On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Touch makes us into persons. Whenever a newborn comes into our families, we want to touch the baby. The baby wants to be touched, needs to be touched. Without touch, a child lacks connection.
At the time of Jesus, lepers lived in segregated communities and were deprived of human touch. Not only were people prohibited from touching lepers, lepers lived apart and whenever they approached a person who was not a leper they had to alert others by crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!” Lepers were required to wear torn clothing and had to dishevel their hair to show to others how contaminated they were. At least they did not have to pay a beautician to do their hair every week! At least they did not have to get a new wardrobe every season!
These lepers lived on the margins of society, outside the city, perhaps in the hills and finding a home in the caves that dot the landscape. As lepers they lost their identities as someone’s daughter, someone’s husband, someone’s wife, someone’s friend. Perhaps their families remembered them and brought them food, blankets and maybe some medication to care for their disease. Perhaps they heard people in the towns talking about Jesus and heard of his reputation as a healer. Perhaps they imagined that when their every hope was lost they had nothing to lose by approaching Jesus.
They sought something more than healing for their bodies. They craved the restoration of their identities, the rediscovery of their place in a community, the renewal of their relationships that made them the persons they became through their relationships. Notice how they keep their distance but make themselves known to Jesus by their shouting at him: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to a priest which they obediently do.
As they going to the local rectory, they are cured. Do they see the stumps they called fingers miraculously heal and whole fingers start to grow? Does their skin return to its smooth texture? However they discover their cure, do they continue their journey to the priest? They needed a priest to give them permission to return to society. They discover they are cured and one returns to Jesus.
We know that Samaritans were looked down upon by other Jews. Samaritans obeyed the Law of Moses, they prayed to the Lord God, they read the same holy books and offered sacrifice. But they worshiped on a different mountain, not in Jerusalem. They were excluded from the same level of social acceptance as the rest of the Jews in Israel. Did this Samaritan experience the same level of exclusion even among the lepers?
The nine restored lepers knew where to go to get from their priest their certificate of restoration. Did this Samaritan leper not know where to go to get his All Pure Decree? Could he only return to Jesus, the source of his healing?
Notice how, before their cure, the lepers kept their distance from Jesus. But after his cure, the Samaritan leper draws close to Jesus, draws close to Jesus and prostrates himself in worship at the feet of Jesus.
In so many ways, we are just like those lepers who first approached Jesus. We hear of Jesus, we regularly worship, we might read the bible and we receive his body and blood. But even with this contact with Jesus, do we still keep him at a distance. If we do not draw near to Jesus, what keeps us from him?
What if we were to discover that which keeps us from drawing close to Jesus? What if we were to discover that we are just like those lepers, desperately in need of Jesus’ healing? Jesus comes to us, heals us, restores us. How do we respond?
We go to our healing Christ to rediscover for ourselves that identity we receive from the healing of Christ. Christ’s healing touches our hearts, the broken places in our lives, the disconnected parts of our souls.
In restoring our relationships, Christ brings us not only into relationship with him but also into relationship with one another.
Like the outcast Samaritan leper, the leper who discovered not only a healed body but more importantly a healed heart, we too should come to Jesus with grateful hearts. May all of us set as our primary goal a deeper relationship with Jesus, a recognition of our need for healing and our turning to Christ for that inner change. Perhaps we too can return to Christ with a healed heart, a grateful heart, a generous heart. In returning to Christ we will discover Christ turning to us, healing us and drawing us not as a powerful Lord but as a dear friend. A friend extending his hand in healing. A friend touching us with love. A dear friend leading us from brokenness to wholeness.