Ten men who ask for pity.

(This is the second in a short series of posts taken from a hospital chapel message on  Luke 17:11-19.)

Jews and Samaritans fundamentally disagreed about theology and practical ways to live it out. But near one town at the border between the two tribes was found a group of 10 men that everyone was against. They were, the text of Luke 17 tells us, “lepers.”

It means they had one of a variety of contagious skin diseases, the kind that even before anyone knew about contagion, everyone avoided. Because God said to avoid them.

In the Old Testament, in Leviticus 13, we read that people who have one of these skin diseases, lumped together under the heading of leprosy, were to be avoided. They had to move out of their homes, away from other people.

The skin disease meant that no one could have anything to do with them. And so they found commonality, and maybe community, in their pain.

You know how there seem to be little clubs that no one CHOOSES to be part of, but many of us are? The cancer club. The infant who died club. The mental illness that everyone ignores club.

This was a leper club. Despised by Jews and Samaritans, they lived together outside of town. And they cried out to Jesus. What did they have to lose?

“Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”

What’s not clear is what they wanted besides pity. Did they want healing as he had healed others? Did they want him to notice them as he noticed others, to touch them as he had touched others?

We don’t know. The story doesn’t tell us. But we know what Jesus  did. Jesus told the ten men to “go show yourselves to the priests.”

No statement of healing. No kind words of compassion. No reaching across the boundary of contagion for a loving touch. Just a simple command that made little sense at the moment.

Because you could only go to the priest if you were well.