There are certainly plenty of problems in the world that we see on the news or read about in papers and on mobile devices. And on Monday of this week I was also reminded that there are plenty of problems in my own driveway.
After a long day at work I’d picked up dinner and brought it home to my family. I was ready to eat and sit for awhile, hopefully followed by cleaning up and laying down. That was my agenda for the evening, of course with a few detours for tickling and squeezing my kids and spending some peaceful time with my wife. But it seems that wonderful schedule of serenity just wasn’t to be.
After realizing that there was something we needed at the store that just couldn’t wait till the next day I ate and then got back in the car to go shopping. Did I mention that shopping is one of my least favorite forms of torture? As I was walking out of the store, having dutifully secured the items in question, I saw that 0ne of my tires looked a bit low. No worries, I thought, I hit it with some air tomorrow morning…it’s probably just a slow leak.
And it was a slow leak, in the same way that stock cars and muscle cramps are slow. So, before I got home there was a rhythmic thumping coming from the rear driver’s side of my vehicle. I rolled down my window and could actually hear the air coming out of the tire, which sounded to me like a Jamaican sprinter escaping a rubber prison as quickly as humanly possible while trying to perform a dry-mouthed whistle. Whatever I ran over was apparently not in the mood to take its time ruining my tire.
Did I mention it was raining?
And had been for a couple of days.
Long story short: after standing out in the rain trying to remove, fix and remount the tire…which didn’t come quite so easily as those three words would suggest because in the middle of those words was a dead car battery, the car slipping off the jack and nearly breaking my arm, clothes soaking wet from laying in puddles trying to stack lumber to get my car off the ground again, and then the realization that the tire was cut too badly to fix in the first place – after all of that, and my entire evening gone, I was exactly where I’d started: in the driveway, with a flat tire mounted on my car.
Did I mention that mosquitos in South Carolina aren’t intimidated by rain and wind?
So, not to ignore all of the legitimate trouble that was going on in the world, but I had more than I could handle just in my own third of an acre here on planet Earth. And on days like that it’s easy to get caught up in everything that is wrong with my life. It is easy to become remarkably negative and vindictive toward everyone and everything. I hated the nameless, faceless terrorist who’d left something in the road for me to run over; I hated the company that made the jack I used because they’d designed the base too small and prone to slip; I hated cell phone flashlights because they apparently can only be held at two angles: completely away from you or directly in your eyes; I hated the rain no matter how many crops it grew, flowers it watered or lakes it filled; I hated myself for hating people and for a few minutes I felt a lot like the last panel in a Charlie Brown cartoon strip while I stood dripping wet with half a jack in one hand and a broken phone in the other.
After all of that, the morning the sun didn’t come up to brighten things the next day. It was still overcast here. But in my reading in the Gospels I did come across one of my favorite stories about Jesus. And it gave the last night a bit of context. Jesus was approached by a man who suffered from leprosy, the Bible says this man was “full” of leprosy (Luke 5.12), and the man asked Jesus this, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
I’ve always been compelled by the tone that seems present in this man’s statement. It isn’t a question as much as it is the voice of perpetual disappointment trying to find a way out of a run of bad days the number of which we can only speculate. He was an outcast, a societal reject, a monster that was legally bound to stay at least 6 feet away from every other human being he saw – presumably this was so his run of bad days wouldn’t rub off on everyone else and turn their existence into the same kind of hell that he lived in daily. After all, everybody knows that bad days are contagious.
He seems to understand, somehow, that Jesus is absolutely able to make him whole. He doesn’t ask Jesus if He can, he asks Him if He will. The “can” of the matter wasn’t the issue. The “can” was a conclusion the leper had come to before this interaction. He knew that people could be kind, could be compassionate, could embrace their loved ones, could sit together at a table and eat dinner…but the question for an outcast wasn’t “can,” it was “will.” Are you willing to endure the stigma of touching me? Are you willing to look at me long enough to see that I’m not just having another bad day but there is a deeper problem? Will you help me when you are under no legal or social obligation to do so?
Jesus’ words are simple, they do not create a spectacle, they are not dramatic. Jesus doesn’t attempt to make an example out of this man’s life; maybe Jesus figures he’s been on display for long enough and he doesn’t need any more of that. And in a kind way, I believe, with compassion in every movement:
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.
This image of Jesus, the man who was God, who was the “I am” that spoke to Abraham and Moses so long ago, should not be confined to the divine “I can.” Instead, Jesus is the “I will.”
The Bible says that “all the promises of God are yes” (2 Cor 1:20). He is the one who looks upon the broken and doesn’t say, “look, you’re broken…you realize that right?” But He is the one who reaches to touch the broken, to gather them up in their pieces, and say, “I’m here to put you back together.”
On my worst days I do take comfort in the might and power of God, in His ability to heal and restore and forgive my foolishness, but on those days when things seem unable to get much worse it is not the “I can” that brings me rest, it is the “I will” that calms the storms of my soul. And despite all of the myriad problems the world faces, even the ones that are taking place past my own driveway, there will come a moment when the “I am” will say “I will,” and in that moment all things will be made new.