Scattered Feathers

Imagine standing on a hill on a windy day with a fluffy feather pillow in your hands. As the wind continues to blow, you tear open the pillow and empty its feathery contents into the wind. As you stand and watch the feathers being scattered by the wind, imagine attempting to retrieving each of those feathers. As you focus to pick up just one or two, the wind continues to blow feathers a greater and wider distance from you. It would seem a hopeless task.

When teaching on gossip and it effects, we find in rabbinic writing the imagery of scattering the feather pillow is sometimes used. While it seemed only a small thing, it very quickly grew beyond control or repair.

Matthew 8:1-3, “After Yeshua/Jesus had come down from the hill, large crowds followed him. Then a man afflicted with leprosy came, kneeled down in front of him and said, ‘Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand, touched him and said, ‘I am willing! Be cleansed!’”

After Messiah Yeshua/Jesus speaks the Sermon on the Mount, He is approached by a man afflicted by leprosy. According to Jewish law a leper was not to touch, speak, or otherwise interact with a ritually clean individual (Lev. 13:45-46). On this occasion, as we note in several instances in the Gospels, a leper approached Yeshua to be healed. Why was this man so moved that he risked social scorn, ridicule, or even threats of violence to ask Messiah to heal him? And why did Jesus touch this man, rather than simply speak healing to him?

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov. 18:21).

The rabbinic sages have concluded that leprosy, detailed in Leviticus 13 and 14, was the result of the sin of gossip or slander: לשון הרע/lashon harah, evil speech or the bad tongue. The Torah directs the people of God to “love your neighbor as yourselves” (Lev. 19:18), and to treat others, including an enemy, favorably (Ex. 23:4-5). Gossip, while seeming but a small matter, can destroy lives and reputations.

Even after forgiveness is sought and received, the reputation of the individual affected will never be completely recovered. Biblically, the gossip, should he remain unrepentant, was physically afflicted and then separated from the community. As he was not careful to guard his words, he would sit, reflect and seek healing from the Lord. His words to the general public would be limited to two: טָמֵא טָמֵא, “Unclean! Unclean!” By such a declaration, people would know his sin: he had to stay away from them, and they would stay away from him. He ate the fruit of his evil speech (Prov. 18:21).

The apostle James writes, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (Jas. 1:26). Additionally, Messiah Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:45).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua details how following Him will change the lives of His disciples. There is an inner transformation by faith that effects the outer reality of the disciple. The inner transformation by faith impacts the wider community by obedient-action to His command (Jn. 14:15).

The leper, by speaking to Messiah, was confessing his condition with faith that Jesus could make him whole again: “if you are willing,” not “if you can.” Messiah responds, “I am willing,” touching him and healing him.

As followers of Messiah we are called to humble servanthood. We are called to give people good news, not scandalize and ruin them. Messiah touched this leper to remind all of us that no matter how defiled we, or someone else may be, His touch cleanses and restores.

We may not be able to gather the scattered feathers of our sinful mistakes, but He will take the most painful of mistakes, with their far reaching implications, and make something beautiful of them.

Be well. Shalom.

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