Everyday things change. Each day more things close and more directives are issued on how we are to behave, or not behave.
And while it seems that most people have taken it in stride, for the most part, there has been some public shaming, when people don’t act the way others think they should.
When this crisis is over, then we will have the luxury of comparing responses. Not every country has reacted like ours has, at the end of the day with that awesome gift of 20/20 hindsight we will know who made the right choices.
But one thing we do know, is that life will not be the same. This will be a water mark moment in our country’s history, at least for now. A hundred years from now it will simply be a footnote, but right now and probably for the remainder of most of our lives it will be talked about and other events will be compared to it. “Well sure it’s bad, but it’s not like it was in 2020.”
Self-isolation and social distancing have become the norm around the world, but it’s nothing new. The story that was read for us this morning tells us about a man who had been living that very existence.
He was without friends, family or future. He lived a life of tragedy without a home and without a hope. Have you ever heard someone say “They treated me like a leper” or “they acted like I had leprosy?”
Back in the eighties when AIDS was just surfacing and society and science still didn’t have a grip on how it was spread or who would contract it you would often hear those who had acquired AIDS make that statement, “I feel like a leper.”
Today if you cough in public, you can almost feel people stepping away. Add to that the forced isolation for those who have travelled. First it was those who had travelled to high risk areas, then to those who travelled outside the country and now for anyone who travels outside the province, and you begin to understand.
One BC couple had been on the Grand Princess Cruise Ship, which had been under quarantine off the coast of California for 14 days. After they arrived back in Canada they discovered that one of their fellow passengers on their flight home, had the COVID-19 virus and so they ended up quarantined for another 14 days on the Trenton Air Force base. The man stated, “I feel like a leper almost in a leper colony.”
And while I wouldn’t want to minimize the hurt that people feel when they ostracized by others it is doubtful that anyone in today could ever fully comprehend what life as a leper was like 2000 years ago.
Leprosy was probably the most feared disease of the time, and that wasn’t just then either, we don’t think of leprosy as a modern disease but the world health organization estimates that there were over 208,000 new cases diagnosed in 2018. Who would have thought?
But the reality is that the majority of those case are in India, so it doesn’t intrude into our bubble.
We forget that the rest of the world doesn’t have the health care that we have.
And while we gripe about a half-hour wait for the doctor or a three-hour wait in outpatients there are many places in the world where the closest hospital is a day’s journey away, and drugs are almost impossible to acquire for the common person.
As a matter of fact, it’s not a far stretch to say that our church family would be considerably smaller if we lived in a majority world country, because some of you would not have survived without the medical care that you have obtained in Canada.
But back to the subject at hand: Leprosy isn’t the term we use, today we call it Hansen’s disease. It was named after Gerhard Hansen the Norwegian doctor who discovered it’s cause in 1869.
But before 1869 the scientific term was leprosy. The disease began with lethargy and pain in the joints. Little brown patches would appear over the body and nodules would form on them especially in the folds of the face. Around the nose, eyes and mouth.
Ulceration of the vocal cords would result in the victim talking in a hoarse rasp and before the disease had run its course the person would be unrecognizable. You can imagine, someone shuffling alone in pain, their voice hardly understandable.
Sometimes it progressed and the nerve ends were also affected and the infected area would begin to lose all sensation and feeling, often without the person knowing until they scalded themselves or broke something without the warning that pain brings. Pain’s not always a bad thing.
As the disease progresses the muscles waste away until the hands are contracted into claws and the feet curl up. At this stage the sufferer would sometimes lose their extremities, fingers and toes, ears and noses because of infection caused by untreated injuries.
It was a horrible disfiguring disease that was contagious and incurable.
Today through the marvels of modern sciences leprosy can be contained and, in many cases, cured. If the funds are available.
But 2000 years ago or even 100 years ago the diagnosis of leprosy was a death sentence, not a quick death but a slow and painful death.
And people were terrified of leprosy as you can well imagine and so at any sign of a skin disease the person was examined by the Priest and put into quarantine. If the symptoms disappeared the person was considered cured, however if it became apparent that the disease was or could be leprosy the consequences were actually quite dire.
But if the physical effects of leprosy were horrible there was something even worse. The leper had to bear the mental anguish and heart break of being totally cut off from the people he loved, being banished from society and shunned by everyone.
