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The three brains of a leper

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sermon for the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Did you know you actually have three brains?

It’s all to do with how we evolved. The best illustration is to look at your right hand from the wrist upwards. Your wrist will represent your spine, and the first brain we evolved is like the base of your hand with the ball of your thumb. We call this the Lizard Brain because it controls basic bodily functions such as the heartbeat and breathing, reflex movement and responses such as when we’re hungry, thirsty. It’s the very basic brain that we find most prominent in lizards and smaller animals. When we put our hand in the fire, it is the Lizard brain that jerks it away without us consciously thinking.

The second brain that we have fits above the lizard brain like the palm of our hand fits over the ball of our thumb. This part of the brain is associated with our emotions and emotional responses to the things that happen to us. While the Lizard Brain jerks our hand away from the fire, our second brain says “Ouch! This second brain is most prominent in larger animals such as dogs and cats and cows. It’s why perhaps we can certainly see these animals have some emotions. We know what a sad dog looks like, and a happy cat.

The last brain to evolve goes by the grand name of Neo-Cortex. “Neo” means new, so it’s a brain that is relatively new in Creation. As you close your fingers over your thumb to make a fist, you’ll see how the neo-cortex fits over the other two brains. It is in the neo-cortex that we process decisions, make choices, think things through. While the Lizard brain jerks your hand away from the fire, and the second brain goes “Ouch!”, your neo-cortex will say, “fire burns, so we mustn’t put our hand in the fire.”

These are your three brains, and God has given them all to you for you to use. But we don’t always do that appropriately, if at all.


St Paul gives a long list of what he calls, “works of the flesh,” namely, “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” If we look carefully at each of these, we see that these are all behaviours that we associate with animals. A tom cat doesn’t commit adultery when he mates with several female cats, and it isn’t rape when he does so without their consent. A male lion doesn’t murder the cubs of his rival, he is making room for his cubs to thrive. Animals don’t sin: they can’t – at least not in a way that we could ever understand. But we can sin: the fact that we have complicated legal and political systems to rule us is evidence for this.
God has given us the ability to think, to reason, to listen to Him and to understand. If there are animals that do that, then they certainly don’t do it in the same way otherwise they would be competing with us humans over control of the earth. The works of the flesh are those which take us away from thinking properly with the neo-cortex which God has given us to use. Hatred, envy and idolatry are signs that our second brain is taking over our neo-cortex.


On the other hand, look at the fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” They are not basic functions, so they are not processed by the Lizard brain. They are not emotions nor an emotional response, so they are not processed by the second brain. These can only be processed by the top brain, by the neo-cortex. To live in the Spirit is to use this top brain - the biggest brain – to rule the others in the way of God.


Ten Lepers come to Jesus: all ten are healed, but nine of them go away rejoicing. Only one comes to worship Our Lord for His miracle. Nine allow their emotions to rule them so that they forget to think and consider what has happened and its consequences: their first and second brains rule their third. The Tenth thinks, realises what has happened, and Who has caused it to happen. He is made truly whole because He is using all of what God gives him.

It is our duty to use all that God gives us. We are expected to pray and to think about the consequences of what we believe and what we do. We are expected to live in the Spirit because in the Spirit there is life. Our brains will die, all three of them. However, we are made whole by Our Lord Jesus and raised with Him. Having Faith in Our Lord is associated with our neo-cortex because it is not an emotional response nor a basic animal action. By living out our Faith, we are ruling ourselves after His word and putting down the demands of our smaller brains. We cease to live after the will of the flesh, but live the will of God instead.

We should rejoice in the ability that God has given us to use all our brains for His glory to the best of our abilities. 

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