Location: Late afternoon, a tanner’s shop in a village in occupied Judea, c. 35-40 AD
“Good afternoon, traveler. Welcome to my humble shop. How may I help you? Yes, I am he, the one who used to be a leper, but was miraculously healed. You wish to hear my story? But of course. I will never tire of telling it! But first, let me fetch some water, to wash your feet; and some drink to quench our thirsts. It’s been a slow day, and this will be a welcome break.
It was several years ago, in a small village far from here. Before I became a leper, I was a tanner, just as I am now.
One afternoon, I was on my way to the synagogue, hoping to get something to eat and drink. Although I was an outcast, at least the people of the village followed the teachings given through Moses, and made sure I had food and clothing. Maybe not the best of either, but it was something.
I was trying to mind my own business, staying away from the others, when I saw one of the scribes headed in my direction, a solemn look on his face. ‘Stop right there, brother Silas!’ ‘What is wrong, Adam? I was just on my way to the synagogue, hoping for a bit to eat from the kitchens.’ ‘I’m sorry Silas, but I have to ask you to leave the village proper immediately. We are expecting a wandering rabbi & healer, along with a large crowd of his followers, at any time.’
I knew it would do me no good to argue with him. He didn’t make the decision alone. He knew as well as I did that it would mean a long, hungry night for me. So I retreated to my little camp. It was on a low hill close enough to see and hear what was happening in the village. Maybe, I thought to myself, this healer will come and go before dark, allowing me to return to the village.
I busied myself making sure that the fire had not gone out, and that I had enough firewood for the night, since it usually got pretty cold, and I didn’t have a proper cloak. And it kept the animals away.
I guess I was starting to feel sorry for myself, just sitting there, staring at the fire, when I heard a commotion coming from the village. I crept out to my vantage point and sat down. It was clear which one was the ‘healer.’ No, he wasn’t dressed fancy or anything like that. There was just something about it. And there were maybe two or three dozen people there that I didn’t recognize who must have been with him – men, and women as well. And all the people in the village were coming to him. And he seemed to be healing them. There was that little boy Samuel, who had been deaf and dumb since birth, now chattering away with all the other little boys. And the shepherd Simon, who walked with a limp because he had fallen chasing away a lion from his herd, and his broken leg hadn’t healed properly. Now he was hopping around like nothing had happened.
But why, why couldn’t I be down there too, seeking healing? I was feeling really sad now, and started to turn away when the healer looked up in my direction, and I felt his eyes link with mine. I thought I was well hidden. And I can’t describe really what I felt. Calmness and love, I guess. Anyway, after a few seconds, he turned his attention back to the others. Now I couldn’t stop watching. After a while, he seemed to be doing more teaching, everyone just sitting around him, listening quietly.
Finally, the crowd began to break up, and I went back to my fire. The sun was getting low, and I knew the healer would be staying the night. No dinner for me.
I lost track of time, feeling sorry for myself, when suddenly I heard someone coming up the path. Immediately, I jumped up and started shouting ‘Unclean! Unclean! Leper! Leper! Go away!’ But the footsteps kept getting closer. I was now holding my breath, standing by the fire, when a figure stepped out of the shadows. It was the healer.
‘Sir, you must leave. I am unclean, al leper!’ He raised a hand and looked at me, and a wave of calmness swept over me. ‘I saw you earlier, and felt your despair. I have come looking for you, to return you to the flock.’ I was about to protest, when I heard more voices. ‘I think I saw him go this way.’ ‘No, that is where the leper lives.’
‘You must leave now! Please! I will be in so much trouble, sir!’ Again the man held up his hand, and again I felt strangely calmed. ‘Do not be afraid’ he said as he came around the fire to stand next to me. All I could think about was how much trouble I was going to be in.
Suddenly, several figures burst into the light. I instantly recognized the rabbi, and my heart sank. One of the healer’s people addressed him. ‘Lord, why did you wander off? The meal is waiting!’ ‘Peter, Peter, I will eat when the work is done. Surely you know that by now.’ ‘Sir, this man is a leper! Please stand away!’
I almost didn’t hear him when the healer said softly ‘There are no lepers here.’ Now not only would I be punished, but shamed publically as well. ‘But sir, this man has been a leper for five years now.’
Suddenly, I felt the healer put his hand on my shoulder, and a surge of power rippled through my body. ‘Hold out your hands, my brother’ I heard the healer say. I knew I would be exposed now, and I couldn’t move, I was trembling so hard. Again I hear him say ‘Hold out your hands.’ It was clearly a command, yet all I felt was love. ‘Have faith, my brother’ I heard him say, and again something surged through my body. As if on their own, my hands raised and stretched outward. I couldn’t bear to look. Then I heard a gasp from the rabbi, and opened my eyes. To my amazement all the sores and scars were gone. In disbelief I turned my arms over and over, and only then did I become aware that all over my body my skin was tingling.
