This is Spinalonga, the former leper colony off the coast of Crete, which remained until after a cure was found for leprosy in the 1950s when it finally closed forever. But leprosy is still with us, not as easy to catch as a well known virus, but for almost everyone with leprosy it was eventually fatal. I was in the bath wondering whether Jesus had had to deal with contagious diseases and what his reaction would be. Of course I thought of this story from Luke 17:12-17:
12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’
14 When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?
You will note that those with leprosy observed social distancing as did Jesus. No touching, no hands laid on any of them. Instead Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the Priests, the only ones who could give them the all clear with their leprosy test which, until they met Jesus, none of them were going to pass.
There were rules and those with leprosy willingly obeyed them, because that was what made them insiders or outsiders. On the way they suddenly know that Jesus has healed them from afar. They are certain because as well as the priestly test it is pretty obvious if you have a terrible skin disease and it suddenly goes away and more, skin and bone is renewed and replaced by the faith Jesus exercises on their behalf. They ask and what little faith they have is built upon in an act of healing.
What happens next is the crucial thing. These ten lepers had all heard about the amazing things Jesus had done, all recognised that they would now be acceptable and allowed back into society after their enforced isolation because they were cured. Only one disobeyed. He didn’t do as he was told, instead he went back to the source of his healing and said thank you and Jesus was amazed because he was not just an outsider by his former leprosy, but he was a religious outsider.
When we are all declared clean and go back to everyday life I wonder who will be turning back with thanks and who will carry on as if nothing had happened.
Barbara Brown Taylor sums it up well in The Preaching Life:
“It is safer here with the nine – we know the rules and who does what. We are the ones on whom the institution depends. But the missing one, the one who turned back, or was turned away, or turned against – where did he go? Who is he and whom is he with, and what does he know that we do not know? Where are the nine? We are here, right here. But where for the love of God is the tenth?”
I was reminded today by a Facebook post that Jesus didn’t call us to fit in, be one of the crowd, have the values of the crowd, rage like the angry, or meekly bow to the bully. Instead he called people to be followers of Jesus. Simply he said: “follow me.” This is the hardest command to obey and stick with, but worth the trying, for only there is peace and hope and above all, love