I can’t really say we were friends. They were, after all, Jews, and I was a Samaritan. We had more uncommon with each other than common. But the one factor we shared was we were all sick and outcasts.
Our skin was covered with snowy flakes and dying flesh. No one wanted to be near to us. We were unwelcome in the cities, in the Temple, even in our homes. People were horrified when they saw us and they avoided us at every turn.
We each had our own story but they were all remarkably the same. As our condition worsened, so did our lot until we were cast out to live as drifters.
Misery does love company, even if the company is miserable itself. So we all fell together to share our misery.
We found refuge under a large tree at the top of a hill, some distance from the road leading into town. From here we were able to call out for mercy from the passersby. Occasionally a kind soul would drop some bread on the roadside for us or a few coins, but always they turned their heads away from our shameful and rotting bodies.
That one afternoon, though, we were all surprised when a man began to approach us. We had seen him and his group coming down the road. We quickly formed our chorus of pleas for mercy. Our voices faltered, though, when he did not look away from us. Instead he looked straight at us and, then, he left the road and began climbing the hill. Now we were aghast. We began calling out to him to stay away.
“Go back,” we yelled, louder and louder, “we are lepers. We are unclean. Stay away from us.”
Yet the man’s steps were sure and strong. He continued to climb the hill. We fell to the ground hoping to hide our repugnant flesh from his sight.
He stood over us. He towered over us. As we cowered in fear and shame, he stood like an oak, strong and unwavering. Now our fear turned to terror. Was he there to beat us, to kill us, to rid this town of its infamy?
“Stand up,” he commanded. His words, surely commands, were not harsh, though. Neither were they punitive. They had the tone of a man seeking to save a child from danger. “Stand up.” he called again.
We all stood, slowly, apprehensively, trying to cover our limbs as best we could. His friends murmured down the hill. We could hear strains of their words: lepers, foul, unclean, disgusting. He glanced back at them and held his hand in the air. They fell silent and then we all seemed to be awaiting the man’s next breath.
He slowly looked at each of us, one by one. He gazed at our wounds. He looked deep into our eyes. None of us had ever fallen under such a gaze. It had been years since anyone had dared to even catch our eyes, now this man was peering deep into our souls.
Finally, he spoke. “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” We all stood stone still for a moment. Then he raised his eyebrow, tossed his head and jabbed his thumb toward the city as if to say, “Go on. Why are you waiting?”
We all began to move at once. We had no idea who this man was but the way he spoke sounded like a command. We obeyed without knowing why. Ten lepers, all of us outcasts, quickly jumped at this stranger’s words and began to walk.
He stood there, a small smile on his face, almost a smile of mischief. We walked from under the tree into the bright sunlight and I suddenly felt its warmth. I had never felt the sun’s rays so distinctly, so deeply. I crossed my arms and began rubbing them with my hands to spread the warmth. As I did I was amazed to find that my skin was smooth. I looked and saw that it was supple, even moist, like the skin of a youngster. My sores, my shame,
As I stumbled forward I ran into several of the other men, nearly knocking them over. I did not noticed they had all come to a halt. Each one of them stood amazed as they saw their own limbs restored and refreshed. Our plague, the disgrace that united us, had vanished. We were all cured.
They each began to run. They ran into town, anxious to show their healing to the priests, anxious to regain their lives, their families, their status. I ran with them for a moment or two, until I realized I had nowhere to run. They were Jews. They were welcome in that town. I was not. I was a Samaritan. Leper or not, I was still an outcast.
But I had still been cured. Though I was far from home I could now return home just as the other nine were running to do. I turned back and began my way back home, singing praises to God as I went.
By now the stranger had climbed down from the hill and returned to the road. As I met him along the way, I stopped and looked at him again. Those eyes that had looked deep within us all, that had taken the chance to see us as more than worthless victims, were the same eyes that had healed us. I fell at his feet and offered the only sacrifice I could. I praised God for him. I thanked him for restoring my life. “Thank you, oh man of God,” I wept, “for you have not just cured my flesh, you have healed my soul.”
“Where are the others?” he asked. “Only you, the Samaritan, came back to offer your thanks to God?”
Yes, I was the only one to return. I returned because I had no choice. The others were likely in the Temple right now, being pronounced clean, offering the sacrifices prescribed. But I was left behind. I could not, and would not, place my foot within their sacred gates. I was on my way home, to my own land, to my temple, to offer my praises to God.
Yet, now my praises could not wait. When I saw that man again, my praises leapt from my heart. They danced from my lips. They had to be loosed into the air, so that all creation could know of my good news. Here between the land of the Jews and the land of the Samaritans, I let my song rise to the heavens.
He knelt down, grabbed my hands and lifted me up. Now we stood face to face. My heart, just a moment ago racing with praise, now pounded with fear. In my delight I had touched this Jew. I had made him unclean. My eyes widened as I waited for him to curse me for this affront. Surely he would call the wrath of his God upon my head.
Yet when he spoke it was the sound of grace. His words were like a gentle breeze. As he spoke, I not only heard what he said, I also felt what he said. “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
With that he patted my cheek, gave me the most benign smile, looked at his friends and continued his walk toward town. As I watched him leave my heart began to warm. It warmed like my skin had, just moments before. I knew now my heart was being renewed, growing supple with the grace of that stranger’s spirit.
Since that day I have returned to my home. I have returned to my own people’s temple. I have returned to my family and status. Yes, this is where I live, but this is not where I belong. I belong in a kingdom that knows no borders and no race. I belong where God’s children are. Though I live in Samaria, though born a Samaritan, I am a child of God. That man, that Jew, I met between our two lands, took away my shame. He cured my leprosy but he also healed my heart. He showed me that the love and grace of God knows no bounds. Though we may feel the need to guard these precious gifts, God has a way of breaking free and offering himself to everyone.
© 2019, Tom Thoeni