The night before Jesus had told us we needed to get ready for a trip. He said that we’d be gone for a week or more. The destination? Nazareth. Jesus was taking us to the little town he had grown up in. And we’d get a chance to meet his family.
Esther wasn’t all that excited about me being gone, but with her mother feeling better and Eli tending to the business there wasn’t any reason for me not to go.
Early that morning, the thirteen of us gathered just outside of town. The morning was cool as we started along the road heading south. I’d never been outside of Capernaum; there had never been a reason to. Everything I needed was there, besides leaving Capernaum meant leaving Galilee and I couldn’t imagine not being close to the water.
The farther we got from the lake the browner everything got, it was like the countryside had lost its color.
It was mid-morning when it happened. He came out of nowhere without warning. I don’t know what the man was thinking, apparently; he wasn’t. No ringing bells, no shouts, no warning, nothing. One minute we’re strolling along, Jesus is talking about what it means to be a part of the Kingdom, and the next minute . . .
He was a mess, his clothes were filthy and torn, his hair and beard were long and matted, and he stunk. He smelled of neglect and rot.
And physically he was horrifying, I had heard about people like him, but by law they weren’t supposed to come close enough so you could actually see the damage the disease had done.
And looking at this wreck of a human being, I understood why the disease was so feared.
The man was a leper; he shuffled toward us, dragging one twisted leg, while claw-like fingers reached out to Jesus.
His face was contorted and where his nose had been, now there was just a gapping hole in his face. Lumps and bumps distorted his facial features and his voice was a hoarse rasp, the result of unseen damage to his throat and vocal cords. A wheezing coming from the wreckage of his nose accompanied each word.
“Jesus, please, Jesus help me.”
I wasn’t sure if he was pleading for a healing or for death, all I knew was that I wanted to be very far away from this. . . thing and his disease.
I suppose I should have felt pity for the man; Instead, all I felt was terror. It was too late for the man; it was just a matter of time before the leprosy killed him, but why would he want to share his fate with us?
I looked around and the reaction of the rest of the group seemed to mirror mine. They just weren’t sure which way to run. And then Jesus did the unthinkable. He reached and placed his hand on the man’s arm.
“You touched me; nobody has touched me in years.” The man seemed overwhelmed by the simple gesture.
“Friend, what is it you want?” Jesus asked.
“What do I want? I want everything. I want to be healed, I want my life back. I want to feel my wife’s embrace, I want to hold my children.”
“And you think I can give that to you? You actually think I can do the impossible?”
“Even here we have heard stories about how the lame have walked and how the blind have seen. If you can give a blind man his sight, something he never had, there is no reason you can’t give me back what has been taken from me.”
Jesus turned and looked at us, cowering behind him, trying to figure out what a safe distance might be. “Did you hear that boys? This man believes I can do what can’t be done.”
And then turning back, he told the man, “Friend, your faith has made you well.”
And I will never forget what happened that day. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I would never have believed it.
Before my eyes, the man changed it was almost as if he became another person.
The hand reaching toward Jesus suddenly began to change shape, crooked fingers straightened, enlarged, swollen knuckles shrank. When my eyes shifted from his hands to his face I saw his nose appear from the crater in his face, his healed hands moved to run over face that was now bump free to feel a nose that had not been there for years.
“Oh my God!” The hoarseness in his voice had disappeared, and his voice was clear and sweet.
“Indeed, but you can just call me Jesus, it’s less awkward that way.”
As the man gazed at Jesus his eyes filled with tears, “I don’t. . . I never. . . What. . . “
Each statement was left unfinished as the man tried to deal with what had happened.
“Joash, your faith has made you whole again.”
“How did you know my name? No, I’m sorry, what a stupid question. You just did the impossible, why wouldn’t you know my name?”
Jesus just smiled, “Oh I know a lot more than your name, but that’s not important. Don’t tell anyone what happened today, it would just complicate things for you and us.
Go to the priest with your offering and have them declare you clean, just smile when they ask you how it happened. Then get washed up and go home. Embrace your wife and hold your children.”
“But what can I do for you? How can I ever repay you?”
“Just live your life well and remind people how much God loves them.”