The book of Leviticus contained the law for the people of Israel and this is what it said Leviticus 13:45-46 “Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp. Nice huh?
The person with leprosy was not allowed to mingle with anyone who didn’t have the disease. They weren’t allowed to live in the village or the city they had to move into the wilderness living in caves and hovels. Their only companions, other victims.
The closest they could come to a person without the disease was two metres. Does that sound familiar? Which of course would have made for a tough time keeping your marriage intimate.
But that didn’t matter because once you were diagnosed with leprosy you were considered dead and your spouse could remarry and your estate was divided up amongst your heirs.
And so, while you may have technically been still alive, for all intents and purposes, you were considered dead.
There has never been a disease that has so separated people from the rest of humanity like leprosy, not even COVID-19. We are talking about being self-isolated for days or weeks, or worst-case scenario for months. For lepers 2000 years ago, theirs was a life sentence. They were sentenced to live alone and to die alone.
And so as we pick up the story in Luke 17 Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, Luke 17:12-13 As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Remember all the symptoms of leprosy, their movements are stiff, some are missing extremities. Because of the damage to their vocal cords their voices are almost growls, and they are contagious. Remember what Leviticus said, they weren’t to comb their hair and they had to tear their clothes. Frightening thought isn’t it?
We don’t know how they knew about Jesus, or more mysteriously how they knew Jesus was coming, but in him they saw their only hope.
And so they asked for the one thing that they wanted more than life itself, to be healed. That their disfigured faces would once again be looked upon with love instead of revulsion, that twisted limbs would become straight and that life, life would return to normal.
And the thing that they wanted more than anything was given to them. Listen to the very next verse, Luke 17:14 He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.
There are two miracles here; the first was that they believed, the second was that they were healed.
Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests and they went. They didn’t question. They didn’t ask “what if we get there and there’s no change?”
Really, faith will never ask more than that you believe.
And the story says And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. I wonder, if they hadn’t gone to the priests first, do you think they would have been healed?
I wonder what would have happened if they had of simply chosen to go see their families first? Or gone back to work? Would they have been healed?
I don’t know. What I do know is that as they obeyed the miracle happened. And image as they are walking along the conversation that took place if they looked at one another and began to see the changes, “Hey Fred, your nose just grew back, and Bill you’re not shuffling anymore. I can feel my fingers again, and I feel like singing.”
Today leprosy can be cured through a multi-drug regime. 2000 years ago, if you were cured of leprosy it was because you didn’t have leprosy.
COVID-19 is dangerous for the vulnerable amongst us, don’t underestimate the danger. We talked about that last week. But don’t obsess over it either, for the vast majority of us it will be like a bad cold or a mild case of the flue.
And we aren’t self-isolating for our own protection, any more than the lepers were kept in isolation for their own good.
We will take precautions and make sacrifices and pay a price for the most vulernable amongst us, because to quote Mahatma Gandhi, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
And so Jesus did the unthinkable and the unimaginable, he healed them.
I wonder what it felt like as the nodules disappeared and skin was made smooth again, as twisted limbs became straight and strong. I wonder if they had lost appendages to the disease and what it felt like as fingers and toes grew back.
So let’s go back to the story. Luke 17:15-16 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Ten are healed, one came back. Here is a pop quiz, how many were thankful? Probably all ten. They just didn’t express their thanks.
And there are a pile of life lessons that we can learn from the nine who didn’t come back. Because when this crisis is over, and it will eventually be over, I would suspect that the story will be very similar.
We see how the lepers realized that their only hope was in Jesus. We can see how they approached Jesus within the law, from a distance without demanding that their request be met.
We could talk about their obedience, how they immediately did as they were commanded.
And we should marvel at their faith, how without question they believed what Christ offered them, why else would they go to the priest?
But what I marvel at is that nine of them didn’t even bother to come back to say “Thank you.”
Think about it, their lives were radically changed. Their lives were literally given back to them, so why was there no acknowledgment? Even Jesus marvelled. Luke 17:17 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?
So how come they didn’t come back? I’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating.
Perhaps They Were Overwhelmed with what happened. Sometimes what happens is so incredible that we can’t find words to acknowledge what has happened. And maybe that was the case, it wasn’t that they were ungrateful it was just that so much more was happening in their lives that they simply didn’t get around to saying thank you. Kind of like those thank you notes that you’ve always intended to write.
