In our small group study we are working our way through Matthew, and yesterday evening we talked about the stories in Chapter 8 in which Jesus heals the leper by reaching out to him and touching him. "I do choose," he says, when the leper says that his healing is Jesus' choice. The question in our book (Three Months with Matthew, by Justo Gonzalez) asked who were the lepers in our lives. Of course, this is exactly the same question I'd been asked in my class--who had I treated as a leper?
It is interesting to see how the question is treated in a secular environment, compared with how my faith compels me to act. As a client-centered counselor, I need to be empathic and accepting of my client, although I don't necessarily have to accept his or her actions. The funny thing is that this would be really hard to do unless I had Jesus' example to follow. It will be hard enough to summon a font of empathy when I see clients; it seems like the source of empathy and humility comes from God, and recognizing that fact keeps me out of the center of the relationship. It makes room for me to help someone else, even if we never explicitly talk about God's role in our relationship.
I've also been thinking about that other paper that I've researched this weekend, about conservative Christians as a culture and what their norms are. One group of outsiders there, lepers as it were, is women who are victims of domestic violence. There is incredible pressure to submit to husbands who don't necessarily see the admonition to love their wives "as Christ loved the church" which immediately follows the infamous submission statement in Ephesians. These women are shunned within their church communities when they try to protect themselves and their children, and they're misunderstood by counselors who don't have a background in understanding and respecting their conservative beliefs . Thankfully there are a growing number of organizations that understand those beliefs and also can work within that culture, and they are reaching out to these women and families. The result is a lot of healing, whether it's within or outside of the marriage. Both can happen and be supported. To me, reading this story about Jesus and the leper has helped me to frame the counseling profession a little better. It's a lot of food for thought.