You’re an outcast, shunned by those you love, a look of dread spreading across the eyes of those who become aware of your presence. You are utterly alone, even though you spend all your waking hours in the company of others who share your fate. There is still a loneliness so deep you wonder if there is really any point going on.
You remember well the first morning you noticed it; the spot, the blemish. You hide it under the folds of your outer clothing and spend your day in spiralling fear. Your wife is busy with your children, they are so young, you long to sweep them up in your arms and launch them into the sky, their squeals of delight would melt your heart, and yet you daren’t, you cannot risk their young fragile lives, better you were gone; better by far that they never see you again. All day long you search for words, an opportunity to explain, to prepare your younger wife for what now must be. But you can’t find them. All is lost. And so, you slip away, once the village has settled for the night, the guarding dogs, familiar with your scent, don’t even whimper. You try not to imagine the fear and confusion that will greet your absence. Their terror when they read your scribbled note on broken slate, two words – ‘Leprosy, Sorry’. You pray fervently as you pass the silent shrine in the pale moonlight. You pray that the village will be kind, that the coming days of fear-filled examination will show no signs of contamination. That your young wife will move on, find another who will take her, fend for her – you choke back trembling tears – will take care of your children….
Your stomach growls in painful hunger, it has been a week, you have travelled far and eaten little. Scraps thrown out for dogs on the edges of villages you must avoid. The dogs bark incessantly, so you have little time to gather small bits of dried and crusted bread before you are chased off by angry and fearful men. You drink from muddy streams, trying to hide under nature’s shelter during heat-filled days, stumbling over rocky roadways during darkening nights.
Then you meet the others, those who struggle as you do, those who understand, the fear, the growing hunger, the loneliness, the dread of emerging spots. Like you, they are unclean. Like you, they are bereft of hope, your common condition unites you, not as brothers but as fellow scavengers, ten can garner so much more than one. It is good to be in company again – but even here, there is fear. You see the worn-down fingers, and stunted toes, you watch the skin of others retreat as the blemishes take hold – you see your future – and you despair.
And then, months, maybe years later (who can tell) a whisper reaches you and your band of crippled lepers. A hint of hope, a name, common enough in the region where you exist, and yet always spoken with awe and wonder – Jesus. Some are sceptical, but all are desperate, and so you travel by night, following the whispers, searching for the one who might, just might….
….You stand afar off, the sunlight exposing your deformity, you can sense the dread even before you hear the stifled gasps of the crowd. Jesus senses the change, looks to find the source, sees the ten of you at the very edge of the village, his piercing eyes taking in every detail of their broken bodies, and yet, even from a distance it’s like he’s actually looking through them rather than at them, as if he sees beyond their blemishes.
You and your band of beggars plead, you call, you cry, you beg. ‘Jesus, Master – have pity on us’, ‘Look at us’ you cry ‘Help us’ you silently scream: free us from this desolation. And when he speaks the world stands still, his words carry clearly across the divide between you and those who have drawn back. No magic words, not healing incantation, just an instruction, calmly uttered – ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests’. And as if compelled by some divine force you turn and move towards the distant city, and as you move the miracle begins. Worn down fingers stretch and grow, staff assisted legs straighten and are restored, faces ravaged by blemish and corruption smooth over. You and your companions start to run, to run! As awareness of healing emerges, as restoration returns, the band of broken bodies changes to a community clamouring for confirmation that they are cured. It is a few moments before you realise what is happening, but a sideward glance from you one-time comrades hints at a change. Subtle shifts in body language leave you isolated again. ‘And where do you think you are going?’ calls one. Realisation crashes down on you. Before there was common cause, now there are ancient divisions. He had never wondered where his fellow sufferers had been before the blight and blemish or had they of him; but restored bodies had also brought back broken community – you are a Samaritan, they are Jews. They are running to their priests for confirmation of their healing. What reception are you expecting from the leaders of your enemies, kindness, delight, compassion@ You start to slow down as reality dawns. They don’t even hesitate to say goodbye, in moments they are gone, the dust from their scrambling sandals settling in their wake. Where are you going? Where is left to you? You are dead to your family, they will already have moved on, your young wife remarried, your children sharing stories of skin shriven monsters who snatch errant youngsters during the night.
Through the shock of dawning dread, a memory returns, those eyes, that calm voice, clear and resonating. You turn back, you walk slowly, your mind whirlin in new realities. He is walking towards you, a look of recognition and realisation emerging on his face as he sees you. ‘ Were not all ten healed, and yet only one returns to give thanks’, his followers make room for him – some are former outcasts like himself, you turn and you follow, but not from a distance.