For whatever reason it is sometimes harder to show gratitude for the big things then for the little things. It’s easier to thank someone for saving our place in line then for saving our life. Benjamin Franklin said “Most people return small favours, acknowledge medium ones and repay greater ones — with ingratitude.”
And so in the haste to get their lives back, they forgot the one who had given them their lives back. Very few of us will be physically in that situation, although there are some at Cornerstone who owe a doctor or paramedic their very lives.
And through this present crisis, we will all owe a huge debt to those in the front lines. Not just doctors and nurses but those who kept our grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies open. Not to mention our Tim’s drive throughs.
And what about the spiritual gift of salvation? Are we so overwhelmed with the gift of eternal life that we haven’t taken the time to thank the giver?
Or maybe They Were Underwhelmed. Oh sure they had been given their health back, they had been healed from this horrible disease, but it wasn’t enough. You’re probably wondering what more could they possibly want? They had probably thought about this day for a long time, and imagined what it would be like.
But sometimes our imaginations are greater than reality. Have you ever talked to someone whose life has changed radically, a windfall of money, or a healing or a better job and yet they still aren’t happy. They still haven’t found what they are looking for.
Perhaps they thought that life would be like it had been before the disease only to discover that their spouses had remarried, their property had been divided between their children, and their jobs had been filled by other people.
Perhaps they realized that they had lost the freedom they had as a leper. Confusing? Maybe but as a leper they had no social responsibilities, no moral responsibilities, they didn’t have to provide for others they didn’t have to worry about disciplining the kids or doing a good job at work. All they had to do was stay alive.
Mark Twain made this statement: “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”
Some people become Christians and then are disappointed because they don’t become more popular, they don’t get a better job, or make new friends, or they aren’t healed. They are disappointed because they are still human and life still goes on.
Things will be different after this is over. In some very tangible ways, stock portfolios will be down. Some jobs will be lost forever. Our national debt has taken on a huge burden. There will be relationships that won’t survive the isolation and there will be children conceived as the result of the isolation. But it will be a very different world in 2021.
Epicurus said “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
Or perhaps They Took It For Granted. You know what I’m getting at here. They thought “Well of course Jesus healed us that’s what he’s supposed to do.” Kind of the difference between a dog and a cat. You feed a dog and they think you are the most wonderful person in the world, you feed a cat and they wonder what took you so long. Somebody said that when you take care of your dog the dog thinks you must be a god, when you take care of your cat the cat thinks it must be a god.
We don’t thank the Doctors who make us better physically because that’s what they are supposed to do. We don’t thank the teachers who make us better intellectually because that’s what they are supposed to do. And we don’t thank the pastors who help our families grow spiritually because, well let’s not go there it’s too self-serving.
Too often people view God as some genie in the air who is there only to take care of our wish list and we never acknowledge the debt because we don’t really acknowledge the gift.
Most prayer lists have a lot more items on the “I want” side than on the “Thank you side.” When our prayers are answered how often is it written off as a coincidence? “I guess I wasn’t as sick as I thought I was.” “I’m so lucky I got that job I wanted.”
Or do we think “Well of course God answered my prayers, he’s God, that’s what he’s supposed to do.”
Don’t take God for granted! He doesn’t have to answer your prayer. After all he’s God.
All ten of these men were given a second chance. They were literally given new life. One of them acknowledged his debt and nine didn’t. What does that have to do with us?
In a few months, or maybe more than a few months, this will be a part of our collective history. And we will all have the opportunity to respond to God. And like the lepers some will give thanks but the majority will be silent.
As Christ followers how often do we acknowledge the debt we owe to Jesus?
At some point every one of us was like the lepers, we were in need of a new life, a life that we could never obtain on our own.
Listen to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.
If you have never received the new life that is promised to us it is available for the asking, it is a gift and a gift cannot be earned, or it wouldn’t be a gift. But while you can’t earn a gift you do have to accept it.
Have you accepted the gift of grace? The gift of salvation? The gift of eternal life?
For those who have accepted that gift here is God’s promise for you, it comes from the words of Jesus, John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
And if you’ve never stepped over the line of faith and accepted his offer of grace, forgiveness and salvation, then why not today?