Healing of a Leper

READINGS

Matt 8:1-4

1 Now, at His descending from the mountain, vast throngs follow Him. 2 And lo! a leper, coming to Him, worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if Thou shouldst be willing, Thou canst cleanse me!” 3 And, stretching out His hand, He touches him, saying, “I am willing! Be cleansed!” And immediately, cleansed is his leprosy. 4 And Jesus is saying to him, “See that you may tell it to no one, but go away; show yourself to the priest and bring the approach present which Moses bids, for a testimony to them.

AC 9209 [3] The outward aspect of charity is what the external or literal sense of the Word describes when it says that aid should be given to the poor and needy, but the inward aspect of charity is what the internal or spiritual sense of the Word describes. For in the spiritual sense the internal man who is in a state of poverty and need and should be aided is meant, because in that sense ‘the poor and needy’ is used to mean those who lack good and have no knowledge of truth, and still have a desire for them. How these people are to be helped the letter of the Word also teaches, especially the Word taught by the Lord Himself when He was in the world. At that time the Lord revealed such things as have to do with the internal man, as is evident throughout the Gospels. Nevertheless He spoke in such a way that every detail had at the same time an inner meaning, intended for angels and at the same time for those in the internal Church. For the inner meaning contains such things as the authentic teachings of the Church present.

[4] Let what the Lord said to the disciples sent by John the Baptist to ask whether He was the One who must come serve to exemplify this,

Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard, that the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the poor have the gospel preached to them. Luke 7:20, 22.

These words were spoken for the external man and at the same time for the internal man. For the external man they declared that such miracles were being performed, for the internal man that the Church is being established among the kind of people who in a spiritual sense are blind, lame, lepers, deaf, and poor, thus among gentiles who have no knowledge of good or truth, and still have a desire for them. For ‘the blind’ describes those who have no knowledge of truth, 6990; ‘the lame’ those who are governed by good, but not genuine good because they have no knowledge of truth, 4302; ‘lepers’ those who are unclean, and still have a desire to be made clean; and ‘the deaf’ those without any belief in truth because they have no perception of it.

SERMON

This story from the Gospels like all stories in the Word is a message of hope for us all, for it speaks of the possibility of change for the better even in the face of overwhelming odds.  What chance was there for this leper, living in this time, to be cured from this debilitating and ultimately fatal disease?  To all appearances his fate had been sealed; he would have seen many others around him having to endure the various progressive stages of this disease as its various symptoms manifested in them over time.  Lepers were condemned to live in isolation, and the law demanded that they remain so.  It was also a requirement that whenever they were in the vicinity of others they were to cry out, “unclean, unclean”.  Their appearance, once the symptoms were advanced, would have struck fear into many who came across them, skin lesions, loss of limbs, blindness, the collapse of the nasal cartilage along with various other deformities through injuries sustained due to a loss of sensation all made for a hopeless situation.  Physically, emotionally, socially, psychologically and spiritually isolated with no chance of help or support, with no one to turn to, this disease robbed its sufferers of their life, and humanity.

But every story in the Word is about us, and addresses spiritual realities that we may or may not yet have insight into.  We may not consider ourselves lepers, but the spiritual reality is that we all have to battle with the effects of a sense of disconnection from the Lord and others at different times of our lives and in such times find ourselves in states of spiritual isolation as we battle with issues in our life that we feel we will never be able to overcome.  But we can be encouraged that for the Lord all things are possible, for if we are prepared to cast ourselves upon Him He will prevail being ever willing to cleanse all from the debilitating influences that the evils of the loves of self and the world exert through that sense of self that sees itself as independent from all others including the source of life itself.

While the world may instinctively recoil from the disease of leprosy, it is not the case so far as spiritual leprosy is concerned.  In fact, where the ego or proprium is strong, not having been tempered through inner work spiritual leprosy largely goes unrecognised and may not even be regarded as a disease but considered the picture of health.  This is because the very things the lower self, born of the unchecked development of the natural mind, holds up as virtuous and to be aspired to often do little more than promote spiritual unease that brings a sense of disconnection from the Lord and others.  Things like pride in our own intelligence, self-sufficiency, attributing good to ourselves, justifying negative emotions, seeing ourselves in the right, a life philosophy centered on looking out for ourselves at the expense of others, and I’m sure you can come up with many other examples of attitudes we might habour that separate rather than connect us.

The point is that if we are to recognise the impacts of spiritual disease we need to acknowledge the truth of what the Word teaches regarding the nature of a self that has not been examined in the light of the Word.  For we find there that anything that arises from the love of self and the world is opposed to heaven, because it exalts the ego or proprium or self above others and ultimately above the Lord.  This tendency is what is meant spiritually by uncleanness; and its an uncleanness that is particularly virulent when mixed with a veneer of goodness.  When these ego centred states are justified as something good then it’s impossible to escape the effects of holding to falsities as truths and what is spiritually corrupt as virtuous.

