leper colonyFather Damien was a priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers.

He moved to Kalawao – a village on the island of Molokai, in Hawaii, that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony.

For 16 years, he lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built 2,000 coffins by hand so that, when they died, they could be buried with dignity.

Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope.

Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with the patients. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close. For this, the people loved him.

Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: “We lepers….”

Now he wasn’t just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward, he wasn’t just on their island; he was in their skin. First he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.

One day God came to Earth and began his message: “We lepers….” Now he wasn’t just helping us. Now he was one of us. Now he was in our skin. Now we were in it together.

– From John Ortberg’s God Is Closer Than You Think (HT - Darryl Dash)

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16 thoughts on “"We Lepers" – An Unusual Christmas Meditation”

  1. Christiane says:

    thank you so very much for this post . . .

    your readers may wish to see this film,
    ‘Molokai: The Story of Father Damien’

  2. Aaron says:

    Thank you SO much for sharing an amazing insight of the meaning of God in flesh. What a blessing!

  3. Chris Nelson says:

    He was a Catholic, so he promoted a false gospel that misleads people directly to Hell. I’m afraid for our faith today. No one can tell their right hand from their left.

  4. Dwayne says:

    As an ex Catholic who stayed in the church for years understanding Grace through Repentance & Faith, and also knowing works righteousness is not the way, your post still hurts my ears. I guess everything Father Damien did was absolutely meaningless and all of them are going to Hell.

  5. Christiane says:

    Hi DWAYNE . . .

    you do not need to ‘guess’, trust the words of sacred Scripture, here:

    “We know how much God loves us,
    and we have put our trust in His love.
    God is love,
    and all who live in love live in God,
    and God lives in them.”

    1 John 4:16

    if Damien cleaned and bandaged the wounds of lepers, and nursed and fed them, I think it mattered to them . . . that for a time, someone had come to ease their suffering

    is that important in the scheme of your faith?
    Likely not. But if you were one of those lepers, I think it would have given you insight into what happened on Molokai when Damien came there.

    And if you can, find a photo of Damien ‘before’ he was a leper, and at the end of his life.
    That is a picture of what love for others looks like, that last photo of him. It’s not a pretty photo, no.
    But it is the real thing.

  6. Dwayne says:

    Thanks Christiane,
    I used the “guess” word because I don’t truly know where others’ hearts are.
    I’m taking this off the same page, just a little further down….
    After all, as Martin Luther said, “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.”

  7. Elowel says:

    “He was a Catholic, so he promoted a false gospel that misleads people directly to Hell. I’m afraid for our faith today. No one can tell their right hand from their left.”

    Right, because the Church Fathers and the majority of people who followed Christ in the centuries between the first century AD and the Reformation equated the Gospel with penal substitutionary atonement and double imputation, so the majority of people who have called themselves “Christian” throughout history have been damned to Hell. Great thinking. We can go into gospel definitions–oh wait, discussion after discussion about that has happened on this blog already. No need for the polemics.

    Trevin, thanks for posting this. This is a wonderful message we need to hear. You don’t have to be Roman Catholic to appreciate how this story brings out the glory of the Incarnation and God’s empathy toward mankind.

  8. david mcknight says:

    Ironic, isn’t it, that Father Damien, though Catholic, lived out the gospel of Christ. And I’m afraid for our faith today as well. So many seem to know the correct doctrinal positions and yet fail to live out the gospel like Father Damien did. It reminds me of Christ among the Pharisees. I’ve come to prefer the “tax collectors” among us who have lost all hope in themselves and their doctrinal correctness and know only to fall on the grace of Christ.

  9. Bob says:

    Ask before you post… how many people am I sending to hell because my pride and arrogance have pushed them further from Christ.

    Even though I see a lot wrong in Catholic doctrine, I’m not about to throw stones at Father Damien or declare him heathen. What do you know of his motivations? How are you so sure they did not our out from his heart? Are you God?

  10. Chris Nelson says:

    I have instructed my pastor that it is silly for him to wash and be clean when he visits people in the hospital. The really holy people don’t wash. I told him if he were really pious he would bear the marks of stigmata this Sunday.

  11. Chris Nelson says:

    This is where the Reformation dies.

  12. Christiane says:

    Hi CHRIS, you sound like a person who worries about many things . . . may you find the peace of the Lord. I will pray for you.

    “‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

    Love your enemies.

    Love those who hate and persecute you.

    Love ‑those who have become outcast

    and those who are excluded from the group

    because they are ‘useless’, non‑productive:

    the blind, the lame, the sick,

    the poor and the lepers.

    Love not just those of your own tribe,

    your own class, family or people,

    but those who are different,

    those who are strangers,

    who are strange to your ways,

    who come from different cultural and religious traditions,

    who seem odd,

    those you do not understand.

    Love as the Samaritan loved the man he found

    beaten up by robbers,

    somewhere on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.”

    Jean Vanier

  13. Chris Nelson says:

    Thank you for your prayers. I truly do treasure them. The Catholic church has a faulty gospel that leads a wide path to Hell and that is my worry. I’ve got many loved ones on that path and this particular post does damage to the grace of God.

  14. Christiane says:

    Chris, I don’t think Southern Baptist people are taught to judge the hearts of others . . . trust in the mercy of God, as revealed in Our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the needs of those you care about. Be at peace, in the shelter of Lord Christ. He would be the first to tell you to not be afraid.

    Have a happy Christmas, Chris.

  15. Elowel says:

    You can’t call someone unregenerate because they won’t intellectually acknowledge justification by faith alone. There are plenty of people out there who would call themselves Protestant or Reformed, yet are dead in their hearts and unregenerate that will be judged without the saving work of Christ. The inverse is true; just because one denies double imputation does not send them to Hell, but one can tell if those are good trees bearing good fruit.

    And another note, the Gospel is not primarily soteriological, but Christological — see, the King Jesus Gospel (not God-Man-Christ-Response). The Gospel, whenever mentioned by Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the Apostles, does not boil down to justification.

    Jesus is more than just His blood, precious as it is.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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