Luke shares a story today of a life that is changed in an instant from enforced isolation to joyous freedom. This story is about a man who has leprosy. We are not given much information about him at all. I want to look at this story through his eyes today. I’m going to be taking some liberties in giving him a backstory. I hope you don’t mind. If you do, feel free to skip today’s reading.
My name is Michael and I want to tell you my story. Today is my 39th birthday and it is the first one I have celebrated with my family in over twelve years! It is a joyous day for me as I am finally able to join my mother, father, wife, and my children. I want to say right off that my family is the most amazing group of people ever born in Israel. They have loved me, even when I was unlovable.
My story starts about twelve and a half years ago. This story starts off so innocently that I believe it could happen to anyone, but that is not where it ends. We lived in Chorazin at the time and I ran a local fish market. The best fishermen sold their catch under my roof. I was very proud of the business I had created and the reputation that I carried in town for my choice selections. I believed my prices were fair, considering the quality of product I sold.
One day while I was out behind my market stall working to clean the alley way a young man came to me seeking employment. He was dirty from head to toe. I didn’t want to breathe the same air with him, let alone give him access to my goods. Who knows what he might try and steal! I was forced to stay and listen to his request as he physically blocked my only available exit.
He began his story by telling me that his father had just died and he was now the head of the family. He told me that his father had been working for a local carpenter who was building a large structure on the edge of town. Part of the wall had fallen and crushed his father right before his eyes. He told me that his only experience was that of the person mixing and fetching mud for the builders. I did feel for the boy but, as he had no skills I could use and his appearance was appalling, I sent him on his way. I told him that the fishermen in Capernaum were always looking for new hands on their boats.
I thought about the boy several times that week and wondered what had become of him. I even asked one of my regular suppliers, James, if he had heard of him. James said he hadn’t but would be on the lookout for such a lad. I convinced myself that I had done all I could and decided to dismiss the lad from my mind.
A few days later I noticed a strange sore on my left ankle. I didn’t remember hurting myself or have any idea how it got there. As it didn’t hurt, I treated it with some lotion and forgot about it. The next morning when I was dressing for work I noticed the sore looked red and swollen. I was concerned and decided to try putting a poultice on it this time. My wife made me a mustard poultice and I wore that tied around my ankle for the day. I experienced some burning in the area but attributed it to the poultice’s properties working on the sore. The next morning the sore had grown and was even uglier. I decided it was time to seek medical advice.
I visited several doctors over the next few weeks, trying to remedy my problem. By this time my sore had grown into a rash. The last doctor I visited told me I needed to see the priest, as he suspected it was possibly leprosy. I was horrified at this possibility! How could I be a leper? I had not committed a sin worthy of this punishment. I was a good man with a good reputation and a good family. He must be mistaken. I refused to accept his diagnosis.
I had already isolated myself from my wife’s company at night, for fear of her noticing how much the sore had spread. I had also been wrapping my burning legs in strips of cloth to ensure no one saw my ailment. It would have been very bad for business for my customers to see the state my legs had become. I continued about my business for another week after consulting with this last physician.
On the day before the Sabbath of that dreadful week, in walks the physician to my establishment. He was surprised to see me standing behind the counter. He asked me if I had been to the priest yet. By the look in my eyes he knew that I hadn’t. He reached over the counter and grabbed my robe and began pulling me around the corner of the counter and towards the door. I begged him to stop but he said that I was putting the public in danger and if I wouldn’t go to the priest willingly that he would take me there bodily. I relented and said that I would accompany him to the synagogue but asked him to please let me walk there on my own power instead of being dragged out of my store in public view. He agreed and we walked together through the heart of my beautiful town. The whole way there I was in mortal fear! This may be the last time I see my city as my oyster again. All that I had worked for might be stripped away in a matter of moments.
