Alone (cont)

The story of the leper continues…

The priest comes out. I stand up. I recognize him and he me. I’ve been here many times, never like this. He can tell by the look on my face that things aren’t good. I show him the spot. He examines it carefully, asking me all kinds of questions. Then he tells me what I already know.

For seven days I will be confined. You might say, quarantined. Alone with my thoughts and with my God. Praying. Begging. Please God. Waiting is so hard. Wondering is torture. And I’ll watch. I’ll watch that sore like I’ve never watched anything before. Will it spread? The priest interrupts my worry. He shows me to my home for the next seven days. Tells me he’ll see my on the seventh day. That’s seven days. Seven days to wait…and think. 168 hours alone with my thoughts. No conversations. They’ll bring me food every day. But they’ll just slide it in to me. No one will touch me. I’ll touch no one. I’ll wait. And pray. Pray and wait. 10,080 minutes alone with my thoughts. Minutes that will seem like decades. Hours that will seem like centuries. A week that will last an eternity.

Seven days passed. The seven longest days of my life. They called for me. I went again to see the priest. I showed him the sore. He’s seen many of these, unfortunately. He knows what to look for. I know what he’s going to say before he says it. I’ve seen a change. Oh, I’ve tried to convince myself that what’s there isn’t really there.

Like you hope you’ll wake up from the nightmare in your life. Your boss didn’t really say “you’re fired.” Your husband didn’t really have that affair. You think, “I’ll wake up and it will be gone.” Sleep is your friend. The only time you’re not thinking about your problem is when you’re asleep. That was me. When I woke up I had a moment of peace, then I remembered. And my day was spent in worry.

The priest again interrupted my troubled thoughts. It has spread, he says. It isn’t good. His eyes are full of compassion. He’s seen this too many times. His next word pierces my heart like a dagger.

Leprosy.

The word hangs in the air. There is silence. He then reads my sentence. It is a death sentence. It’s a diagnosis and a prognosis rolled up in one. I’ll tear my clothes. Cover my face. And cry “Unclean. Unclean!” I’ll leave town immediately. No time to say goodbye to my wife. No hugs for the kids. No one will touch me. And I dare not touch anyone.

With that one word my world changes. Leprosy. I rip my clothes. I cover my head. I make my way out of the synagogue never to return. I walk through the city streets a different man than I was seven days ago. I cry “unclean, unclean.” I can hardly get the words out. I walk toward the city gates. I want to go home. I want to be with my wife. My kids. Just one more embrace. Just one more time for them to run and jump into my arms.

What will she do? How will she make it? I look down the tiny dirt street that leads to home. I dare not go there. She can’t get this. I want to hold her, want her to hold me. But I would never do this to anyone I love. My kids. They deserve better. Who will provide for them? Who will make sure they’re fed, they have clothes on their backs? Who will…? The questions come faster than answers.

I arrive at the gate leaving the city. I look back. Back to a place I will never call home again. With one spot on the outside and infection on the inside I have become an outsider, an outcast. I look again toward my home. I already miss them. How I miss them.

I enter the world of the leper. There is no cure. No treatment. Just waiting. Waiting for the sores to spread. And they spread. All over my body. I’m covered from head to toe. I itch. I hurt. I smell. My clothes are torn, my body is wrecked with pain. Emotionally I’m spent. I feel worthless, helpless, hopeless.

Sometimes I slip into town. I try to go when nobody’s around. I hate yelling “unclean, unclean.” I hate even thinking that about myself, let alone telling everyone else. Who wants to be an outcast? A misfit? An outsider?

Sometimes I slip into the backside of my little neighborhood. I hide behind a tree and watch my kids play. They don’t know I’m there. And if they saw me, they wouldn’t even recognize me now. Oh, how I’d love to run and grab them up. Just to hear them call my name out. To hear them say, “Daddy.” To rush to their side in the night when they’re scared. To greet them first thing when they wake up in the morning.

Tears run down my scarred faced. And there’s my wife. She gets more beautiful as the days go by. Just one embrace. One hug. If I could put my arms around her one time. The tears come again.

I am alone. I know no other word to describe me. Alone. I have no one and no hope. No future, only a past. Nothing to look forward to. Nothing to work toward. No goals. No thought that tomorrow will be better.

Alone

This is part one of a 3 day post…in order to understand why the leper returned to Jesus praising God, you must understand his plight before Jesus healed him.

I had heard of him. News spreads fast…good news and bad news. It was all good news. His name. Jesus. The news. He was healing people. All kinds of people. When something good happens around here, it’s news. And when something bad happens it’s news. I know about that, too.

It’s hard to describe. How I got where I am. It’s one of those things you never expect, and hope all your life will never happen to you. I was an ordinary guy. Like you. Had a wife. Kids. I loved them. They loved me, too. It was an ordinary day. You see I’m a carpenter. Nothing fancy. Just simple stuff. I went into my carpentry shop, a modest shop, nothing to brag about, and went to work. Just like every other day. I like what I do. Love working with my hands. Starting with a bare piece of wood and turning it into something useful. And so, on this day, wow, how I remember this day, I was working on bedpost. Had almost finished it. I happened to look down. Something caught my eye. It was a spot, uh, barely swollen. Now you might think little of such a thing. See a spot on your skin. It’s inflamed. Swollen. In my day, you wouldn’t. I looked closer. I dropped the tools I was working with.   Before I could think I was gripped by fear.

I sat there for a moment. Spellbound. Speechless. Alone. Afraid. Surely not. Oh I hope not. God, don’t let it be. I knew what I had to do. What would my wife say? The bedpost would have to wait. I dropped everything. Like you do when the phone rings and the doctor says it’s cancer. Like you do when your teenager says she needs to talk, and she’s pregnant. I dropped everything. I ran home. I never run. Today I ran. To my wife. I love her. I love my children.

She was going about her morning routine like always. She didn’t expect to see me. When our eyes met she saw the fear in mine. And my eyes brought fear to her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” she said.

I held out my arm. “Look. Tell me this isn’t what I think it is. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.” She stepped back. I held out my arm. She looked. Tears filled her eyes. She shook her head. Yes, I think it is. Leprosy? I didn’t want to say the word. It seemed like saying the word made it worse. Maybe if I didn’t say it, it wouldn’t be so. Maybe if I didn’t say it out loud, it would go away.

We’re Israelites. And so I said goodbye to my wife. I knew I wouldn’t see her again, for at least seven days. I made my way to the synagogue. I’d been to the synagogue many times. Great times of worship. This time I went with my head down, walked slowly. I never dreamed of going to the synagogue like this. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. What would the priest say? What would he do?

Though I didn’t want to go, I knew I was doing the right thing. I knew the law. The priest would look at me. He’d look at the sore. The one tiny sore. If it only appeared to be skin deep, then there was hope. He’d isolate me for seven days. Seven days is much better than a lifetime. I arrived at the synagogue, waited for the priest. I sat there, much like you’d sit in a doctor’s office waiting for him to give you the report. I sat there. Did anybody else notice? I tried to cover my hand.

If at the end of seven days the sore hasn’t spread, then the priest will give me another chance. Another seven days away from everyone and everything. Then he’ll look at it again. If it’s started to fade, then the priest will declare me “clean.” I’ll wash my clothes, thank my God, and go home to my wife and kids. I don’t fault the priest for this. I understand. I wouldn’t want my wife to get this, my kids to get infected. It’s right for me to be isolated. It’s good. I know that. But it’s hard. At the very least I won’t see my wife and kids for a week or two—at the most—a lifetime. I’ll take a week any day.