Sunday, March 6, 2011

A mutiny in the body?

"At the central railway station in Madras, India, lay a beggar woman more pitiful than the others I saw there. She had positioned herself alongside the stream of passengers hurrying to catch their trains. Businessmen with briefcases passed by her, as did wealthy tourists and government officials.

Like many Indian beggars, the woman was emaciated, with sunken cheeks and eyes and bony limbs. But, paradoxically, a huge mass of plump skin, round and sleek like a sausage, was growing from her side. It lay beside her like a formless baby, connected to her by a broad bridge of skin. The woman had exposed her flank with its grotesque deformity to give her an advantage in the rivalry for pity. Though I only saw her briefly, I felt sure that the growth was a lipoma, a tumor of fat cells. It was part of her and yet not, as if some surgeon had carved a hunk of fat out of a three hundred pound person, wrapped in in live skin, and deftly sewed it on this woman. She was starving; she feebly held up a spidery hand for alms. But her tumor was thriving, nearly equaling the weight of the rest of her body. It gleamed in the sun, exuding health, sucking lie from her."

"Sometimes a dreaded thing occurs in the body – a mutiny – resulting in a tumor lipoma such as the one attached to the Madras beggar. A lipoma is a low-grade, benign tumor. It derives from a single fat cell, skilled in its lazy role of storing fat, that rebels against the leadership of the body and refuses to give up its reserves. It accepts deposits but ignores withdrawal slips. As the cell multiplies, daughter cells follow its lead and a tumor grows like a fungus, filling in crevices, pressing against muscles and organs."

"The cells function beautifully except for one flaw – they have become disloyal. In their activity they may disregard the body’s needs. And so the beggar woman in Madras gradually starved while a lipoma that was part of her engorged itself."

Last week, as I was again thinking and reading about the American church and American Christians, I was reminded of this story I read years ago from the book “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” by Philip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand. Dr. Brand is known for his eighteen years of pioneering research on the disease of leprosy in India, and it was he who retold the compelling section above.

I wonder sometimes, as part of the universal body of Christ, if perhaps we have become a lipoma? Have we become adept at storing within our own ministries the kingdom resources at our disposal, while disregarding the needs of the larger body? Do we refuse to give up reserves to parts of our larger body that is starving, while we, as American Christian’s engorge ourselves spiritually? Something to think about anyway.

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