Luke 17:11-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Theologian and author of this Reader’s Theater, Maren Tirabassi shares the following as a backdrop to this story: We start with a little bit of historical background to this passage with the understanding that “in a desperate attempt to protect society from the more virulently contagious forms of disease, all people with any skin disfigurement were herded together so that, in fact, most soon had the dreaded disease of leprosy. Even suspicion of the disease put a person in the leper enclave for seven days. Only on specific occasions and with completely whole and unbroken skin could a person petition the priest to be declared clean and thus reverse the feared and isolating “unclean, unclean.” These isolated first century people remind us of the way that society cuts off many with chronic illnesses and life-situations, including such a wide range as COPD, Parkinson’s, ALS, dementia, living on the autism spectrum, addiction, [and mental illness].”
We learn that of the ten healed, only one turned back to give thanks. He was a Samaritan – one of the most unlikely of the ten expected to do so. When I read this passage I like to think that one person to give thanks to Jesus would be me. I bet you’d like to think that one would be you, too. Sometimes it surprises me how often I need reminders to be thankful and grateful for what I do have and for what I can do. It is so easy to take things for granted.
I came across a reader’s theater dialogue of this passage written by a UCC colleague I was friendly with when in Vermont and New Hampshire – Maren Tirabassi. This narrative explores the various reasons why the ten responded the way they did to Jesus’ healing them of their affliction, and continues this passage of the 10 Lepers.
Maren writes: “This reader’s theatre follows the text and portrays nine different possible reasons folks did not return to thank Jesus for healing … real reasons that reflect who we are and how we experience the healing events in our own lives.”
(Ten individuals from the congregation read the roles.)
Leper # 1
(walking across the stage – only one without a bell) Yes, of course I originally had a bell! I’m way too busy to think about it now. Turning point! Definitely, a turning point in my life. I have to say I miss those quiet, sick days – just joking! I’m a Temple Deacon – came from showing myself to the priests, you know. I inherited my family’s business – couldn’t have done that as a leper. But you know business – 24 / 7! Married. Two kids – they’re into “little legion” ball. There’s always a game! (looks at watch) Got to go!
Leper # 2
(rings his bell) My name is Amos T and I’m a recovering leper. Jesus of Nazareth turned my life around. I keep this bell (rings it again) just to remind myself that I am illness free one day at a time. Most of you (looks or points at Leper #1) rush past your precious fragile life, but if you’d have an illness like mine – you know how important every day it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t go back and thank Jesus – not then. I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t until I had a little time in the program and was doing an inventory of my life that I realized I should have gone back. Then I saw from the police blotter in the Jerusalem Daily Democrat that it was too late. Still I have a feeling maybe it’s never too late.
Leper # 3
(looks around nervously hand clapped over the bell) Just don’t say anything! Nobody knows and it’s nobody’s business anyway. It’s in the background check, if you really need the story. That’s why they call it a back-ground check – because that’s where it is supposed to stay – in the background. (In a stage whisper) Look, I was not as bad as the rest of them anyway. It’s not … well … really … it wasn’t like that at all. And going back to the healer …. what was his name anyway? … would have drawn attention to me.
Leper # 4
He told us what to do. Oh, yes, here’s my bell. (rings it) I’ve still got it as a souvenir.
This is exactly what happened. We traveled together for safety. People think it’s really funny to hurt lepers. Ha! Ha! Get a life. Look at me — a leper — telling regular people to “get a life.” He’s right (pointing to #2) Most of you don’t know how good you have it.
Back to the story. We kept our distance – called out to this well-known traveling preacher for mercy. You should have seen the eyeballs on his disciples! Scared! They were wetting themselves just being that close to ten lepers.
He said, “Go show yourself to the priests.”
Just like that – with authority – and I could feel it – a tingle started at my
scalp and went all the way to my toes. Amazing. I did what he said. I’ve done
it all my life – followed directions. The letter of the law. He didn’t say
anything about coming back. Improvise on Jesus’ script. No thanks.