Now here’s the thing; leprosy describes the state of everyone’s life prior to their regeneration. The love of self is unclean, and everything we build up from that love and regard as our self is rooted in that uncleanness.  This is why the Lord states that we must be born again, which means our minds need to be reformed through being willing to approach the Word to acquire a new what of thinking so that a new will might be formed in us by the Lord that takes its delight in heavenly things in which we can find a new sense of self.  This is what is meant by salvation, but to be saved, that is to acquire a new understanding and a new will from the Lord we must be willing to die to the old self that we have invariably become attached to.  This is a requirement if we are to acquire a sense of self born of the loves of heaven.

Divine revelation provides us with what the state of play is so far as the condition of our natural mind or self is concerned.  It shows us what the condition of the self is that has been built up from natural loves. That it is something totally corrupt.  Without truths of divine revelation to shine light on this we are imprisoned in a self that is incapable of seeing this, and so we suffer from a blindness or lack of understanding every much as debilitating as the blindness caused by leprosy.  That self is insensitive to spiritual realities because its spiritual nervous system has degraded and so lacks sensitivity to what the letter of the Word contains within it. Such a self can be said to be maimed in that it can’t grasp spiritual truths, and because of this it’s also lame for it struggles to walk in the truths it hears. The destruction of the nasal cartilage mirrors a spiritual condition in which there is a lack of spiritual perception or conscience and so an inability to perceive the destructive nature of selfish and worldly delights, while the lesions of the skin describe how falsities tear at the fabric of the mind weakening the power of truths to defend it against more severe falsities that seek to infect a person’s thoughts and affectional life.  This is the state of the self when the love of self and the pride in one’s own intelligence dominate over a love for the Lord and His Word; and it looks a lot like leprosy.

Yet, while hope may seem far off, we do see in the Word provision for those who are made clean (Lev 14). This intimates that healing and wholeness is possible.  But first we need to recognise that we are in need. Without acknowledging what the Word teaches concerning the state of the unregenerate natural mind we remain blind and so are unable to be helped.  Every mention of a leper in the Gospels is an account of the Lord’s power to heal and bring wholeness.  Therefore a leper represents a positive progression in the spiritual life in the sense that it reflects a state of acceptance regarding what truths teach concerning the state of the proprium; that it is unclean, and so now something is possible and hope is born along with a desire to be made clean (AC 9209.4).  Anyone who acknowledges the true state of the unregenerate self and is willing to make efforts to live from the Word in order to be born again into a new sense of self from the Lord is in a state called “a leper”.  This new self arises from truths from the Word, when they are used to examine our old self with its established patterns of belief and affections, acknowledge the evils and falsities found there, and cease from them as the basis of our life through the practise of repentance.

If a person is willing to do this then what they will find is that the Lord begins His descent from a mountain, where by a mountain we refer to the deeper levels of the Word concerned with genuine forms of love. Genuine forms of love, so far as the spiritual life is concerned, are those that flow from love to the Lord and love towards our neighbour.  By love to the Lord is meant the love of what is good, and by love towards the neighbour is meant the love of what is true.  It is when these loves become active in our life through our willingness to apply the Word to test the quality of our inner mental life that the Lord is said to descend from the mountain.  Another way of thinking about this is to see that when we respond positively to promptings of good or affirmatively to our understanding of truth through acting in ways that ground these in our life we open a pathway through which what belongs to higher spiritual uses is able to come forth into our conscious awareness as we engage with the Word.

The Lord’s love seeks to bring wholeness to all and the means by which He does that is through His Word, for the Word or Sacred Scripture is the Lord.  So when we act from the Word to work spiritually we ground the Lord’s love for the salvation of the human race in the more external levels of the mind which results in healing and wholeness being brought where there was previously only dis-ease and disconnectedness. This opening of the Word occurs as we acknowledge it as an authority in our life with real power to bring healing and wholeness.  When we approach as a leper we invite the Lord in so that He can be consciously present with us where He can bring about a transformation in our lives that better reflects spiritual values and heavenly aspirations.  To approach the Word in this way is to do so as a leper who “worships Him” saying, “Lord, if You should be willing, You can cleanse me!”

This leper is everyone who realises that they need to be connected to the Lord as the Word if they are to experience a true sense of wholeness or completeness in their life.  What we see in the leper’s response is what constitutes true worship. True worship is a life that flows from examining the quality of what passes for our mental life in the light of what the Word teaches and looking to the Lord to have what is contrary to that removed. It is obvious that for the leper to know his need of the Lord he had to first accept that he was a leper and that his only hope was to approach the Lord for help.  Such a realisation is needed by everyone who wishes to be made whole.  Without examining the quality of our interior life from the Word we won’t see our need of cleansing and so will not feel a need to approach the Lord.

But for those who do approach the Lord i.e. those who approach the Word, and allow it to do its work within their mind the Lord’s response is always “I am willing; be cleansed.”  For the Lord is only interested in restoring us to wholeness, yet He cannot move toward us unless we approach Him freely from our understanding of what is required. This is clear when we see that the Lord is the Word which means that for the Word to have power in our life it must be in our mind and it can’t be in our mind unless we look to it and engage with it as the foundation for our spiritual life and practise.

Amen

About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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