A Leper’s Tale

Luke 17:11-19


My name’s Tig. And this is my story.

You’ve heard of Samaria, right?  It’s that town in Palestine about halfway between Jerusalem and Nazareth.  The thing about Samaria is that it is filled with foreigners.  We’re strangers to most people who live around here.  The people of Nazareth and Jerusalem avoid my people and town at all costs.  They don’t like us Samaritans because we’re different.

A few years back I did what all Samaritan boys try to do when they become men: I began to work.  Each day I faced what you’d probably think was a hard life: I arose with the sun to dig by hand, sow, till, weed, plant, mend, and otherwise care for my tiny farm, always sweating a lot by mid-morning.  In the heat of the day I’d retire to the house I was building, a work in progress, to complete what I could before sundown.  After dark I’d milk the goat and take care of other sundry chores by lamplight.  Finally, at the end of each day, exhausted, I’d lay my head down on my pillow until morning.  Then I’d repeat the process.  Day after day.

But I slept well every night.  And I arose each day with an ear-to-ear grin.  For I was to be married in early summer to Aravis, the delight of my eyes and joy of my heart.

That’s when I got sick.

“I’m afraid your worst fears have been realized,” the doctor told me one miserable afternoon.  “You’ve got leprosy.  You must leave Samaria at once and go to the colony.  It’s just outside the third village to the north.  There you will find companionship with the other lepers.  I will come to you in a month to check on your deterioration.”

He said “deterioration” because, unfortunately, leprosy is like that: it gets worse, not better.

So, miserable, sad, dejected, and rejected, I, out of concern for my fellow Samaritans—I didn’t want to infect them!—I left for the colony.

Then I met Sam.

“I’m Sam,” he said, “and if it’s all the same with you I’d like to be your friend.”

“Sure,” I said, “but aren’t you from Galilee?”

“Yeah,” Sam replied, “and so are most of the other lepers here.  What of it?”

“Oh, yes,” I said, “I see.  But all my life I’ve been treated poorly by people from Galilee.  They say my skin’s too dark, that I talk with a funny accent, and that I smell of curry.”

“Yes,” Sam admitted, “I’ve heard it.  In fact, I used to join in with that rabble, especially when I was younger.  But it’s kind of hard not to when everyone else is doing it, you know?”

“Oh,” I said, “I see.”

Well, despite our differences—in skin color, accent, and odor—Sam and I became fast friends.  No one from the outside world wanted anything to do with us, sadly.  This helped us bond.  But beyond that, within the leper community itself, Sam stuck by me when no one else did.  For even in this ostracized colony there was a sort of pecking order.  And I was at the bottom of it.

One day Sam and I were walking together around the perimeter of the colony, something we did most days.  But on this particular day a question nagged me.  So I said, “You know, Sam, you don’t have to be all nice to me and stuff.  I know you’ve got other friends here.  And I know they don’t really want anything to do with me.  You can go spend time with them if you like.  I can manage okay on my own.  It’s not like I’m a charity case or something.”

Sam just looked at me and smiled for a time.  Then he put his arm around me and said, “Oh, but you are.  We both are!”  And he began to laugh.

Realizing what I’d just said, I began laughing too.

“But that’s just it,” Sam said after a few moments.  “Don’t you see?  The folly of it all!  I grew up picking on people—excluding people—for being different than me.  I don’t know.  I guess it made me feel better than them or something.  But I just can’t do that anymore.  No, Tig, especially now, when all of us out here in this crazy colony are outcasts, far be it from me to cast you out further!  I’m your friend.  You can count on me.”

Just then we heard a shout from behind us.  One of the lepers was standing on the bluff overlooking the main road, pointing and shouting a name.  “Jesus, everyone!  It’s Jesus!”

Jesus, I thought; where had I heard that name before—some sort of healer from Galilee maybe?

Sam and I ran to join the yelling man.  So did a handful of others.  From here we could see a group of maybe a dozen travelers on the road.  They had come to a stop and were gazing up at us.

The same leper then shouted again—this time at the travelers!  “Jesus of Nazareth,” he yelled, “Master, have mercy on us!”

“What’s he doing?” I asked Sam, concerned.  “Doesn’t he fear the guard?  Let’s bolt!”

But before we could, this Jesus character did something curious.  Rather than turn around and walk back, to summon a Roman guard or whatever, he answered the one who’d shouted—or all of us really—with these words: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  And he continued on his way past us, heading south.

Now, whether Jesus meant to mock us—for what priest would want to touch a leper?—or merely to quiet us down, I don’t know.  But after only a short time, another one of the lepers gasped.  And then he shouted, looking this way and that and patting himself all over, “I’m clean!  Ha!”  And he broke into a flat run north, towards Galilee, away from Jesus.

Then so did the others.  One by one, as each of them realized that they were no longer infected by the deadly disease, that they were in effect no longer outcasts, they shouted for joy and broke into a run, north, away from Jesus, who had apparently healed their malady.  Each of them ran, including Sam.

Until at last I stood there alone.  What else was I to do?  I ran not north but straight to Jesus, laid myself face-down on the ground in front of him, and said, merely, “Thank you.”

He whispered something to those who were with him.  Then he looked at me and said, “Go home, Tig, to your life, to your family, and to Aravis, your wife to be.  Go home to Samaria, Tig.  Your faith has made you well.”

“Thank you, Lord,” I said again.  “But what will become of my friend Sam?”

“Let us hope,” Jesus said, “that he will come visit you one day in Samaria.  He has shown you great loyalty while here in the colony, and great courage.  But now, suddenly healed, his heart has returned to his former life and ways, just as yours has to yours.  Still, he has learned a great lesson here—as have you, my friend.  Go in peace.”


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