The Not-So-New Practice of Social Distancing

Jane Van Camp  I  Luke 17:11-19

While it wasn’t yet Easter Week, it was late in Jesus’ time here on earth. He was known. The word was out. Jesus could heal people. And so, on his way to Jerusalem he enters some unnamed village, (meaning it could have been yours or mine) and was immediately met by ten lepers. What a dangerous disease in the first century—leprosy. As a leper one was forced into isolation – to stop the spread of the disease. The only people a leper could be around was…another leper. And here we see a group of ten lepers coming to meet Jesus. A number we have grown so familiar with: “The CDC recommends people meet with no more than 10 people at a time.” And here comes Jesus, the healer, walking straight into their village, straight into their isolated lives. It says the lepers stood at a distance. They must have wanted to run straight up to him – here he was the only person who could take away their disease – and yet they distanced themselves. They couldn’t let this moment pass by and so they lifted up their voices. All they could do was cry out to him…from a distance…from where they were. They asked Jesus for mercy.  Mercy? Seems a strange request…mercy.  What they really meant by “mercy” was, “heal me from this awful leprosy. Heal me so I can go back and be around my family and friends again.” What they really wanted was for their lives to go back to normal. And that didn’t necessarily include Jesus.

How then did Jesus respond? He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests (because according to Hebrew custom the priest was where a leper went to prove that he was, in fact, healed.  Once verified, the leper could return to normal life). They didn’t recognize it at first – they simply started making their way to the priest. And as they went they were cleansed. Whether or not all noticed it doesn’t say. What it does say is that only one turned back and started praising God with a loud voice. Actually, it says he fell at Jesus’ feet and gave him thanks. Supposedly the other nine, cleansed, healed lepers kept right on walking totally forgetting (?), neglecting (?) the one person who healed them. And instead, just one turned back. Just one. This didn’t escape Jesus, as a matter of record Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Wow. The disease that infected those lepers was much more severe than leprosy…somehow years of diseased, isolated living still hadn’t managed to soften nine men’s hearts. Perhaps they thought themselves worthy of being healed. “Why shouldn’t Jesus heal me?! Indeed, I have suffered long enough…it’s about time!” Only the one got it right. There was no “I deserve to be healed” attitude in his heart. There was no “I’ve suffered long enough.” There was only humility and thankfulness. There was only a recognition that he wasn’t worthy, that Jesus didn’t have to do what He did.

That’s a great way to enter this Easter Week – with a heart that recognizes total un-worthiness before Jesus. He didn’t have to do what He did. He didn’t have to be beaten, humiliated, spat on and have nails driven through his hands and feet. He didn’t have to do that….but he did. And he did it because he loved people. He loved and had compassion on people he knew were suffering. People he knew could not heal themselves. And he took care of a much more lethal disease than leprosy or COVID-19, he took care of sin. That pervasive disease infects and ruins every area of our lives – relationships, health, marriages, families. He took care of it. He healed it. He cleansed people so that they might walk differently. So that they could reenter society a changed and hopeful individual – a hope found in only Jesus himself. What a great week to turn around, fall down, and worship Jesus – the healer of our souls!

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