Leper # 5
(acting young) Totally. Totally. I was so sick. I didn’t have a clue! 24-7 with the bells! My hair … it fell out … and my nails. You do not want to know how sick I was! Too much information. Do people still say that? Well, I assure you — you do not want to know!
Jesus? He was awesome. So amazing. He said (deepens her voice dramatically) “Go off to the priests and show yourself.” Whoa! I’m sooooo into Jesus. Totally grateful. But my friends kept on going, so, you know, of course, I did too.
Leper # 6
The point is – who healed us anyway? (rings bell) that ding-a-ling Jesus of Nazareth who got himself crucified for acting like God or the lawful authorities? He said it himself, “Go to the priests.” He knew where the real power was. Besides it was probably just a coincidence – meeting him and suddenly all ten of us being healed.
Off the record? I think a little group hallucination that happens around faith healers was going on. Then maybe not all of us were really lepers – I was but some people … you know … it has to be about them.
So coincidence, fakers, the legitimate medical establishment – or all of the above? Jesus healing us. Not a chance. So why would I go back?
Leper # 7
I needed closure (ring bell) The trauma of leprosy left me with an emotional disability. The last thing I needed for my personal well-being was to re-visit the past. I can quote Jesus on the subject, “Let the dead bury the dead.” You have to take care of yourself first. You know (to folks to the congregation) when I am done with this skit, I will probably need therapy for post-dramatic stress syndrome.)
Leper # 8
Now I know this is politically incorrect. I’m a bell-ringer. Can’t deny it. (rings bell)
and in that situation I had to be with … well, you know. I wasn’t raised to … So there was this miracle and I looked down and saw how smooth and clean and … white my skin was, and I whirled around to go and thank Jesus before heading to the Temple. And this … foreigner is already on his way back. I just couldn’t! It would have looked like we were together. Look, he was probably an illegal …
Leper # 9
Don’t judge me. Don’t judge any of us if you don’t know what it is to be a leper. “Oh, there go the nine who didn’t say, ‘thank you.” You’re so high and mighty. Bet you never had anything eating you inside out. No? I thought not. Night and day chronic pain. Some of us looked disgusting and some of us didn’t and that may have been worse because people think – “Hey nothing’s the matter with them!” How about fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, COPD — you know what I mean.
So there’s the pain and then there’s being an outcast. You spend enough time outside the boundaries of socially acceptable behavior … you lose it. You lose the skills. You just do. When people treat you like you’re not human, something human in you breaks.
Then there’s this amazing change. Our bodies were healed but it took time for the “us” on the inside to catch up. Am I getting through to you? You are so sure you know this story. You don’t understand – maybe you can’t, but just don’t be so damn quick to judge.
Leper # 10
I went … I’m the one who said, “thank you,” but I’m not better than any of these. I guess in my case the healing started in my heart and my feet just ran me back to where the power was coming from. Here’s the secret – when I went back to that man and fell at his feet, I happened to look in his eyes. And you know that awful pain of leprosy that went out of us … well, it had to go in somewhere. Well, when I looked into Jesus’ eyes, I could see … it. That was where the leprosy went.
“Thank you. O thank you!” and then he spoke to me, but it was to all of us — you heard me — all of us, whether we ‘thanked’ or not … (wincing and gesturing at bigot leper #8) even you. It was just my luck to hear it up close and personal, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Reader’s Theatre for the Story of the Ten People Healed from Leprosy Luke 17: 11-19 Posted on October 7, 2019 by Maren Tirabassi-Gifts in Open Hands
So, what did you think? There are many reasons why nine of the ten healed lepers could not give thanks as the Samaritan did. I must admit that before I read these reasons, I had never considered the fact that not all were self-absorbed, ungrateful human beings who might have felt entitled to Jesus’ healing.
Following these words of this Reader’s Theater I feel a sense of being humbled by my own arrogance and thinking I understood why people did not give thanks for this miracle. Sometimes we are just too quick to judge. These words have helped me open my eyes and heart just a bit more to the stories around me. Maybe you, too?
As we weave the gift of compassion deeper into our lives, may God continues to bless us as we work to let go of our judgments on others. Amen.