Once we reached the synagogue, the priest agreed to see me straight away. The physician described my condition to him and I was ordered into the private chambers where I was ordered to remove all my bandages and my clothing. While standing exposed before the priest and physician, several more patches of this rash were discovered. It had clearly spread up my legs and onto my torso. There was no doubt in the minds of either the priest or the physician that I had leprosy. No need to even mark the lesions as the physician could attest to the fact that it had grown since he last examined me. My life as I knew it was over.
The priest sent a runner to my home to fetch my family while I waited in seclusion. I was no longer even allowed to enter the sanctuary of the synagogue. Each member of my family would be required to submit to examination as I had been living in their midst while infected. I feared for their safety now as well as for my own. I prayed that they would be found clean and could return home in safety.
My wife and our four children arrived and were each examined from head to toe by the priest and the physician. None were found to have any lesions on them. My wife was told that once she delivered the baby she was currently carrying that the infant would need to be examined too. Leprosy was not something to be taken lightly and every precaution had to be observed.
My wife was angry to hear that the sore I had originally disclosed to her over a month ago was the beginning of this dreaded disease. I don’t blame her for her anger; I put my whole family at risk for my own pride. Certainly this was my sin to own. She and my children left the synagogue and shortly thereafter my clothing arrived. She had sent my clothing with the runner who accompanied her to our home. I was no longer allowed access to that part of the city. She also included several coins for me for my new existence.
I was escorted by the priest and the physician to the outskirts of town where a leper colony stood. This was to be my new home, until such time as I could prove that I was cured. The physician said he was sorry he had to expose me but my interaction with the public through my business made it impossible for him to remain silent. He had a duty to protect the public from my possible spread of this horrible disease. The priest told me to examine my life and begin praying for forgiveness of my sins. Maybe God would have mercy on me.
My life took on a new “normal” as I would beg in the streets for change, call out “unclean” to anyone approaching me, sleep on the dirt floor of the shabby hut I constructed from discarded bits of lumber, and wear my once beautiful robes until their color was no longer distinguishable from the dirt I slept on. At first I tried to be hopeful, praying daily for God to forgive my sin and heal me of my disease. As days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years I lost hope. God wasn’t hearing me.
During my enforced isolation I began to examine my life, looking for the sin that brought me here. The boy who came to me certainly figured into my sin reckoning. My arrogance was clear to me as I considered how I had judged him, even before hearing his story. Now, if we were to stand side by side, I would be the one sneered at and kept at bay. Over the years I also recognized that my pride even followed me to this dismal setting. I initially held myself in higher esteem that the other lepers who lived here. My clothes were fresher, my parents often tossed coins to me from a distance, and I was certain I would be leaving soon, as my sins couldn’t possibly be as bad as theirs.
Eleven years of misery passed with me living in these conditions. The highlights of my time here were when I would catch a glimpse of my wife and children. My faithful wife first stood in the street across from my enforced dwelling place a month after giving birth to our son. She held him up so I could gaze on him from a distance. She comes once a year, on my birthday, to show me how each of my children have grown. My heart longs for these visits but the ache left behind when she retreats again to the safety of the town nearly crushes me. How I long to hold her in my arms, to play with my children, to teach them the things only a father can. I weep bitterly for the hole my sin has caused in their lives. I know my father tries his best to be there for them in my absence, but it is not the same. I’m certain they wear my shame in their daily walk too. Who wants to run and play with a child of a leper? I know I would never have allowed my children to associate with children wearing such a stigma.
My wife brought our children, as usual, on my last birthday. She was radiant that day. I noticed the change in her right away but was afraid as to what it could mean. Had she met someone else who had agreed to care for her and the children? The first few years I used to beg her to leave me and find someone else, but she refused each time and vowed to wait for my healing and return. Her steadfast love is amazing! It gave me hope while also plunging me into despair. How could she love me that much? The man who could have cost her and our children their freedom too. The man who has nothing left to offer her except more misery and shame. The man who has lost all hope of ever being heard by God, no matter how hard I try. Yet there she stood, literally glowing from head to toe and nearly bouncing in her sandals.
