It was a startling article that appeared in many newspapers, and online websites this past week about a man who passed away from cancer, but his death was unique in the fact that the cancerous tumors in his body, when biopsied, did not contain his DNA, but instead bore the DNA of a tapeworm that had taken up residency in his body. The foreign, uninvited parasite that made its home in the physical frame of the man was harboring a disease of its own, that transferred to the man and caused cancerous cells to become multiplied and attached inside of him.
This case raises many questions, and will likely launch many scientific studies, theories, hypothesis, and investigations. Pork may drop from people’s menus for awhile, and parasite cleanses will likely begin to sell like hotcakes. Many fears will lead to many drastic decisions–some beneficial, some not. And it got me thinking….
I live in a small town. Many people have lived in this town generationally. Great-grandparents are here, and so are some of their great-grandchildren. Living in small communities around the same groups of people fosters some wonderful community, but it also does another thing. It gives an ample “host body” for certain parasites. Let me explain.
It was something I first heard about in my first year of Bible School, and it was spoken about as a warning: “Don’t pick up another person’s offense.” Here is the scenario: Someone we are close to has been offended or hurt by someone else in our circle of community, and they are walking wounded. Our desire to assuage the pain of our friend/relative causes us to empathize with the person, and begin to feel what they feel. As time passes on, if our friend/relative has not reconciled the issue or pain with the offending person, they likely begin to let a seed of bitterness begin to grow in their heart. The wound begins to multiply, to grow, and even to continue bleeding even more toxic than its original state. Again we are faced with the decision to internalize their pain, and pick up their offense as our own. We begin our own personal crusade on our friend’s behalf, and we begin to despise the person/persons who hurt them. We join in the conversations that tear them apart. We begin to find ourselves finding as many opportunities as possible to paint that person in the worst light possible so as to discourage others from putting any faith into the offender, and we feel so noble in our cause. We are defending our friend after all.
What we don’t see is the parasite taking up residence in our hearts. The poisons of bitterness and jadedness that were present in our friend have now taken up residence in our hearts and minds and now we suffer from the same disease.
I don’t know how many times I have seen this and experienced it over my short lifetime. Not just offenses, but I’ve seen people take up another’s doubts, and live them as if they belong to themselves. There are entire families who won’t speak to other families because of something they “heard”, or something they refused to resolve. People who will never darken the door of a church because of what happened to their mom as a child who attended church and had her feeling hurt by someone irresponsible or careless. People all around us are on the verge of dying from someone else’s disease.
Here is what happens to you when you pick up another’s offense: You begin to carry the parasite. Even the person who was initially offended has the opportunity to forgive and be set free from the parasite of bitterness, and sometimes they choose that right choice (I pray they do). But you, you can keep carrying on with a chip on your shoulder that you put there for the rest of your life if you choose not to deal with it. You deliberately swallowed the tape worm, and now you are being poisoned slowly.
Consider for a moment how many offenses you are hanging on to. How many are directly related to you, and how many are the misplaced empathies of another? What about your doubts? How may of those that you carry are actually yours? How many things do you believe without ever investigating their validity? How many cancers are you dying from?
The Bible tells us that the only parasite cleanse for our spirits is forgiveness. We have to let the prisoner go free. We have to release the wound to God and ask Him to heal us and to do the right thing by the offender. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is part of the prayer Jesus himself taught us in Matthew 6:12.
How are offenses washed away? Through the Blood of Jesus.
Because of the death of Jesus, as the penalty and payment for our many offenses against God and one another, we have access to a powerful, transcendent reality of a heart made clean and renewed by asking God to forgive us, and trusting in Jesus to wipe our sins away “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)
There are many things worth dying for. Someone else’s cancer is not.