I AM THE GRATEFUL LEPER (Lk.17:11-19)
My comrades and I lived in isolation. We had no home and no country. We could not be seen in any town or village. To keep us out of town, people would leave food for us in designated places. They were afraid of us for a reason. We were contagious and incurable. We were lepers. We wore bells like lost animals and shouted, “unclean” when some other human came too close. Lately, we heard that a Man called Jesus had marvelous powers over all diseases, including leprosy. We also learned that He intended to go to Jerusalem. The road that He had to travel was between Galilee and Samaria. We decided to meet Him just before He would enter a small village. We sat there, I do not recall how long and kept our distance. We were very nervous as to how we would approach Jesus. We could not just run up to Him. People would stone us. But we could use our voices and cry out. We did not even know what to call Him. One of us must have whispered a prayer saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” So we cried as loud as we could, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Jesus did not even stop. He turned His head in our direction, looked at us and said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” The strange thing was that not a one of us raised any questions or wondered why we were told to go to the priests. What could they do for us? They were the once that pronounced us unclean in the first place. Like soldiers, we obeyed and were on our way to see the priests. Then it happened. Our skin began to heal and clear up. We were being cleansed and healed. We were to show ourselves to the priests and they would declare us clean so that we could rejoin the living and be back with our loved ones and friends. We were excited and overwhelmed with what was happening to us. At long last, the impossible had happened. We were delivered from a terminal disease. What a surprise we would be to the priests and the people we were about to see again. What a reunion that would be? We were in such a hurry to rejoin our old society that we completely overlooked one major fact. We seemed to have forgotten to give credit to the One whose Words had power to heal us. While this thought hit my mind I began to fall behind the others and found myself going back to Jesus.
While I was on my way back to Jesus, I looked at what had happened to my body and began to sing praise to God in a rather loud voice. I was not a musician and I certainly did not hit all the right notes, but my heart was overflowing in gratitude and so did my words. They were like a fresh and endless spring coming out of my heart. At that moment, nothing seemed to matter or bother me. I just wanted to get back to Jesus, fall at His feet and thank Him for healing me from this plague of no return. And that was exactly what I did. I threw myself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him from the bottom of my heart for His mercy toward me. I had a very special reason to be at His feet. I was not deserving of standing before this Holy Man. In truth, I was not even allowed to appear before a Holy Man or a Master of Israel. My disease was not just leprosy but also racism and religious segregation. I was a Samaritan, an unholy being to a Jew. I would have understood if Jesus had turned away from me and passed over me when I prostrated myself at His feet. I would still have remained thankful for the rest of my life for His healing.
Jesus was not like all the other Jews that I had met. Even the Jewish lepers thought of themselves more than I was. Jesus, quite to the contrary, was pleased to see me at His feet thanking Him. In fact, He expected the ten of us to be at His feet thanking and praising God. He was definitely disappointed at the other nine that did not return. He asked three questions that were soul searching to all of us that heard them. “Did not ten of you become clean? Where are the nine? And did no one deem it necessary to return and give thanks to God except this outsider?” That moment I began to feel with Jesus. He had come to help His people and they did not accept Him. Even those that He healed did not have sense enough nor were they kind enough to be thankful. They preferred to show themselves to the priests who did nothing for them rather than to Jesus who could save them. It was more important to the nine to find acceptance by man than to be completely healed by Jesus. What I leaned that day was that having been freed of leprosy was only partial healing. My body was cleansed but my soul had yet to be healed.
After Jesus had looked around as if He expected the nine to show up, He turned His attention to me and spoke words that would carry me for the rest of my life and into eternity. “Stand up and go,” He said. “It was your faith that healed you.” I could stand up and face Him as a man faced an equal and I could go about my business with His blessings. I had put God and the Master first and myself a distant second. Jesus appreciated my action and acknowledged me before all that were present. And there was more. He boosted my faith in God and in Him. That brought healing to a soul that once was bitter and disappointed at what fate had dealt Him. I knew now that God did love me. And it was because of my suffering that I experienced the mercies of the Lord. God had made possible the impossible because I believed in the Master’s ability, God’s Son. I had more than one reason to be thankful. And I am glad that I returned and expressed by deepest appreciation to Jesus.