Born into a fifth-generation Christian family of Hindu/Muslim background in India, Frank Wesley brings a stunning faith perspective to his work. He was internationally known and at the request of the family designed an urn for Mahatma Ghandi’s ashes.
Above is a picture of Jesus healing the leper (Luke 5:12-16). For those not familiar with the gospel account, it is a story of endurance especially when it comes to suffering. I don’t know about you, but I am not big on suffering. I duck when I see suffering coming my way. Give me the “maximum relief” whatever over-the-counter help, I can get.
You know what hurts more?
When I see someone I love, someone I care about, just about anyone who suffers–gets to me. So, come back to Frank Wesley’s painting. Leprosy was highly contagious in the first century. It was the COVID 19 on steroids. As you gaze at the picture, you see on the right side of the painting the disciples keeping their social distancing and standing back and somewhat aloof. Jesus is the one bending over and making eye-contact with the leper. With one swift move, Jesus looks not only at the leper but he looks at suffering in the face and sees death is right around the corner. Sure, the leper can sit under the tree until he dies. Or, the leper now has the opportunity to “take hold of the life that really is life” (I Timothy 6:19). It is life with God. It is life that has about it an eternal destiny.
Our faith has traditionally understood endurance not as an antidote to suffering, illness, or even death, but to look at endurance as a gift that helps us see through heartache and have a vision for life that is greater than the physical limitations of our current human existence. This is not about avoidance or denial or even some sort of psychological deflection. It is more about finding meaning, purpose, direction and significance in the midst of the turmoil that is swirling around and within us.
Often people think of endurance as a way of sucking it up, digging in their heels, having a stiff upper lip, and facing the music on their own. The contemporary word for this attitude is “grit.” In the face of hardship, grit is about the individual pursuit of marshalling the forces of passion and persistence to overcome whatever trials we may face. The story of the leper and Jesus is different. Yes, the leper cries out, “how long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13) Notice his words do not vaporize into thin air. He is not kicking the tree, nor is he suffering on his own. In the midst of suffering, God is present and according to the psalmist with the cry, comes “steadfast love.”
Endurance exceeds grit. Endurance opens us to our faith and the blessed assurance of a life that is fuller and richer than we can ask for or imagine. Recall, “Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame.” (Hebrews 12:2). This is not just about the leper. This is our story. This is our song, even or especially in the midst of suffering.