Open to Being Vulnerable

Mark 1:40-45

Today we see how Jesus responds to a leper who pleads for healing. This incident gives us a beautiful picture of the way Jesus responds to us when we are open to being vulnerable to him, knowing he can make us clean.

 

It’s hard to imagine what it would feel like to be Jesus in that moment, to be able to comfort and heal one of his beloved children who has declared  his total reliance on him. Those of us who are parents or grandparents of small children, may have a little bit of an idea having experienced that feeling of being bowled over with love when one of our children have similarly come to us in need, rushing to us as we arrive home from work.

                                                                                                                                                         

They run to you and say, “Daddy, Mommy”. You may be feeling tired and sweaty from a long day’s work. Nonetheless, they give you a big hug with their pudgy little arms wrapped around your neck. Knowing your little ones rely on, and love you that much does wonders for your heart, doesn’t it?

 

I heard from a dad who came home one day and his little daughter said, “Four hundred and thirty-three seconds!  Four hundred and thirty-three seconds!”  When he asked her what that number meant, she said, “That’s how long I’ve been counting for you to get home, and you finally got here!” You can’t beat that.  Our daughter used to say to us, “Mommy, Daddy, I love you bigger than the sky.”  You can’t beat that either.

 

How wonderful it must be to God’s ears to hear us reaching out to him as his vulnerable children, in prayer, singing out our praises to him.  Of course, we know that his love for us is in fact bigger than the sky.

How about this, moms- think of a time when you hear a distressed cry from your infant child who has just fallen face-first into the mud.  Your little girl now runs toward you, looking for comfort as tears are streaming down her dirty face.  Do you run the other way, avoiding the mud, or do you comfort your child?  Well of course, you take her in your arms, soiling your own clothes; you comfort her, then gently clean all the muck from her eyes, ears, and mouth. You love her, clean her, and comfort her.

 

Your child has come to you, in effect saying through her tears: "I am a mess. I can't clean myself.  If you are willing, you can make me clean." And you are willing. She has professed their unabashed vulnerability and dependence on you, which is born out of the love you share.

 

Our faith tells us that when we profess our unabashed vulnerability and dependence on God, he will respond to us, similarly, in love.

 

The trouble is the world around us doesn’t see things that way. Instead of being humble and vulnerable to God, and others, we are generally drawn to give into peer pressure. We don’t rely on God, or others. We rely on ourselves because of pride- we want to fit in or keep up with everyone.

 

One of my other lasting memories of our children’s growing up years was one day when the kids were coming home from school.  I was home that day and was in the yard when our daughter’s school bus arrived. She was now about 12.  I went out to greet her in the yard as I had done numerous times before, and she was taking a direct route right at me as I was taking a direct route to her.  But as she approached me, she (using some football parlance here) broke off the pattern, and made an end run around me and headed directly to our front door.

 

I’m standing there, thinking to myself, whatever became of that “loving me bigger than the sky” stuff that I used to hear about?  And, sure enough, as I looked up, within full view of us was some of her school friends walking by, seeing the whole thing.  My daughter, knowing they were there, didn’t want to be seen gushing over her old dad.

 

Isn’t that kind of how it is with all of us?  We let our pride and anxieties get the best of us.  We do an end run around Jesus, instead of being vulnerable, and relying on him to comfort us, as we know he can.

 

Our aversion to vulnerability also extends to all our relationships. It keeps us from letting our true selves be seen. Being vulnerable is both risky and rewarding. It takes courage, but it also connects us to others.

 

God has wired us for connection and given us a longing to be known and to know others. He wants us to live in a way that connects us to him and each another. But we often thwart that connection with self-protective shields that become barriers to healthy relationships, barriers that keep us from experiencing the intimacy that both we and God desire.

 

Love and fear are completely at odds with one another because in order to experience love in life, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We have to allow people to see us deeply (intimacy translated “Into Me See”); we have to be willing to show others our flaws, our frailties, our fears, and our doubts.

                                                                 

On this World Marriage Sunday, we’re reminded that opening up to our spouses, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, is what gives the bond of marriage its staying power. When we’re vulnerable about our flaws and mistakes, it shows our spouses that we trust them. Not only will they comfort us, they will begin to open up their own hearts to us in return.

 

I was reminded of this while watching the movie, Adam’s Rib (1949), last week – Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In the movie, the two of them (married) are working as opposing lawyers on the same case. He was prosecuting, and she was defending, a woman who shot her husband.

 

Much of this comedy focused on the interplay between Katharine Hepburn (this staunch women’s rights champion) and Spencer Tracy (who had a bit of a different set of sensibilities), and the strains on their relationship as they fiercely competed against each other on the same case.

 

But despite the many influences throughout the movie for them to separate, the thing that bound them together was their willingness to be vulnerable, even though he was this tough guy lawyer and she was a hardline feminist. As a matter of fact, there were a number of times when, she especially opened herself up to him, sobbing, (you might even say blubbering), selflessly seeking harmony and reconciliation. The thing is, being vulnerable didn’t make her any less effective as a wife, or attorney or feminist. In fact, in the end, she ended up winning the case.

 

The world tells us that when we are vulnerable, we show weakness and, as a result, we’re gonna push people away. But when we’re honest about our weaknesses, be they inner conflicts, feelings, thoughts or addictions, we're not going to push most people away (especially Christians). We certainly won’t push God away. We’ll most likely see people drawn to us.

 

It was Elisabeth Shue who once said, “I understand now that the vulnerability I’ve always felt is the greatest strength a person can have. You can’t experience life without feeling life. What I’ve learned is that being vulnerable to somebody you love is not a weakness, it’s a strength.”

 

Leprosy, as mentioned in the first reading and Gospel, is symbolic of the paralyzing effect of prideful sin and isolation from God and others when we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable. But we, like the leper in the Gospel, can be freed of our afflictions if we have faith in the power of God’s touch. In our brokenness, Jesus can provide the healing we need.

 

Jesus’ answers to our prayers are not always what we might expect, but if we reach out to him, like the leper did, saying, “Jesus, if you wish, you can get me through these tough times, if you wish, you can calm my fears”, he is guaranteed to respond, just like the mom will always respond when her child comes home crying, dirty and upset because she has just landed in the mud puddle.

 

 

So we should take with us today the confidence that this Holy leper exhibited.  He said, “You Jesus, can make me clean.” He believes with all of his heart that Jesus is the one who can cleanse him. We need to become convicted in our faith in the same way.

 

If we had that kind of confidence, we’d be just like the leper, not afraid to let others know about our faith, and draw others to it by our example.

 

So, we give thanks today for the never-ending love that we receive from Jesus.  Let us not be afraid to cry out to him as a child cries out to his mother, and then cherish the embrace of love that he furnishes to us without hesitation.  Instead of “breaking off the pattern” that would have taken us to Jesus’ loving arms, let’s break off that pattern of pride in our lives that takes us down the wrong path every time. 

 

Jesus can restore us if we are open to being vulnerable to him, just like a child. It is only in our vulnerability that we can experience love in its fullest and find the comfort and healing that we need!

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