I had to know what brought about this change in her, but she began to answer before I even asked. She told me that there was a man named Jesus who was going about doing good. She said that He was healing the sick, teaching like never before, casting out demons, and even forgiving sins! She had been listening to His teachings and KNEW that if I could just get to Him He could help me. She begged me to watch for Him and if there was any way I could, to go and see Him myself. I told her that I would listen for news of Him.
After she left that day I didn’t know what to think. Seeing the hope in her eyes ALMOST awakened my hope again, but I had been here for so long. I was resigned to the fact that I was receiving my justly earned eternal punishment. But for her sake I had to try.
I began listening to the stories that were shared in the streets and even the occasional story that came from my own new community. On one occasion three men disappeared from our little group one day and didn’t return by morning. At first we thought they had been killed or something, but two days later a man came and stood across the street from us. He shouted out that he had been cleaned by Jesus of his disease. He told us his name was Anthony and that he used to live among us, but his face was not recognizable as the Anthony we knew. Many wondered if he was playing some kind of cruel trick on us. I wondered if he had met the same Jesus my wife spoke of. He confirmed to us that he and his two friends had indeed met Jesus and that they were all cleansed by Him. He said that Jesus had even commended him personally for coming back to Him and offering thanks for his healing.
That settled it for me. If Jesus could heal these three men from our midst, I was sure He could heal me too; but would He want to? My sins were great. My pride and arrogance had caused me to put my whole city at risk. That doesn’t even take into account my sin against the young boy, my own family, and all those I personally wronged. Oh yes, I had PLENTY of time to assemble my “sins list.” Would Jesus be willing to help me with such an enormous list of sins on my account? I had no choice; I had to ask. If not for my own sake at least for my wife’s.
I listened in earnest now for news that Jesus was in our area. I had heard that he often visited Capernaum. That was a distance of less than ten miles, across the mountains. Should I risk it? We weren’t supposed to be away from our colony, especially at night. And who knows if I would even meet up with Him. I decided to wait until I knew He was close by. I would approach Him as He was either leaving or entering the city.
Three months after learning of Jesus’ miraculous power, I heard that He was in our area. I just had to figure out how to meet Him personally.
My meeting happened with Him late in the evening. I had snuck out of camp and followed Him from the shadows all day. He had so many people vying for His attention that I couldn’t get close to Him for a long time. Finally He sent the crowd home, telling them that He needed to be alone for a while. I followed Him as He walked outside of town and into the foothills of the mountains. I felt bad about interrupting Him when He had just asked the people for some solitude but this was my only chance.
I used a nearby gully to get ahead of Him. When I came up out of the gully I knelt in on the path before Him. I bowed my head and silently prayed that He would not turn around or walk by me. He stood still on the mountain path. I knew this was my only chance. I had His attention. I fell on my face and began to weep. “Lord Jesus, I know You can make me clean; if You want to.” My heart was breaking. Would He want to? Would He look at my “sin load” and judge me rightly unworthy of such a gift? Would He rebuke me for intruding on His private time?
I didn’t have long to wait. While I lay there weeping and cringing in fear of rejection I felt something I hadn’t felt in YEARS. I felt a hand on my shoulder. I raised my eyes from the ground and saw Him kneeling beside me. His eyes were full of love and unshed tears. He seemed to feel my pain as acutely as I did. Then He said to me the words I will never forget. “I will; be clean” (Luke 5:13). The burning pain I had been experiencing for all those years ceased at that very moment!
He helped me to my feet holding my once diseased hand in His own. Then He told me very sternly not to tell anyone about my healing but to go directly to the priest and show myself to him and offer the sacrifice Moses had commanded us to do as an offering of thanksgiving for such a cleansing. I was overjoyed! Of course I would do as He commanded me. “I cannot begin to tell You how much Your touch has meant to me Jesus. Thank You with ALL of my heart!”
