The Leper’s Tale
By S M Chen, posted by Debbonnaire Kovacs, Feb 24, 2016
I do not relate this with ease, but it is something I feel I must do. So sit awhile, and hear me out.
Some time ago I was mysteriously stricken with a dread disease, one that not only afflicted with discomfort, pain and disfigurement, but was also the cause of social opprobrium. As I think back, there is nothing I did, or did not do, to cause leprosy. I don’t know why it struck me. Although there were also others similarly afflicted.
What I do know is that its course was inexorable. There was no cure. Eventually, sensation and limbs would be lost, but, before then, there were the sores and pain. Almost as bad, and more humiliating, is the way we were treated. If we happened to be on a road on which there were others, we had to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” and people would go out of their way to avoid us. They didn’t want to risk catching what we had. We were also forbidden to enter the temple to worship.
The human spirit in most desires companionship, and, as almost no healthy person would associate with us, we lepers banded together in our own groups. We lived together, ate together, commiserated and occasionally argued. For me, it was definitely better than living alone. It is indeed true that misery (and we had ample reason to be miserable) loves company.
I missed my family of course. Much as they cared for me, they feared for their own health. I saw very little of them once I was declared to be a leper by the priest, and, with heavy heart, had to leave the familiarity and comfort of home and my loved ones.
It took a while to find others who would not fear me. But it eventually happened. I joined a group of men, all of whom had similar disease. Others came, and ultimately there were ten of us. Most were Jews, but there was one Samaritan. Ordinarily there was no love lost between Jews and Samaritans. But, in our case, the line between Jew and Samaritan became blurred. Our common disease bonded us, even though at times the bond was uneasy.
The man whom I respected most was, ironically, Aaron, the Samaritan. He was the most compassionate member of our sad group, a quality reinforced by a short tale he related without pride one night around a fire.
“I was traveling on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.” Aaron was sitting on a log, looking at the flames, and ignoring the occasional ember that climbed an invisible ladder to the sky.
“When was this?” asked Simeon.
“Some time ago,” replied Aaron. “It matters not.” He paused. “I rounded a corner, and came upon a pitiful sight.”
It was silent, except for the crackling of the fire. Distant dogs had stopped baying at the full moon.
Aaron drew in a breath. He was reliving the moment.
“Well, go on, man,” said Nathan.
“He lay on the ground. He’d been beaten and robbed. Seemed, initially, more dead than alive.”
“Who?” An anonymous voice from the darkness.
“A man. A Jew.” Aaron wrapped his cloak more tightly.
“Weren’t you afraid? For yourself?” Queried Seth.
“Of course. I was by myself. Only a fool would be unafraid.”
“I think I would have let him be,” ventured Jacob.
“I couldn’t do that. I stopped and examined him. He was badly injured and could barely talk.”
“And?” The anonymous voice again.
“I applied bandages to his wounds, which were many, and poured oil and wine on him. After that, I put him on my donkey. We made our way to an inn, where I left him in the care of the innkeeper.”
“You are a fool,” said Nathan. “He wouldn’t have done that for you.”
“His name was Eli. Before I came upon him, two Jews, a priest and a Levite, had ignored him and passed by.”
“They didn’t!” cried Seth.
“Indeed they did. Eli had an interesting tale of his own, which he related to me during his recuperation.”
No one spoke at this point. They just listened.
“But that was later. At first he was too injured to talk. He just moaned. I left the inn, and told the innkeeper I would pay for Eli’s care upon my return. If more were owed then, I’d pay that, too.”
“Were you wealthy, man? Did shekels line your pockets?”
“No. Far from it. But at times like that, one does what one must,” said Aaron. The fire had subsided. He tossed a small crooked branch on it.
“Eli lived with his father and younger brother. He was on his way to Jericho to conduct business for his father when he was attacked.”
The fire crackled. More sparks ascended. Some distant dogs had resumed sounds dogs make.
