“God may thunder His commands from Mount Sinai and men may fear, yet remain at heart exactly as they were before. But let a man once see his God down in the arena as a Man–suffering, tempted, sweating, and agonized, finally dying a criminal’s death–and he is a hard man indeed who is untouched.” JB Phillips Your God is Too Small
“Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you.” Tim Keller
About 150 years ago, a Belgium Priest name Father Damien, answered the call to minister to the Hawaiian Islands. It was during this time period Hawaii required those who contacted Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) to be quarantined in a far off place on the Island of Molokai. The church realized it needed to ask at least four volunteer priests to rotate and help minister among the sick, but didn’t want to order any priests since the task was so dangerous. Father Damien was one of the first to answer the call.
It was recorded at his arrival He spoke to the assembled lepers as “one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you”. Father Damien not only became a priest to the sick, and a comfort for the dying, “he dressed resident’s ulcers, built a reservoir, built homes and furniture, made coffins, and dug graves.” It is said under his leadership “working farms were more organized, schools, along with an education system were enforced.”
Eleven years into his ministry Father Damien spilled a pot of boiling water on his foot and realized his foot and felt no pain. It was at this point He knew he had contacted leprosy. It was said he would address his congregation every Sunday as “my dear brethren”, but the next Sunday addressed them as “My fellow lepers, I am one of you now.” Father Damien did not let His leprosy cause Him to mope about His condition or stop working, but instead He worked hard till the end to serve others.
I love hearing the story of Father Damien, because His life really reminds me of some beautiful aspects of Jesus. Jesus is not one who is distant from our pain and suffering. Immanuel was one of the names attributed to Jesus in the Scriptures, and it means “God with us.” Jesus stepped into history and experienced all kinds of hardships on His way to the cross. Jesus felt extreme hunger, loneliness, exhaustion, sadness, rejection, poverty, unfair criticism, betrayal, denial, gossip, injustice, extreme physical suffering, extreme anxiety, and ultimately the Father’s wrath on us.
Not only did Jesus experience pain like us, we see in the scriptures He had special care for those experiencing pain such as the downtrodden, the sick, the poor. During Jesus time in Israel, Leprosy was especially brutal because it was not well understood, and had a very strong spiritual stigma attached to it. Those who contracted Leprosy were required to wear torn clothes and yell “unclean, unclean” everywhere they went. The Leper would have to live outside of the main town areas, and away from his/her family. They were not allowed to come within six feet of anyone including their families. In fact, if the winds were blowing they were not allowed to be within 150 ft of anyone. On top of this it was thought among many they were under some sort of spiritual judgment because of the disease. The disease was so feared it was called the living death.
We see Jesus encounter a Leper in Mark chapter 1. Jesus doesn’t shun the Leper and chastise Him for breaking the laws and norms by getting too close to Him. He instead has compassion on him and heals him instantly. In the Scriptures we see time and time again that Jesus whole life was one of compassion and healing. In fact, Jesus first sermon was a message of healing and freedom, reading right out of Isaiah 61:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Are you hurting or in pain? Jesus loves you. Do you know of anyone that is hurting or pain? Look at them with eyes and heart of Jesus and comfort them in anyway you can.