I hear echoes sometimes – laughter in the street, a voice shouting my name. But it’s a common name and the shout is never for me, and the laughter is not hers. Those days are gone because I’m not clean, and I won’t be clean again.
The rough cloak that hides my face and covers my wounds – this is home now. Home for a body that, like everyone else, I hate and fear. I sometimes finger the coil of rope around my waist, wonder if it is long enough, strong enough… I wonder if I will ever have the courage to use it. Soon, I think, as I hobble to my feet and lean against the tree until my head clears. Soon. But instead, I turn toward the village. My hunger drives me.
I croak the required warning as I trudge on, glance up once or twice to see the backs of people scurrying away, their robes swaying, the heels of their sandals flashing in the dust. I don’t often see the front of anyone.
It is market day. My stomach rumbles, hopeful. Sometimes what does not sell is left in the street or even tossed toward my bowl. I brush it off and put it in my mouth and the pain goes away for a while. Years ago, before the first blotch stained my face, I passed beggars on my way home for dinner, hardly noticing. Now, I know much about beggars and little about dinner.
I drop my bowl in the normal spot, sink clumsily to the ground a few feet away, and wait. While the market is open, there’s not much hope. People rush past, chattering and oblivious. If they look at me at all, it’s like they look at a fence or a cart – an object to avoid. I lower my head, hide my face in the shadow of the cloak, try to sleep.
I wake to the sound of laughter. A crowd stands near, not walking, but staring at a man who smiles and speaks in a clear voice. A moment later, the crowd laughs again, and I laugh too, partly because of what he says but mostly because of the friendliness and joy on his face.
And then it happened. He turned toward me and clearly said a name – my name. I was confused and I looked around to see who he was talking to. When I looked back, he was still looking at me and smiling. Then he nodded and walked on, the crowd murmuring after him.
Clumsily, I stood and opened my mouth, desperate to ask if the teacher had really spoken to me, but there was no one, only the backs of people scurrying away. I was breathing hard. I felt… I don’t know what I felt. I remembered how I felt when my belly had last been full, how I felt when my sweetheart had looked at me and laughed and said my name. How I felt when I was clean.
I’d heard of the teacher. Who hadn’t? Heard about the miracles and religious power, but what was that to me, the ruins of a forgotten man? And yet the teacher had smiled at me, right through the disease and the stink and the shadows – called me by the name I knew when I was clean. Never mind power; that the teacher had looked at me, that was a miracle.
I stared for a moment, then I left my bowl and chased after them, dizzy as I was, keeping to the edge, panting out my warning. People looked at me now, turned their angry faces and threw out their angry arms, yelling for me to stay back, to stay away. Their shouts changed to screams when my cloak blew back, showing the white sores and bloody craters, but I kept going.
And then I saw him.
He looked up and smiled, as if he had expected me. I looked at him as if there was no one else in the world. I staggered closer and fell to my knees. “Please,” I wept, staring into the dust, “if you are willing…”
I saw two feet appear, felt two hands rest on my wounded head. “You have come with the right question,” he said. “I am willing.”
At LIFE International, we try to emulate Jesus’ love for every human life.
This story is a dramatization of a healing recorded in Matthew 8, Mark 1, and Luke 5. It is intended to help us imagine the suffering produced by leprosy and to help us remember Jesus’ compassion for people in trouble.