UNCLEAN! OUT WITH YOU! To the city gates!”
Those were the last words anyone in the city ever spoke to him. Or at him. Ever since he found the leprosy, he’s been living outside the city with the others — there are ten of them altogether. Each of them has come from different lives, but all of them now share the same story: leprosy.
It renders them unclean, unable to worship or even live in the city. So here they sit, passing each day with each other, waiting for some kind soul to drop them some food. Most people who go in and out of the city never even bother to look in the lepers’ direction.
Many lepers don’t know how or where they contracted the disease, though the religious leaders say it is God’s judgment on them for some reason or another. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. He can’t be sure. And though he is the first to admit he isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, he can’t really pinpoint a major sin in his life that might merit the judgment of leprosy. It just doesn’t make sense. And the implied indictment is like salt in the wound.
It is shame upon shame.
And he knows how it works. Leprosy isn’t just one of those things that goes away on its own; he’s seen others slowly killed by it. Eventually, he’d lose feeling on his skin, and his hands and feet would become numb and weak. His flesh would deteriorate with each new sore. It would be with him for the rest of his life — however long that was.
He misses the days of splashing in the river with his kids. The tender embraces of his wife. The nights spent laughing with friends around the table. It’s those simple things in life you miss the most when they’re gone. What he wouldn’t give for an evening the way it was.
Nowadays, he does his best to keep his mind off the sores. The group helps. They can usually sense when one of their own is having one of those days, and everyone pitches in to keep things light. Because when you’re not allowed near anybody and are considered a complete outcast, well, you try to find as much as you can to smile about. This week hasn’t been bad.
They sit far enough away from the city gates to be sure not to contaminate anyone but close enough to be noticed. Couldn’t hurt to play the sympathy card for anyone looking to get rid of some table scraps or leftover to-go bags. That’s what you do when you’re a leper. You beg for food and pity. Until you’re no longer a leper. Until you’re no longer.
The last few weeks, though, something has been happening in the city. They weren’t exactly sure what, but from what he could catch from the passersby, there seems to be some kind of miracle worker in town. Changing normal water into wine? Making food out of thin air? Could be interesting. The miracle worker has some groupies, too. And they say He’s been doing stuff on the Sabbath — and claiming to be God? The religious leaders must be having a heyday with that one.
Rumor has it He’s actually been healing people.
He isn’t so sure about that, but he wants to meet the miracle worker. He is sure He would never come close to him or his group of outcasts. They have leprosy! He probably won’t even look at them. But he can’t help wondering if that guy could heal him, too.
Later that afternoon, he realizes something is afoot in the city. There’s a large group pouring through the gates to meet a few men approaching the city. The group doesn’t look to be much bigger than the lepers he sits among, and nothing appears to be special about them.
He stands to get a better look; they’re maybe 50 yards away. The thought crosses his mind that it’s the man everyone’s been talking about, but he can’t be sure. He sees one man raise his arms in greeting to the crowd, and everyone just kind of stands there for a few minutes. He sees the man look in the direction of the lepers, but then He turns back to speak to the crowd. Next thing he knows, the man is raising his arms again and sending the crowd back into the city.
“That’s weird,” he says. “Why is He just standing there? Wait, now He’s waving at us. Why is He waving? Doesn’t He know we’re lepers?”
He turns around to make sure they’re not mistaking the man’s wave to them for someone else. That would be so embarrassing. But there’s nobody there.
Now He’s walking toward them, smiling.
A few from the group recognize the man.
“Master! Have mercy on us!”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a second, he thinks. Does this guy know they all have leprosy? Miracle worker or not, somebody should tell Him before He gets too close.
“Hey! We’re lepers!” he shouts, warning the mystery man. “Don’t come near us! We’re all unclean. We’re lepers! Stay where you are!”
“We’re dying anyway,” a fellow leper says. “Besides, what if He really is a healer? Couldn’t hurt to ask. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
“I guess so,” he answers.
The man keeps walking toward the group, still smiling. Not afraid of anything. And this guy is happy. So happy.
As the man nears, the leper is immediately captured by the man’s kind eyes and warm personality. If nothing else, he wants this guy to stick around just for the company. He still can’t help but wonder, though, if the man can heal him.
“Okay, guys,” the man says. “Get up. Go show yourselves to the priests.”
They all just stand there, unsure of what they just heard.
“You heard the man!” one from the back of the group yells. “Let’s go!”
Without another word to each other, they take off running, leaving the man in a cloud of dust. He chuckles as He brushes Himself off and yells, “Last one to the priests is a rotten egg!”
Yeah, or completely insane, the leper thinks. But as he’s running, he looks down at his arms. They look normal. It’s probably just the adrenaline, he thinks. He hasn’t run in years. Maybe it’s just a weird reaction. But he sees his feet, too. And his hands.
Could it be?
He looks up to dodge a tree and a food stand. He raises his arms so he can see where he’s going, and they still look normal. He rubs his eyes to make sure he doesn’t have anything in them. He moves his hands up and down his arms; he can feel everything, and there are no sores.
Could it really be?
It can’t be a coincidence. He was a leper before the man came to them, and now he’s not.
He feels his eyes fill up, but this time it isn’t out of grief or self-pity.
He turns around and runs back toward the man. He can’t go all the way to the priests before thanking the man who healed him. He finds the man and promptly falls flat on the ground at His feet, thanking Him profusely. What else is there to say? The man bends down and looks at him with those same kind eyes as before. The man says something about the others, but the once-leper is too overwhelmed with his own healing, it doesn’t even register.
Jesus pulls the man up from his worship position and says, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”