9 Oct 2010

A Leper's Thanksgiving

Ten men silhouetted along the low ridge called to the leader of a small band below: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."

Bartholomew glanced up. Lepers, he thought. Ragged, pitiable lepers. From the time their skin disease was diagnosed, they were cut off from society, forced to live on their own in caves or huts away from towns. A fortunate few had relatives who would leave food for them, but many had no one. They weren't allowed close enough to beg for a living. Ragged, thin, rejected. Lepers. Even the word spoke an icy finality. "Have mercy on us!"

Their pleading cut through Bart's thoughts. Jesus was cupping his hands now, and calling across the low valley which lay between the road and the ridge where the lepers stood. His voice rang out sharp and compelling in the stillness of the morning. "Go! Show yourselves to the priests!"
The lepers looked at each other. You only went to the priests if your leprosy was gone. Only the priests could issue a clean bill of health so you could return to your family.

As they held up their decayed limbs, they were asking, "Why go unless we're healed?" They looked over to Jesus again, but he was conversing with Peter and John, and they didn't catch his eyes.

But then Bart heard a shout, a cry of exaltation, a loud eerie call that filled the valley and bounced off the hills: "I'm healed! I'm whole. My leprosy is gone! It's gone!"

Bart looked around in time to catch a smile at the corners of Jesus' mouth. The healing hadn't occurred as the lepers stood looking and wondering. It had taken place as they had begun to obey Jesus' words. "As they went" they were healed.

Suddenly a lone figure broke from the circle of rejoicing ex-lepers. He bounded over the little creek and raced towards them, rags fluttering behind him. He sped toward Jesus and then landed on his knees before the Master in a cloud of fine dust.

He spoke just a phrase -- "Thank you, Master" -- in a sort of broken accent, the accent of Samaria. Then he just knelt there sobbing.

Jesus spoke now, not really to the leper, but beyond him somehow, as if to the whole world. "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"

Bart's mind spun. He thought of the countless times God had answered his prayers, provided for his family, given him work, healed his sickly daughter. How often had he really said "Thanks"? Too often he had taken these blessings for granted, rejoicing in his good fortune, but seldom racing back to the Giver with a word of heartfelt thanks on his lips.

As the man knelt, Jesus' hand instinctively rested on his head, blessing, and at the same time stroking and smoothing the tangles left from years of sojourn. Jesus wept as he caressed the man's head, tears making rivulets down his cheeks into his beard.

Bart looked up. The leper band was now heading off towards the priests' village. They had received physical healing, indeed, but the man at Jesus' feet had received a healing of his whole person. As Jesus helped him up, he said, "Rise and go. Your faith has made you whole."

The newly-whole Samaritan embraced Jesus. Then they stood there for a moment looking at one another -- smile meeting smile. The gift of healing had sent him the message of God's love, but thanks had brought him home.

This is a fictional retelling of the story found in Luke 17:11-17 which is the Sunday Gospel for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

H/T to Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries

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