I don’t know how long I stood there, turning my formerly scared arms, still unable to believe what I was seeing. Finally, I looked up, and only the healer was still there, just standing there, looking at me, waiting for me, yet not in any hurry. ‘Come, let us get something to eat’ I heard him say. I started to protest, but he held up his hand. ‘Come –‘ that was all he said, and turning, he headed down the path back towards the village. I followed him in silence, my mind trying to understand what was happening.
The healer led me to the center of town, where I had seen him earlier healing others. It was deserted now – it was late, and people were retiring already. He sat on a stone slab, and motioned for me to sit on one nearby, facing him. He looked at me, and I got that same feeling I had gotten earlier – when he looked up at me while he was healing the others. It was more intense this time, yet not in a threatening way. I felt a love and compassion that I had never experienced before. I tried to make out the details of his face, but I couldn’t seem to focus my eyes. I was feeling overwhelmed, and then he must have looked away.
When I recovered, he was talking to a man I didn’t recognize. I don’t remember, but my stomach must have rumbled, for the healer said to the man ‘My brother and I are hungry, John. Please bring us food and drink.’ As this man, John, left, the healer turned back to me, and began to ask me questions about myself. I couldn’t seem to resist answering him, and by the time John returned with food I was talking non-stop, not holding anything back. The healer took the meal from John and thanked him, and then offered the food to me. Even in the dim light, I could see that this was way better than anything I had had in a long time, and the smell was overwhelmingly wonderful.
Again I lost track of time, so intent was I with eating. Finally, the food was gone, and the wine skin was almost empty as well. I looked at the healer, and suddenly realized I hadn’t seen him eat anything. He must have sensed my embarrassment, for he just smiled at me, and I suddenly relaxed. And before long, I was again talking almost non-stop, spilling my guts about the last five years. The healer seemed to be happy just to listen, occasionally asking a question when I stopped, allowing me to catch my breath.
We, or maybe I should say I, continued to talk as the night got darker and colder. So cold, in fact, that it was becoming hard to speak as I began to tremble. It was then that the healer took his cloak off his shoulders and put it around mine. It was warm, warmer than anything I could ever remember owning. In just a few minutes I was talking again.
The healer just sat there, listening to me. Listening to me, a nobody. Yet he didn’t interrupt me like the people in the village always did. I began to get the feeling that there was no other place, no other person, where he wanted to be with now.
The night seemed to fly by, and the sky was beginning to brighten when this friend of his, Peter, approached us. ‘Lord, have you not slept? We have a long road to the next town.’ ‘Peter, the town will still be there, whenever we get there. We will leave when the sun is fully up. When the meal is ready, send it to us. And ask Judas to come as well.’
We had been talking only a short time when I saw another man approaching. Instantly, I knew he was street-wise like me, and I began to get feelings of mistrust. The man hardly glanced at me before addressing the healer. ‘You requested me, Lord?’ The healer seemed to ignore the tone of voice he was being addressed in. ‘Judas, give our brother here two denarii, please.’ I could see that Judas was about to protest, but the healer held up his hand, and Judas closed his mouth. With a look of disgust, he opened his pouch and took out two coins. He looked at them for a second, then tossed them on the ground between us, and walked away without looking back.
The healer seemed unmoved, and picked up the coins and handed them to me. ‘Here, my brother, you will need these. You will never be welcome in this town, just as I am not welcome in my hometown. Go far away from here, and start a new life. Be aware of those you find who are as you once were, and look after them as I have looked after you.’ ‘What village is that, sir, and what is your name, that I may tell of your great kindness?’ I blurted out. ‘I am Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. But do not praise me, but our Father in heaven who makes all things possible.
I was about to question this Jesus further, but then one of his people brought us something to eat. We ate in silence, and before long a group of people had gathered, as if they were ready to set off on their journey.
Jesus took a wineskin and a loaf of bread from one of his people and handed them to me. ‘Do not worry about food and drink, only pray to the Father in heaven, and He will provide.’ Then he reached out and put his hand on my shoulder, and again I felt a strange power flow through me. And then, when I looked up, he and all his people were nowhere to be seen. A chill struck me, and instinctively, I pulled the cloak around me, the cloak that he had given me, and not taken back.
Not knowing what else to do, I headed south, and in two weeks I came to this town. Their tanner was elderly and without sons, so I apprenticed myself to him, and took over his shop when he joined his forefathers.. And in my two weeks of wandering, there was always enough bread and the wineskin full enough for my needs. And I was never cold at night.
And that, my friend, is my story. I swear that it is all true. No, you owe me nothing. I am glad to tell it. But it is time for me to visit my children, and bring them their daily meal. If you could help me, I would be most grateful. Thank you, kind sir. The trip will be swift with two to bear the load.
Here we are, my friend. What? Yes, yes, they are lepers. But they are my children, I look after them. You can wait here if you wish, then we will return to the village for the evening. You wish to journey on? You are hurrying to collect the stories of this Jesus before people forget them? Well, safe travels and thanks for listening to my story. It looks like it will be a cold night tonight. Take this cloak, the healer’s cloak. I have a fire to sit by, and you will need it more than I do.