A few Sundays ago, the gospel reading in the lectionary told the story of 10 lepers being healed by Jesus. The story goes that 10 lepers were far away from Jesus and cried out for him to have mercy on them. He said to them, “Go show yourselves to the Priest” and as they went along their way, they were cleansed. One, a Samaritan, seeing that he had been cleansed, ran back to Jesus and thanked him for healing him. Jesus wondered at where the others were, but turned to the man and said, “Get up and go. Your faith has made you well.”
I have been chewing on this story for a couple of weeks now. I have been wondering about the nine lepers who did not return to Jesus to thank him for their healing, and what reasons they may have had. And I’ve been pondering the man that did return to Jesus and the statement that Jesus made to him upon his return.
I imagine myself in the group of lepers, crying out to Jesus, “Jesus, have mercy on us!” I hear him say clearly, “Go, show yourselves to the Priest.” And I imagine on any given day I could have a myriad of responses.
Response 1: I look at Jesus as he turns towards someone that’s closer to him, that can touch him. All he said was to go show myself to the priest. What good is that going to do? I thought he would come over here and touch me to heal me, or at least call me over. I have heard that he has touched others. Why wouldn’t he do that for me too? It’s not even worth going to the priest, because Jesus obviously isn’t going to heal me. In my sulking, I don’t even notice that I’ve been healed.
Response 2: I look down and notice that my skin seems to be clear. I’m in disbelief! How is this possible? Jesus didn’t say I was healed though. Maybe it’s just the way the sun is shining on my skin. After all, wouldn’t he do something more than just tell us to go to the priest to check our skin? I bet it’s only my arms and face that have cleared, but I probably am still leprous on my stomach. Is that itchiness I feel? I scratch my belly through my ragged cloaks and think about going home instead. Don’t want to embarrass myself.
Response 3: As soon as Jesus instructs us to go to the Priest, I realize, my skin has cleared! Yes! I’m definitely going to the Priest so that I can get clearance to go see my family and friends again. As I go on my way, I start worrying. But what if it doesn’t stay healed? What if it comes back after I go see the Priest? Worse, what if it comes back before I can even get to the Priest? I study my skin closely. Is it itching again? Is that a spot? Should I even go to the Priest if the spots are just going to come right back? I guess I will, but I worry all the way there, and can’t stop worrying that my healing isn’t permanent.
Response 4: I look down and my skin is clear. I have a slight moment of excitement but then shake my head and think, No, this is too good to be true. Jesus wouldn’t heal me. I don’t deserve his favor. I’m sure he will find out what a lousy person I really am and withdraw his goodwill towards me. I’ve probably only been sent to the Priest to be reminded of my unworthiness. I slink back towards my lonely tent in shame.
Response 5: As soon as Jesus tells us to go to the Priest, I look down and notice that I’ve been cleansed! That’s great! Well I mean, of course I would be healed. I’ve always done the right thing. It seemed totally unfair that I should get this wretched disease in the first place when I’m such a good person. And of course God answered my prayer and that proves what a great person I am! I skip towards the Temple to see the Priest thinking only of myself.
Response 6: Jesus tells us to go see the Priest. I look around. Everyone else is looking down at themselves in wonder. It’s obvious they’ve been healed. I’m afraid to look. I just don’t believe that it could happen for me. I’ve been this way for so long. It was they that had cried out for mercy. Not me. I just can’t look and face another huge disappointment.
Response 7: I hear the command, “Go show yourselves to the Priest.” I look around. There’s one guy that starts jumping for joy and starts running back towards Jesus. There’s a few others that start walking doubtfully towards the Temple grounds. Some of the others look like they are just going back to our camp. What should I do? What’s the right thing to do? Obviously some of my friends don’t actually think we’ve been healed, so maybe what I’m seeing isn’t real. But then there are some that are going to the Priest – maybe I should too. I’m definitely not following that Samaritan. He couldn’t possibly have it right. But I just really don’t know what to do. I flounder between just going back home or following the others to the Priest. I just wish everyone was doing the same thing so that I could know what to do.
Response 8: I am amazed! My skin is clear! But I better go to the Priest and get it checked out for sure. I mean, it looks to me like I’m clean, but what if I’m not? I’ll just have to trust the Priest to let me know if this is certain healing or not.
Response 9: I am astonished. I look around as we all admire each other’s clear skin. Okay, so Jesus told us to go to the Priest. That’s what I’m going to do. Sheesh there are some people here who aren’t going to the Priest. They won’t stay healed. You have to follow the directions if you’re going to get and stay healed. I chuckle and roll my eyes at the Samaritan who is running back in the direction of Jesus. I feel sure that Jesus is going to rebuke him and tell him to go to the Priest like he said to in the first place. Well, that’s what I’m going to do and my healing will be sure.
Response 10: I swear Jesus looked right at me when he said, “Go show yourselves to the priest.” He saw me, and I felt no shame being seen as a Samaritan or a Leper. As soon as he said the words, I turned to do as he said, but then felt such a relief in my body that I had to look at and touch my skin. It was smooth and clear! Such joy burst from my heart, I could only praise God, and that I did at the top of my lungs. I must thank this man that offered God’s healing to me. I must go to him!! How can I not? So, I turned and ran back towards him, lest I lose sight of him. Out of breath, I threw myself at his feet, kissing them and thanking him for healing me. I looked up at him and he asked me where the others were that had been healed. I honestly didn’t know. All my thoughts had gone to Jesus, and He was all I wanted to know. He turned his face towards me and smiled. I fell deeply into his gaze as he said, “Get up and go. Your faith has made you well.” And in that moment, taking in my deliverer, whatever suspended disbelief I may have carried melted away, and I believed him fully.
The story tells us that when Jesus instructed the Lepers to go to the Priest, they all were cleansed. Even when he spoke to the Samaritan at the end of the story, he says “Were not 10 healed? Where are the other 9?” I believe that all the men were healed physically. Some may argue that perhaps they lost their healing because they didn’t come back and express gratitude, but it doesn’t say that. And that goes against the stories Jesus had been telling of the compassionate and merciful masters, and the father who takes back a prodigal son. I believe they kept their physical healing, but missed out on experiencing the love God had for each of them.
This story reminds us that God’s mercy is bound only by our lack of belief. The healing and love was there for all of them in abundance. But it took faith to accept and believe it – and that faith drove the Samaritan straight back to Jesus. This is no less true for us today then it was for all 10 of the lepers in that day. God’s love is unimaginably huge, and we all are welcomed into it, if we would only dare to look in His eyes and believe Him.