Saved on the Road

            I have a spiritual practice that helps me internalize the Scriptures and the ways of God. I imagine being one of the characters or a bystander in a biblical story, and I spin out the story as I see it. It doesn’t have to be theologically “correct,” although I try to keep it plausible.  I simply spend time wondering what it was like to be there, and letting the Spirit show me something through the process.

            The gospel story of Jesus healing the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19) is familiar. It is often used as a reminder to be thankful. I don’t want to be satisfied with common, traditional interpretations, but instead to see stories possibly in a new light. Here’s what flowed out of my pencil today.

            They social-distanced, obedient to the rules of their community. They heard about the rabbi with healing power, and they made sure that one of their number was always on the lookout for him. So when Jesus was seen approaching with his companions, they all roused themselves and shouted for his attention. “Master, we need you! Be merciful to us!” They did not have to explain their predicament. Anyone could see that they suffered from dreaded leprosy. The people walking with Jesus hung back.

            But Jesus was not afraid of their disease, or if he was, he didn’t show it. He got closer so he could see into their eyes and feel their desperation. Close enough not to shout his reply, but to speak to them kindly.

            He smiled as he thought of the surprise and joy that would soon overtake them. “Go and ask the priests to verify that you are  clean,” he urged them. They looked at each other, puzzled and disappointed. Why would the priests declare them healed when their sores and stumps remained? But Jesus waved them on, urging them to go.

            One by one they turned toward Jerusalem. They weren’t more than fifty yards away when one of them cried out, then another, and another. “Look! They’re gone!” “I’m healed!” “I can’t believe it!” “Hurry to the temple!” They began running, disregarding the scowls and stares of others on the road.

            But one turned around.

            He was the one from Samaria. The other lepers had accepted him since the disease had thrown them into the same category: outcast. Once dignified and respected, he had been humbled. But he found friends among these men whom he never would have known otherwise. Together they endured the disdain of travelers on the road to the city. They shared the shame of having to beg loudly for food. Theirs was a brotherhood focused on survival, when once they had been productive members of their villages.

            But now the Samaritan was shouting his thanks. He praised God as he ran right up to Jesus. His emotions drove him to collapse at Jesus’ feet, thanking the rabbi over and over. No longer would he be separated from his family. He could kiss his wife! He could start working again, and his children would have food. It was impossible to believe, but it was true!

            Jesus smiled and helped him to his feet. “Where are your friends?” he asked. “They were healed too, and they ought to praise the One who made them whole. You are the outsider, yet you are the one who gave glory where it is due. Stand up straight, hold your head up, and go home. Because you trusted me, you were made clean. Keep trusting God, my friend!”

            He hurried to the home of his brother-in-law, where he had been told his family was staying. She was mending their son’s tunic when a shadow fell on her work.  She looked up to see her beloved standing in the doorway, a goofy grin on his face. They fell into each other’s arms, and he began to tell her about the rabbi from Galilee. 

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