A Little Christmas Leprosy

The tree is up, the lights are hung, the season of Advent is here.

So, naturally, I want to talk about leprosy.

Now, hold on–hear me out. Yes, usually devotional readings during this time of year focus on the birth of Christ, and I truly hope you’re soaking in the story of the coming of our Savior. But as I was reading through the Book of Luke, I kept going past that story, always and forever drawn into the miracles of Jesus’s earthly ministry, and I found myself unable to get past this one small section of Luke 17: the story of the ten healed lepers.

The disease of leprosy is mentioned 68 times in the Bible. While leprosy today is used to refer to one specific disease (now known as Hansen’s disease), the biblical term more than likely referred to any number of skin ailments. Because of its highly infectious nature, anyone afflicted with leprosy was immediately shunned by the community. Lepers were cast out from town, confined to their homes, and socially isolated. Worse, it was a disease that lingered; infected persons spent months, years, or even the rest of their lives shut away from family, friends, and the rest of society.

2020 was the year I finally started to truly understand how that felt.

Yes, I’m being facetious. I am well aware that leprosy is serious and gruesome, and I am very blessed that my body is healthy. But the social isolation these people felt; confined to their homes, unable to see family and friends, to partake in normal life? I get that now. I think we all *get* that now.

In Luke 17:11, we read that “on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!'” (11-13)

At a distance.

These people were so conditioned to their own isolation, their own infectiousness, that they called out to Jesus from a distance. Social distancing, even in biblical times.

The story goes on to say “When he saw them…” (17:14a)

Jesus saw them, and I have to believe this is more than just physically. In those days, lepers were invisible. With no medical understanding and no cure, their disease was a source of fear. They were shunned and ignored; it was easier to pretend they didn’t exist than to feel pity for those that couldn’t be helped.

But Jesus saw them.

I don’t know about you, but there was a lot of times during this past year when I felt invisible. Quarantined inside my house, fearing the unknown and the uncertain, isolated from everything “normal,” I felt unseen. As if no one cared and I was truly on my own.

But Jesus saw them…and I know He saw me too.

“When he saw them, he said ‘Go show yourself to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.” (17:14)

Jesus didn’t heal them right away. In fact, He doesn’t even promise healing. He didn’t say “Do this and I’ll heal you.” Instead, He did something curious. He instructed them to show themselves to the priests for inspection as if they had already been healed. It was only after stepping out in faith that their disease was cured.

Every single day of this pandemic has felt like a call to step out in faith. Things didn’t look good. Things didn’t feel good. My trust in the goodness of God was challenged with every news story, every scroll through social media. And yet every single day was a choice to either move forward in obedience–trusting in the sovereignty of God–or stay where I was, mired in the world’s hopelessness.

I don’t know if complete healing from COVID will come. God does not promise in the Bible a specific cure for a specific disease. But He does promise ultimate victory over death and suffering, over pain and sin. One day, it will come. In the meantime, we have to have to choose to continue to step out in faith.

But I don’t want you to miss the what of Jesus’s request. Yes, he was requiring obedience and faith before healing, but how he was telling the lepers to do it is also significant. During that time, priests had great power. It was their inspection and their decision that determined a sick’s person’s diagnosis of “clean” or “unclean”; therefore, it was a priest who would determine whether or not these men were fit to return to their family, friends, and society at large.

Jesus’s command for them to go to the priests wasn’t just for their healing; it was for their restoration. Jesus saw their physical need, of course, but in His mercy, He also saw the mental and emotional needs as well. These ten men needed to go home. They needed to be with their loved ones. They needed to come out of isolation and be embraced back into their community.

And Jesus knows we need those things too. He sees us, remember? He knows us. He understands. And while physical restoration may still be in question, spiritual reinstatement has already been achieved. It was accomplished on a crude wooden cross over 2000 years ago. He is with us.

Even in our isolation, those of us in Christ are never truly alone.

As we come to the end of this nightmare year, I want to focus on the last few verses of this particular passage.

“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’s feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?'” (17:15-18)

Only one man turned back to thank Jesus. I’m sure the other nine were just as thankful but their desire to return to their families and to society was too strong to delay for even more second. They had been HEALED! Thanking the one who had done it could come later; right now, it was time to celebrate!

But one man returned, fell to his knees, and praised Jesus. And when Jesus saw this, “he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'” (17:19)

All ten were healed in body. But this man was made well in spirit. His attitude of thankfulness showed that his faith wasn’t in the healing. It was in the healer. And, because of this, he received even more than the others. He received salvation. While the other nine were off enjoying the benefits of what Jesus did for them, this man was able to enjoy the presence of Jesus Himself–a gift that is eternal and unchanging.

And, as I come to the end of a year marked by hardship and suffering, I want to spend it in the presence of Jesus. I want to look back and, while not minimizing the pain, maximize His glory. There were so many blessings I have overlooked this year because I was too focused on the negative or else simply too busy to say thanks, the largest of these being the constant companionship of my Savior. In this loneliest of years, still I was never alone. In the most concealed days, I was still seen.

I want to be like this Samaritan, having the courage to step out in faith even before the blessing comes, believing the Word of Jesus for the Truth it is. I want to be so consumed thankfulness over my HEALER that the celebration of the healing itself–whenever that happens–comes second. As 2020 draws to a close, I want my attitude of gratitude and thankfulness to display true faith in my Savior and make me well–no matter what the year to come brings.

**This is the last devotional post of 2020. New posts will be available starting January 13. Have a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!**

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