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Four Lepers and Lessons in Life

Manic in Manila

It’s that time of the year! Where religious bones in bodies of countless people start to ache and creak. Conscience makes itself felt in ways akin to hunger pangs, refusing to be ignored. Yes, it is undeniable: as Holy Week nears, a large number of folk tend to grow a shade or two more religious. So, I shall take advantage of this by talking of a Biblical account from which I happen to draw inspiration. Not because I’m religious, like that, nor because (now hang on to your socks, this may come as a shock to those of you not in the know) I worked as a Youth Pastor for 15 years, but simply because it is a story that I can apply to daily life. MY daily life; my oft-challenging daily life. It is a tale that is a tad more obscure than your traditional Sunday School fare, but it is one that has helped me on numerous occasions.

“You mean we can apply the Bible to our daily lives even when it ISN’T Holy week??? “You mean we can apply the Bible to our daily lives, AT ALL???” Yes, and yes. Resoundingly so. If you do not agree, this is your chance to look away. Otherwise, read on – and take it with a grain of salt (and a shot of tequila), if you choose.

Let’s look at the story of four lepers, sitting at the entrance or at the walls of the city gates. “What??? Lepers sitting at the city gates? Why on earth were they there?” Well, I’m glad you asked…

The lepers’ conundrum

The account can be found in the Old Testament Book of Kings; Second Kings, to be precise. Quoting 2 Kings 7: beginning with verse 3, from the easier to read and comprehend New International Version (NIV): (3) Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? (4) If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die.”

Here you have four leprous men, and one very big conundrum: they were not allowed in the city of Samaria, because of their leprosy. Lepers, back in those days, were considered unclean or unholy. So much so that they had to announce their presence by yelling out “Unclean! Unclean” as they went about their business or approached others. Imagine the stigma. Imagine the shame. Imagine how non-existent, the self-worth.

They were outcasts; considered outsiders amongst their own people. Now I certainly am no leper, but there are times that I have felt like that. Life has a way of sometimes making you feel cast out of the best it has to offer. Problems and extreme challenges come against you. Or perhaps you have done something so terrible; sinned so “horribly” that you now feel unclean and isolated from the “good folk.” Just like the lepers. Believe you me, I can SO relate.

City under siege

Creating an even bigger conundrum, the city was under siege by the Syrian army (the Arameans settled in Syria, and as such, were known as the Syrian-Arameans), and famine had gripped the land. No supplies were allowed in or out, which is kind of the point of a siege. So why would they even want to enter the city, in the first place? No food at the gates, no food within them, either.

Whatever could they possibly do?

The lepers were, pardon the intentional pun, falling apart. Literally, and figuratively.

“If we go to the city, we die; if stay here, we die,” they thought to themselves. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Now remember, these lepers had already come from the city, where the “clean” folk were. They were cast out because of their disease. They were a pariah in their own community. They could not go back, and – because of the siege – nor would they have good reason to.

It is interesting and ironic to note that many times, those people we look to as “having it all” (or, at least, having it better than us) are themselves under siege. Those whom we perceive as living a better life on the greener side of the fence may very well be struggling, themselves. Sure, they may not be isolated and dealing with the same set of challenges – but they have their own struggles. This is why it sometimes happens that people we generally consider as successful, rich, well-adjusted, beautiful, socially accepted commit self-destructive acts of desperation, or end up in a vortex of abuse – drugs, alcohol, sex; you get the picture. These people, too, are under siege and falling apart – only they are falling apart in ways that may not be quite as obvious to the onlooker.

Get up, and move forward!

So what do you do when you find yourself at a point in your life at which EVERYTHING, and then some, seems to be falling apart? When you cannot stay where you are, and you cannot go back, because both places have nothing left to offer? When you have nothing to go back to and all is lost in your past, yet your present is just as terrible? What do you do when you don’t know what else to do?

YOUR BEST BET IS TO KEEP MOVING FORWARD!!! Boldfaced, with three exclamation points for emphasis. I would underline and italicize it, too; but I think you get the point.

Don’t give up; don’t quit. Think about your situation, wallow for a bit in your misery if you have to; then use reason and play the options out in your head. Muster up all the faith and bravery you have left within you, and put one foot in front of the other. GET UP AND MOVE ON.

The lepers realized they had nothing left to lose, and they chose to move forward: 2 Kings 7:4 “So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”

They took a giant step of faith and courage. True, their faith was tempered by fatalism (“If we die, we die…”), but the act of moving forward was in itself an act of determination. Others may have opted to give up and stay put, instead of venturing on. The lepers knew that moving forward, at least, gave them a fighting chance.

Fortitude + faith

There’s a word I really like: Fortitude; courage in adversity. Here’s the thing fortitude, mixed with faith – it always produces results, whether immediately or eventually. Fortitude and faith propel you forward. To avoid falling off religion’s deep end, or losing those who are of the non-spiritual persuasion, I’d like to postulate that faith has many anchors: we can also view faith as rooted in the belief that things will get better; faith that if we do not give up – and continue doing what is right, somewhere, somehow things will turn around in our favor; faith in yourself; faith in others; faith in the good that remains within each of us.

Now maybe that is the remnant of the cockeyed optimist in me, rearing up its chirpy head. But honestly, I refuse to live a life ruled by despair and hopelessness. And so, I choose to keep believing that there IS still good out there; I choose to keep pressing on. Have I been disappointed, at times? Of course. Severely so. We all have. BUT I KEEP MOVING FORWARD, nonetheless. I cannot wallow forever in the misery of past mistakes: I cannot live in a present plagued by lack – so I press on to what is hopefully a better tomorrow.

This is what the lepers chose to do, and guess what? When they got to the camp of the Arameans, they found that no one was there, for the ones they feared had been spooked away by the sound of chariots. The spoils of war awaited the lepers, even though they had not fought the battle themselves. Their part was to step out and move forward in faith. “To keep on keeping on,” and not give up.

What do you do when you don’t know what else to do? YOU KEEP MOVING FORWARD. Tomorrow may very well be the day that things turn around for you, for the better!