“The next time I visited the inn, Eli had recovered enough to talk. When I entered his room, he eagerly grasped my hand and thanked me. And said, ‘Yahweh be praised. He has been merciful. My eyes have been opened.’
“I asked him what he meant.
“He said, ‘I have a younger brother, Benjamin. When he came of age, he asked our father for his inheritance, and went away from where we live. It just about broke father’s heart.
“Eli shifted to get more comfortable. ‘It wasn’t so much the fact that Benjamin left as the way he left. With no plans, other than to get away. He didn’t depart on good terms. Father never showed anger.
“’And then he lived riotously. Squandered his inheritance on wild living and loose women.’ I was vexed but said nothing; continued to toil alongside my father.
“’Every day our father went to the road and looked out for Benjamin. His heart was heavy. That fact made me resent Benjamin all the more. But still I held my tongue.
“’A great famine arose in the land where Benjamin had gone. It wasn’t until he had lost all his money and friends and struck bottom that he came to his senses. He had been reduced to feeding pigs to survive, then suddenly realized that our servants ate better than he. So he came home.
“’The day he arrived, father probably thought he would be looking in vain again for Benjamin. But no, this time there he was. Father ran to him, hugged and kissed him, wouldn’t even let him apologize for his bad behavior.
“’Father had the servants remove his rags and put new clothes on him. Put a ring on his finger and new sandals. Killed a fatted calf and called everyone in to celebrate my brother’s homecoming. There was music and dancing.
“’I was in the fields when this happened. Father wanted me to join in. But this was now all too much. It was the straw that broke my back. I lashed out at father—something I will always regret. I told him that he had it all wrong. Benjamin had taken his inheritance and wasted it. I had always been faithful and never disobeyed father. But he was now throwing a celebration for Benjamin, whereas he had never had such a celebration for me. My bitterness knew no bounds. I would not participate in such unfair revelry.
“’I remained bitter,’ said Eli. ‘Until this happened. Just as you have been kind to me,’ he smiled at me, ‘so I should have been kind to my brother. And I shall, when next I see him. Had it not been for you’ – here he paused – “I think I would have never seen him or my father again.’ His voice choked and a tear trickled down one cheek. I think what was happening was good for his soul.”
The fire had gone low and was about to slumber. It was time for us to do the same.
So I felt it particularly unfair that a man capable of such compassion would be visited by leprosy, but that proves the disease was no respecter of persons.
We lived for some time without hope. As you might expect, various members of our group reacted differently to happenstance. Some cursed God because of their leprosy. Others were more accepting and remonstrated with them. I myself was initially bitter, but eventually became less so when I quit asking “Why me?” and asked, instead, “Why not me?”
Aaron never was bitter, or, if he was, didn’t show it. He accepted his fate with an enviable equanimity. I marveled at that not a little.
Then, one day, we heard about a man who could perform miracles.
Miracles don’t happen that often so, when they do, people take notice. Particularly if they have a condition for which a miracle could be transformative.
Slowly and painfully we made our way to where we heard the Master would pass. As a group we gathered by the roadside near a village, away from other people.
When we saw Him, we shouted, almost as one, the short phrase we had rehearsed: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Christ showed no fear. He didn’t shun us. He came over, looked at us with the kindest expression, and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And then moved on.
With alacrity, we went to the nearest temple, halfway expecting to be turned away. But it was not to be, for, when we looked at ourselves and each other outside the temple, we were no longer leprous. We were healed.
And now comes a point that I relate with some hesitancy, I am so ashamed.
All of us rejoiced, and laughed and cried, jumping up and down in our exuberance, hugging and congratulating one another.
None of us thought to thank the Master except Aaron, whom I observed from some distance.
He turned back and, giving thanks to God, cried out how grateful he was. He fell down by Jesus and thanked Him.
Jesus asked, “Where are the others? Did I not cleanse ten?”
Then He added, “None but this stranger returned to glorify God. Get up, and go your way. Your faith has healed you.”
I wanted to rush to the side of Jesus and thank Him, too, but, by the time I decided to act, it was too late. He had gone.