At that moment I RAN back towards town heading straight for the synagogue. I don’t know how many people I nearly bowled over in my mad rush to follow Jesus’ instructions. I didn’t even care what I must have looked like. I was FILTHY from head to toe. My robes were faded and threadbare. My hair hadn’t been combed in some time. And I was running full tilt through town in a mad rush to see the priest.
Upon arrival at the synagogue I asked for the priest. I was not dressed to enter the synagogue and had not performed the rituals required yet so I stood outside shouting for assistance. Before the priest arrived a small crowd had gathered. They were watching to see what this “crazy man” might do. The priest stepped out and I knelt before him and explained that I had just been healed of leprosy by Jesus Himself and was told to come and make my required sacrifice. At the word leprosy the crowd took a step backwards but as I showed my arms and hands to the priest they began to inch forward again.
The priest asked my name and I gave it to him quickly. He sent a runner to my home to fetch my family. They wound need to verify my identity and story before he would go any further. As I waited, people began to ask me questions about Jesus and my healing. I know He told me not to tell anyone but I didn’t believe He meant for me to lie to the people either. I gave a VERY brief version which consisted of how long I had been diseased and how He had agreed to heal me, unworthy as I was. Several people rushed from the crowd, possibly to share the story with others, while still more clamored for more information. I was saved from answering their questions by the arrival of my family.
The priest asked my mother first to identify me by sight. As she had not seen me since leaving for the leper colony she did not recognize me any longer. My father was asked next. He had passed me coins onto my waiting blanket on several occasions but he was struck dumb by the new smooth skin he saw on me. He too was not sure. The priest brought my wife next to stand before me to make the identification. Our eyes met and as we stood there locked in each other’s gaze, my wife with tears streaming down her face, confirmed that I was indeed the man she had married so long ago. She knew me from my eyes and she had memorized every inch of my face, with and without mar for this very occasion.
Things moved quickly after that. The priest examined me again from head to toe and found not one single lesion on my body. I was pronounced clean. My family provided the items for my required sacrifice, including bringing me a new robe and soaps for the cleansing bath. As soon as the formalities were out of the way we held each other like we had not been able to do in ages. My children were at first a little reluctant as they had only seen me once each year but seeing their mother’s joy quickly melted any resolve they had. We walked home together in one huge huddled mass. It was now time to rebuild as a family and see where God would take us next.
My business suffered greatly due to my arrogance and absence but my family was able to coax it along. After my healing I returned to find that the clients whom I used to consider my friends had all deserted me. The new clients, who supported my family in my absence, were the ones who also cared for those such as the young boy I had turned my nose up at. They were the people who also knew need, but more importantly knew how to show love and generosity to others in need. These same people began asking to hear my story of Jesus and how He had helped me. They were especially touched when I shared about the love and compassion He showed me when I deserved none. Several of them have share with me their encounters with Jesus. To my dying day, I will never forget His love. We go to hear Him speak whenever He is in our area.
This brings us back to today, my 39th birthday and my youngest son’s 13th birthday. I have missed so much in my children’s lives because of my own sin and rightful punishment, but because of Jesus’ love for me I am with my son for his bar mitzvah.
Father God, thank You for Your amazing love that prompted You to send Your only Son to us. We didn’t and still don’t deserve such a precious gift. I am SO sorry for how we treated Him. Even today I don’t show the gratitude for what He did for me as I should. I get wrapped up in my own life and overlook those around me who are hurting. I know I can’t help everyone but I can at the very least show Your love to those I meet. Be it in a simple smile, a genuine hug, or a physical gift. Let Your love shine through me. Forgive me of my arrogance and pride. Thank You Jesus that I have not suffered the rightfully earned reward for my own sins, because You paid it in full for me. Please help me not to add any more to that tab. I’m SO grateful that You don’t have a “credit limit” on my account. I’m afraid I would have maxed it out by now and would be declined instead. I truly love You and want to stop doing ANYTHING that causes You pain, for love’s sake alone.