“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
FREELY YOU HAVE RECEIVED; FREELY GIVE
Jesus is walking on the border between Galilee and Samaria and comes across an outpost that holds a leper colony. He enters this village of castoffs and hears from ten men, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13) Ten men that have been forced to live away from their families and friends.
Because of the devastating nature of leprosy and the lack of modern medical treatment in the first century, people who contracted this disease had to leave their homes. From a precautionary standpoint during the 1st century, any person who had any skin ailment would be considered a leper.
Ironically this leper outpost was on the border that separated two very different worlds. For the most part Galilee was populated by the remnants of Judah, one of twelve tribes who’d settled in Judea. And Samaria was the area that was inhabited by those who had separated from Judah after the death of King Solomon many centuries earlier, the Samaritans, also consisting of part of the original twelve tribes of Israel.
A large gulf therefore existed between these two communities. But in the leper colony both remnants of the original twelve tribes existed side by side, connected by a terrible disease.
The belief in Palestine at that time was that leprosy was caused by God, and the leper was considered unclean both physically and spiritually. The disease itself is horrifying, with boils, disfigurement, and nerve pain being the common symptoms. Most people would be separated from their families for the balance of their lives. Today, the bacteria that causes leprosy is easily treated and has become rare in the developed world. In the United States around one hundred cases occur each year.
These people in the first century, however, knew they were doomed to live a life apart from others, never to be able to hold their children or eat with their families. They knew they would suffer for long periods, as the disease was chronic. The plea of these ten men to Jesus was one of desperation.
Jesus takes pity on them and cleanses them, but he also tells them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” (Luke 17:14) A practical command, so that they can become reunited with their own communities by receiving the priest’s acknowledgment they are now cleansed.
One of the men, from Samaria, went back to Jesus, praising God and fell at Jesus’s feet. Knowing the gift he’d been given, he was overwhelmed with being released from a life of captivity caused by a terrible disease.
Seeing this Jesus asks, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God (Luke 17: 17–19)
We can wonder about the other nine, but the deeper story lies with the one who returned. A remarkable contrast to the nine. We notice that Jesus says to him, “your faith has made you well.” For the others the healing was supernatural, but for the lone person who returned, his faith in God seems to have effected a more profound cure. He was a desperate person, who certainly prayed, and through Jesus had the prayer answered, but also, his return to give thanks, his recognition of how he got healed, show us that he will remember how it happened.
During his time of trouble and isolation it would have been easy to say to the leper, “Get up and dust yourself off.” Many of us have heard this encouragement. But it isn’t so easy to do. Perhaps we have had a major financial setback or are struggling with a relationship. In those silent moments by ourselves, we twist, and we turn, searching for answers. We head down various mental paths and look in each corner. Perhaps we cry out or silently yell that it’s not fair. And it probably isn’t. It is true we should just get up, dust ourselves off, and go on. But it isn’t that easy for everyone.
Others may say, “Just have faith.” But these journeys help us have faith. They allow us to cross off what doesn’t work. They allow us to let our heart catch up with our intellectual knowledge.
“Our faith will make us well. But we have to first move to that place where we can get up and be on our way.”
Jesus says, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Jesus has to say that, because it is right. Pursuing a life of faith will make us well. But we must first move to that place where we can get up and go on our way. It is at this point where we must decide that our progress must be forward. It is faith that we can hang on to after we have investigated every facet of faith, but the investigation process itself can be revealing and strengthen our faith. It is when this strengthening has occurred that we can truly get up and go on our way.
“The journey with Jesus in the inner building of our self will reveal and teach us to have faith.”
With Jesus in our hearts, we can have confidence that our journey will be well. Regardless of our inner investigation, all paths will lead back to faith. All thoughts of ill will disappear. All thoughts of self-pity will wither away. We will return. The journey with Jesus in the inner building of our self will reveal and teach us to have faith. Jesus will be with us on this journey regardless of our despair. And when we are done, we will be able to get up and go on our way.
For the leper life had been hard; he pressed on in his search and called out to Jesus. Perhaps at the moment of his darkest night, he was healed, not just by Jesus, but also by his faith in Jesus. Now he becomes a person who was healed in a moment. In his thankfulness we can now see a committed heart that will be generous.
Jesus provides us with grace and a newness in our lives. A heightened sense of empathy for our neighbor and a redirection of how we look at life. Scarcity and want ebb in this new life. Peace is found through the desire for those things that aren’t of this world. The leper was not only cleansed, but his faith healed him at a deeper level, for which he showed thankfulness and the acknowledgment of where the healing came from: his faith.
This faith will also generate a generosity that is real. A giving back to help others out of our own bounty. Generosity is one of the fruits of the spirit. An indication that our faith and healing are real.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman