I died that day – the day I discovered the first sore. In a moment, life as I knew it was over. I lost my home, my family, my work, everything. I was dead to it all. For those I loved, life went on, but I was no longer a part of it. I would catch a glimpse of their lives from time to time, always from a distance. I can’t tell you how it felt the first time I saw my wife with a smile on her face or heard my children’s laughter. A storm of a thousand emotions overwhelmed me. I wanted them to be happy and to go on living. Not getting to be a part of that happiness was heartbreaking. Leprosy is a horrible way to die.
Your world changes. Not only do you lose everything and everyone, but you begin to question everything you believe. You are given a new name, and it becomes your sole identity. All the names and titles, wanted and unwanted, that previously distinguished you as a person suddenly have no importance. You start to question why they ever mattered in the first place.
Your values change. Happiness now means simply a moment when you find a reason to smile or laugh. Peace is the rhythmic breathing of slumber coming from a companion who has had a difficult day. A respectable person is one who is kind and generous, even if only offering a smile. You come to understand how foolish you were in your former life, and you long for the chance to return to it with this new perspective. Unfortunately, you also know the world you once knew would quickly destroy it. How ironic it is that in this festering world of death and disease, a tiny bit of purity exists that is too fragile to survive in the coveted world that you once built for yourself.
Your situation is considered to have only one possible outcome – early death. However, there is a glimmer of hope that remains, a flickering candle in our darkness. Both Samaritan and Jewish Scriptures tell us that a Deliverer will one day come to rescue his people. To Samaritans, this restorer is known as the Taheb; to the Jews, he is Messiah. While some argue over lineage, locations, or titles, others say he will bring physical healing as well as peace and freedom in this world. When thoughts turn toward this Deliverer, reactions vary. Two among our community were once members of the Jewish sect of the Pharisees. Both were aloof and outwardly “pious” when they first arrived. One grew more bitter each day, scoffing at all talk of the coming Messiah. He died cursing God for turning His back on him. The other became thoughtful and kind. He often said that God used his disease to deliver him from the prison of his former life. He placed his hope in the coming Messiah until he drew his last breath.
My time with this Pharisee had a lasting impact on me. He readily admitted that he also had developed many new perspectives after being afflicted with this disease. However, he always asserted that his faith was growing, not wavering. While his companion cursed God, this dear man praised him. Day and night, he would sing and recite Psalms to God. One, in particular, will remain with me all of my days.
“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, He saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”
My friend never lost faith in the promise that the Messiah would come. However, he began to see this expected deliverer differently than he once did. Scriptures that proclaimed the Messiah would be a “light for the gentiles” became treasured thoughts to him. He told me that “All nations would come and worship before Him.” That included me – whether I was part-Jew, or perhaps did not have a drop of Jewish blood in my veins. When the Anointed One arrived, he would “bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” This Pharisee became more than my closest friend during his short stay with us; he became my brother. Although there were some significant differences between the Samaritan and Jewish expectations for the Messiah, we came to believe that we were looking for one great deliverer. After the death of my friend, I took comfort in the hope that our Messiah would come and restore unity to our people.
When word began to circulate throughout the region that a Jewish teacher was healing people of diseases like leprosy, many simply laughed. Still, ten of us set out in hopes of finding him. Along the way, we discussed the possibility that this man could be the promised Jewish Messiah. Most of our group did not care who he was or where his power came from. For me, the possibility that the great deliverer may have finally arrived was exhilarating! Of course, I wanted physical healing; but if this man was the promised one, the whole world was going to change. I wished my friend had lived to see this day! I even wished the same for the bitter old Pharisee. Perhaps he might have rediscovered his lost faith.
We knew when we were getting close because we began to encounter others going in the same direction. We, of course, had to begin shouting the required warning.
People kept a safe distance from us, but they did not turn and go in the opposite direction as they often did. It appeared that many of them were equally determined to see the famous teacher. We could hear them calling out to him, and at last, he had a name.
Finally, we caught our first glimpse of him. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I guess I did not expect an ordinary man. I admit I was deeply disappointed when I first saw him. Yet, I could not let go of this hope that was my life! I began to shout to him.
“Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!”
My companions echoed my words. When he heard our cries, he turned and addressed us.
“Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
That was all he said to us before turning his attention back to his followers. I felt no power surge through me, no change, nothing. I faced my stunned companions.
“To the priest!” I shouted and started walking in the direction of the synagogue, with the others following close behind me. At least we did not have far to go. I could not contain my excitement, which did not make sense. We were not healed. Somehow, the hope that drove me to the streets in search of him compelled me to obey his command.
I was startled when the sickest one among us passed by me with surprising speed, and then another did the same! Finally, I too felt it! Again, my expectations proved to have missed the mark. I had envisioned lightning bolts that extended from the teacher’s fingertips, engulfing each of us. Instead, what I felt was an “emptying,” which reminded me of a sacrificial animal being drained of its blood. I could feel a previously unrecognized heaviness leaving my body as my steps became lighter. Like the others, I began to run. I needed to see the priest! I could go home! This man must surely be the Messiah!
Suddenly, I stopped. My companions continued running toward the synagogue. We needed to go back!
“Wait!” I shouted to them, but not one of them turned around. I could not leave without first expressing my gratitude to the teacher. How could I not share my joy with the one who brought it to be? How could my companions not do the same? They were all out of sight. I headed back in the direction of my deliverer, shouting and praising God as I went. I didn’t know a lot of Psalms, but a few words came to mind.
“When I was brought low, he saved me.”
I ran up to the teacher and fell at his feet, crying and expressing my thanks over and over again. He knelt to the ground and raised my chin so that I could look into his eyes. He smiled tenderly and wiped a tear from my cheek. Then his expression changed as he spoke.
“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”
I hung my head. He stood, pulling me to my feet along with him. Then he shouted, intending for all those surrounding him to hear,
“Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”
I did not perceive his words to be a condemnation of me. They were more of a message to those that opposed him. There were some unhappy faces in the crowd, expressions I recognized from long before I bore the name of “Leper.” These faces scorned me for the title I have carried since birth – “Samaritan.” Here was Jesus, possibly the Jewish Messiah, commending a Samaritan above the others, some of whom had pure Jewish blood. Of course, there were some who were displeased with him. Yet this man, if he was the Messiah, behaved exactly as my friend had always told me he would. Another of his favorite Scriptures came to mind.
“And I will say to those called ‘Not My people,’ ‘You are My people’; And they will say, ‘You are my God.’”
I looked back into the eyes of Jesus. His smile had returned, and his eyes were filled with warmth and compassion.
“Rise and go. Your faith has made you well.” He patted me on the back. Then quietly, he whispered in my ear words that confirmed my highest hopes.
“You are my people.”
With those words ringing in my ears, we parted ways. After seeing the priest, I would return to the home that I once called my own. I longed to share my experience with my wife and children but was uncertain of the welcome I would receive. However, I would have no choice but to accept what I found there. The Lord had been gracious to me, and I would give every breath in my lungs back to Him. I would tell the world of my experience with Jesus, and proclaim the good news that the Messiah would indeed call us “His People.” This was my new purpose in life! Perhaps it had been the sole reason for my affliction, and also that of my dear departed friend! He had lived out this same calling until his dying breath and beyond. There was no need to grieve that he didn’t live to see this day; I think he had always seen it.
Now it was up to me to live my remaining days with the same conviction. When that time arrives for me, and I take my last breath, may these be the final words on my lips:
“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you!”
Featured Image by Arno Smit