their parents’ complaints about the innumerable challenges and problems of life, are starting to wonder whether there is any hope for them. In the process many children become disillusioned and insecure. Added to the many other challenges young people face, this hopelessness can lead to inferiority complex and a lack of confidence.
Like leprosy, which slowly eats the body of the person, hopelessness eats the will of the person. Just like leprosy, which reduces the size of the limbs, these psychological leprosies reduce the size of the will. Much like the leprous parts that lose their sensation, the hopeless person too loses an enthusiasm for life.
Light in a hopeless cave
Matthew 8 introduces an unusual leper. According to the Jewish customs of the times, lepers were forced to live far away from civilisation, to prevent the supposed transmission of the sickness to others (today we know that you cannot contract leprosy through casual contact with a person who has what is now called Hansen’s disease). They lived in hopeless dark caves. Their hope of recovery diminished as their limbs grew shorter. Some cursed God and prayed for death.
But the leper in Matthew was of a different breed. He lived in a dark cave but admired the light outside. He watched his limbs becoming shorter day by day, but he was also watchful that his hope would not diminish. Though his condition was cursed, he remained blessed and positive. He praised God for the blessings he had received in the past and prayed for healing.
One fine day his prayers were answered. He met his deliverer face to face. He prayed for healing. Instead of shouting, “I am unclean,” he exclaimed: “Make me clean!” Jesus heard the plea of this extraordinary man and healed him in a dramatic way — by touching him, the supposedly “untouchable”.
For those of us who are battling with hopelessness, this man teaches a priceless lesson: that we too can remain blessed, no matter how cursed or problematic or challenging our life is. He reminds us that we can run short of everything, but we must be watchful that we never run short of hope. Like many others, he could have looked at his deformed body and said, “I am ugly”, but instead he placed his hope in the Lord and said, “I will be better.” He looked at the future, rather than dwell on past or present problems.
Saved in hope
The title of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi counsels us that “in hope we are saved”, an echo of St Paul in his Letter to the Romans (8:24). As Christians we know that salvation is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, a trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present. Through this hope, the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted, because it leads towards a goal. Hope is a key word in the Bible, so much so that in several passages the words “faith” and “hope” seem interchangeable. Why does our faith fail when the storm rages and our prayers seem to go unanswered?
Our hangups thrive on our dark past, while hopelessness feeds on it, on the way to a dark future. If we, like the leper, pray to Jesus — the Light of the World — to heal our past and our challenges, our future will be bright.
Through prayer and faith, and hope and trust in the Lord, we can overcome any storm in our lives. I am hopeful that all of us will do our bit to chase hopelessness away from this world.
Rev Walter Middleton is a deacon in the archdiocese of Johannesburg. Parts of this article were inspired by Fr Francis Gamaliyel’s “Be a Beacon of Hope”.
Published in the September 2023 issue of The Southern Cross magazine
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