The Heart Of The Healed — Equalised By Tragedy
Updated: Jul 11
Chan Gin Kai
Now 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!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)
Leprosy is a chronic bacterial infection that leads to damage of the nerves, eyes, and skin. It is curable now through multi-drug treatment, but a fatal sentence back in the days before there was a cure.
The disease could cause ulcerous scabs on the skin. Body parts could become deformed and extremities like the fingers, toes, noses and ears could rot and fall off. We can imagine how the sight and stench of a leper could scare people off. Because the disease is spread between people through extensive contact, lepers were outcasts, especially in ancient times.
In ancient Israel, lepers stayed outside the city in tents, in caves, or in the wilderness. Lepers “must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” (Leviticus 13:45) Some even wore bells so that they could be heard when they’re walking. These measures made it easier for the Israelites to see the lepers from a distance and stay away.
The Talmud (a compilation of rabbinic commentary on the Old Testament laws) states that a leper could not come within four cubits (about 1.83 metres) of any Israelite, and 100 cubits (about 45.7 metres) if there was an East wind blowing.
They understood social distancing and enforced it religiously (in both sense of the word). It is something we’ve learn to appreciate through the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
But social distancing need not be implemented in a cruel fashion. The rabbis viewed leprosy as a punishment from God for moral issues. Society regarded lepers as dead people. Instead of receiving sympathy for their plight, they were treated with revulsion. They survived on scraps. They didn’t only suffer from the physical ailment, they were abandoned by loved ones and rejected by society. It was one of the worst tragedies that could befall a person.
Jesus was on the border of Samaria and Galilee when 10 lepers shouted out to him from a distance.
It is not surprising that there were so many of them as the lepers congregated together. After all, no one else who would accept them. And we learn that one of the lepers was a Samaritan.
This comes as a bit of a surprise as Jews and Samaritans never associated with each other. The Jews looked down on the Samaritans as half-breeds and regarded them as more revolting than Gentiles. But amongst a group of Jewish outcasts, the Samaritan reject found his place. Leprosy equalised them.
Yes, they were of partially different races and had some small differences in their religions, but they were similar in many more ways. They suffered the same illness, faced the same rejection, and felt the same desperation. Tragedy has a way of equalising people.
Discrimination has been rife since millennia past and persists just as relentlessly in current times. We are divided by a myriad of insignificant differences, and we form prejudices for the smallest and stupidest of reasons. But all it takes is one tragedy to equalise us.
Betrayal by a close friend hurts just as much whether we are rich or poor. Death of a loved one brings as much grief whether we are educated or not. We may be black, white, brown or yellow, but every one bleeds red. Buried in a coffin or dumped in a mass grave, our bodies rot.
Yet we focus on superficial differences. We are divided by race and nations, income and education, gender and sexual preferences, religion and ideology. In many countries, prejudices persist in the highest institutions where unfair treatment is set in law. It is widespread in society, apparent in our workplace, and exists even at home.
From genocide to sexual abuse, unequal opportunities to favouritism, we are deceived if we think we’ve never been guilty in some ways. Discrimination is so deep rooted in the way society functions that we aren’t even aware that we’re complicit if we don’t seriously examine ourselves. We can strive sincerely to be egalitarians, and yet be careless in our speech or insensitive in our behaviour.
Sadly, it often takes tragedy to crush our pride. Our imagined superiority, and perceived differences are suddenly smashed when we’re severely afflicted. The more arrogant we are, the bigger the tragedy required to humble us and remove our blinkers.
I am not in anyway implying that the 10 lepers were stricken by God to humble them, for tragedy strikes the vain and the modest. I am emphasising how tragedy can be a major wake up call for everyone.
Let’s focus on what we all have in common. We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.
The equaliser that all humanity will face is Judgement, and the only tragedy bigger than death is eternal condemnation. But praise be to God, we have a Saviour who has rescued us.
We have been united with God and each other through the blood of Christ. Let’s help each other on our common journey to heaven.
Read more about ‘The Heart Of The Healed’:
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. He serves actively in the Central Christian Church and describes himself as “just a sinner who wants to get right with God”.