Lori Erikson is an Episcopalian minister who writes a beautiful blog which I have featured here previously known as The Holy Rover. I would like to highlight her homily from Sunday, October 13, based upon the Gospel of St. Luke depicting the ten lepers begging Jesus for healing and the one who returns in gratitude.
This, however, is not a homily about gratitude but the story of a remarkable doctor, his discovery about leprosy and most importantly, what that discovery has to say about the value of pain.
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In the Gospel reading this morning, we encounter the most feared, isolated, and vulnerable people in the Bible: lepers. Ten of them have been healed by Jesus, but only one comes back to give him thanks. We are meant to notice the fact that this man is a Samaritan, a member of a group considered to be social and religious outcasts by most Jews of the day. While the other nine rush off to begin their new lives, only one returns to express his gratitude to Jesus for the miraculous transformation he has undergone.
There are nearly 70 references to leprosy in the Bible, which is not surprising given the fact that it was the most dreaded disease in the ancient world. Biblical scholars say the term likely included a wide range of skin conditions, of which the most devastating was the illness that is now termed Hansen’s Disease. In Jesus’ day, this virulent bacterial infection not only crippled people’s bodies: it also robbed them of their home, family, community, livelihood, and dignity. Because of the contagious nature of the disease, a leper was cast out from society, reduced to begging for food and prohibited from participating in religious rituals. It is no wonder that lepers dogged Jesus’ steps, for once it became known that he was someone who could heal this deadly affliction, they must have flocked to him at every opportunity.
While leprosy has not been completely eradicated in the world, its terrors are greatly lessened because of advances in medical treatments. The story of how these breakthroughs were made is recounted in a fascinating book by physician Paul Brand. Published in 1993, it bears the seemingly contradictory title The Gift of Pain. I’d like to tell you about it today as kind modern-day parable of healing, one with surprising implications for our own lives.
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