Breaking the Silence

Several years ago, in partnership with The Work of the People and Walter Brueggemann, House published The Psalmist’s Cry, a series on lament. Being that we’ve entered the Lenten season, accessing emotions of sorrow is particularly fitting. Below you’ll find video by Brueggemann and commentary by Steve Frost:

In this video Brueggemann talks about the idea of our “pain being made available” to us as an agent of healing and change . . . How might we begin this process? We could look to Matthew 8:1-4, a story about Jesus healing a leper, to gain some insight.

When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.

First of all, it’s imperative to note that the man comes to Jesus as a leper. He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than one of the most wounded. He doesn’t come to Jesus on his terms, pretending to have control over his life: “Hey, Jesus. Yeah, I’m good. Family’s good, busy at work, you know, the usual. Hey, I wonder if I could bother you about something? I’ve got things pretty much under control except this one little thing that’s making life a bit tough. I could manage on my own, but since you’re right here I thought I might as well see if you could do something about it.” Nope. He knows he’s a leper and approaches Jesus as a leper. His incredible vulnerability leads to honest truth-telling. He makes a plain statement, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Amaz­ing truth! But his explicit truth-telling—”You can make me clean”—is made possible by implicit truth-telling—”I am unclean.”

The second thing we notice is the trust this man places in Jesus. It’s one thing to know you are a leper, to know others know you are a leper, and to live in silence under that truth. It’s another thing to stand in front of an­other human being and say out loud, “I am a leper.”What if Jesus wouldn’t heal him? What if Jesus did heal him and he couldn’t bear feeling his own pain? What if all the pain he had been prevented from feeling all came to him at once? It seems he had an ongoing trust in Jesus. He trusted Jesus with not only his initial healing but also with whatever was to come after.

The last thing we notice is that Jesus gives specific instructions to the healed leper, saying, “‘Don’t talk about this all over town. Just quietly pres­ent your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done’” (Matt 8:4, msg). Obeying Jesus’ command requires incredible ongoing vulnerability. If the man talks about what Jesus did, he can talk about it in abstract and distant terms. He can get past his past and carry on on his own terms. But a “cleansed and grateful life” ties his story to his acknowledgement of leprosy and his healing from lep­rosy. We don’t know if this healed leper resisted at all, but as emotional lep­ers, we do. We resist this ongoing act of healing in our lives because with it our lives become about Jesus healing us and not about us controlling or managing our way through life. If there’s one thing we like, it’s the illusion of being in control. Sometimes we’d rather die of leprosy than give it up.

So what does this story mean for us emotional lepers? We can say without question that we find immense importance in sharing our burdens aloud and having others carry those burdens. Brueggemann says, “the pastoral work has to do with entitling and empowering people to make a case in the presence of God for the legitimacy of their own life.” In light of this statement, we remember we are “a royal priesthood” of believers (1 Peter 2:9). We are to carry out this pastoral work for each other, to be the healing hands and feet of Jesus to each other.

Deep friendship centered around a mutual Jesus-like servant heart creates the possibility for trusting vulnerability. As we are the hands and feet of Jesus to each other, we give each other the opportunity to take the first step of dealing with our pain, to kneel in acknowledgment of our emotional leprosy, to utter the truth about our inability to feel our pain. Within that trust we are vulnerably known as ones who has been healed by Jesus. We can lay down all of the identities foisted upon us—president, teacher, drifter, loner, loser, breadwinner, parasite, beauty queen, freak. We can lay down our unrelenting drive to manage our way through life, to live under any labels except “vulnerable.” Within that trust we can break the silence, uttering, “heal me, let me feel my pain,” knowing those we trust will con­tinue to be there to help us through our pain.

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