Once Jesus was approached by a leper who knelt before him begging his help. "If only you will," said the man, you can cleanse me." In warm indignation Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, "Indeed I will; be clean again." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was clean. Then he dismissed him with the stern warning: "Be sure you say nothing to anybody. Go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering laid down by Moses for your cleaning; that will certify the cure." But the man went out and made the whole story public; he spread it far and wide, until Jesus could no longer show himself in any town, but stayed outside in the open country. Even so, people kept coming to him from all quarters. (Mark 1: 410-45)
The are thousands of beautiful and moving paintings depicting this scene, but they all show the man as having something more akin to chickenpox, measles or acne than leprosy. This photograph is more illustrative. We can imagine at once that as horrible as the disease was in itself, the even more dreadful aspect was the loneliness that came with being marginalized, detested, feared.
The leper is brave then in approaching Jesus. And Jesus at once overcomes the distance the disease and the religious law imposed, by stretching out his hand and touching him. It is God's mercy bridging distance and restoring relationships and community!
But then there is this curious requirement Jesus places on the man: Don't tell. Scholars will debate why Jesus forbade people to tell about their cures: maybe he was concerned about becoming a sideshow, or being misunderstood, or arousing the jealous and pious suspicions of the religious authorities. The more important thing is that the man doesn't keep his end of the bargain. He is overwhelmed with gratitude, can't help himself, and goes off spreading everywhere the story of his restoration. This makes things so difficult for Jesus that he has to stay out of town for awhile.
Can I name that kind of gratitude? A gratitude that consumes me, that can't be kept quiet, that becomes a significant piece of my lifestyle.
I've suffered from terrible allergies all of my life - debilitating, seasonal allergies that would put me down for days. No medication gave me real relief. Then these allergies became year-round and increasingly tiresome. So this April I went to see a sinus doctor who told me that if a person hasn't outgrown the childhood allergies by age 50, they are here to stay and if by age 60, one could say, "Everything can be a source of allergic reaction." Not good news.
"But you have sinusitis and a deviated septum, and if you have sinus surgery, the increased air flow may help." By then my left nostril had effectively shut down and so hoping for some relief, I opted for the surgery. Just before I was wheeled in for the operation, the doctor (who happens to be Buddhist) came over to me and said, "I just want to remind you that no surgery resolves allergy problems." I answered, "I remember you said that," and they rolled me away.
The recovery and the post surgery visits were more difficult than I could have imagined, but I was happy to be able to breathe again. At the second post-op office visit I told the doctor that not only could I breathe but that going into May I had absolutely no allergy symptoms. Sharing my joy he said, "Father Morris, allergy is the original sin, not resolved with surgery; Jesus is your immunologist."
I believe it, and now it is mid July and I have since not so much as sneezed. Even the allergic reactions which afflicted my eyes is gone! I don't like the word miracle because religious officials think it's for them to decide the authenticity - I prefer the word wonder. It's a wonder! A Jesus-wonder that I want to spread far and wide - and a gratitude that is on my mind often every day, and I expect will be for the rest of my life.
Can you name your own!? It may not have anything to do with medical things. But how have I been wondrously restored, lifted up, put back together, turned around, made whole?