The scriptures include many accounts in which deeply flawed human beings reveal their weaknesses, experiencing defeat, hardship, and untimely death. The Bible is not a book about superheroes, but a book that tells us about human experiences with God throughout the ages, warts and all. Stories such as these sometimes cause us to question, “Where was God? What was he doing? Doesn’t he care?” We often struggle for explanations when our side loses. Being a human with limited information and understanding does not always put us into a very good position to evaluate what God is doing and why, and sometimes this problem persists for years and years thereafter.
Some part of this story may still resonate with those who live with other kinds of threats to their wellbeing, perhaps involving violence, disease, or loss of a loved one. We may struggle in prayer, asking that these threats be removed from us, but often our struggle continues. Hopefully we endure, but we are likely to ask, “Where is God? What is He doing? Doesn’t He Care?” In doing so, we reflect our humanity. We know that we lack what we need, and that only God can help us. We may fail to understand the full context or significance of our struggles, but we hang on by faith. Our confidence rests in our knowing that God is good and trustworthy – a trust that is also nourished supernaturally by divine grace and by the prayers of the faithful.
Today’s Gospel reflects the simple beauty of a leper’s prayer. This man had endured suffering and anguish, and perhaps also fear, as he witnessed his flesh wasting away. We are told that he came to Jesus and “did him homage”. Then, he chose not to beg, plead, or cajole, as some have done. (Compare Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52). Instead, he left room for Jesus to do as he wished, stating plainly: “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
Such graciousness is present in this man’s request. It strikes me as a better model for prayer than the questioning model we adopt during periods of stress and turmoil. But thankfully, God hears both kinds of prayer, and He is gracious to us in spite of our ungraciousness. I am grateful for the example of the leper recorded in Matthew’s gospel. He could not have known his prayer would teach so much to others coming after him who would also follow Jesus.
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