only one came back

(this is my first midweek meditation – a little something I’ve been thinking about, shared for your encouragement and edification.)

But now indeed I find, Thy power and thine alone
Can change a leper’s spots and melt this heart of stone.
– Jesus Paid It All, Elvina M. Hall.

A few weeks ago I stood among congregants at church, singing “Jesus Paid It All,” and pondered a verse that talks about changing a leper’s spots. No, not a spotted leopard. A leper; a person who has leprosy. Amid recollections of flannel graph and puppet shows,  most who spent any time in a Sunday School classroom know that this strange disease called leprosy is mentioned often in Bible stories. Some memorable accounts  include Moses’ and Aaron’s sister Miriam, Army commander Naaman from Syria, and the ten men who sought Jesus for healing in the gospels. Now the leprosy mentioned in the Bible was probably a catch-all name for all sorts of infectious skin condition, including (but not limited to) what we now call Hansen’s Disease which destroys the  nerve endings of a person’s skin, particularly the limbs and extremities. So it’s not that this leprosy destroys a victim’s body, it just prevents a person from knowing they’re destroying themself. While a healthy person might step back from hot sand or carefully clean and bind a wound, someone with leprosy can’t feel that they’ve burned the bottom of their feet or that the gash on their hand is infected and septic. A leper doesn’t know they are doing things that are harmful because they are unable to feel their body’s natural warning signal – pain.

Though we probably can’t identify with these stories directly because infectious skin disease is not much of a threat in the comfort of first-world living, there is still a profound lesson for us here. Aren’t our hearts like this? After struggling or disappointment, when we often get to a point where we are at least a little numb? Or amid long battles, where our hearts are so taxed that we don’t feel what we’re supposed to? When we work so hard to avoid a painful situation that we ignore all affliction and don’t recognize our coping methods are actually self-destructive? A leper in ancient days would have been cast out of society to prevent passing the disease to their village. Isn’t that the second step for us with leprous hearts, too? Whether these dysfunctional hearts mean we push others away or they pull back from us, numbness often leads to isolation from the people who should be closest to us in times of difficulty.

So what do we do about this? We see the answer here:

  …He was met by ten lepers, who stood at  a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.
-Luke 17:11-16, esv.

These ten lepers had no power by which they might declare themselves healed, and neither do we. I’m not talking here about the kind of emotional pit that calls for drastic lifestyle and medicinal treatments, but of the temptation towards self-pity and putting up “walls” to avoid dealing with things that might hurt. No work of man can cure every ill twist of the heart and facing the reality of a hardened heart can make life seem more frustrating than ever. Yet even if we sense we are at a distance and not close to the Lord, we can shed light on this numbness and cry out  for healing as the ten, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

If we have to be lepers – and indeed we are – let us  be like the one who first called for mercy and then turned back alone with praise and thanks.