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Horizons — The lepers’ encounter

Rosalind Banbury's fifth reflection on the 2023-2024 Presbyterian Women/Horizons Bible Study.

Sacred Encounters: The Power and Presence of Jesus Christ in Luke-Acts
Lesson 5: Luke 17:11-21

Lepers were shunned in ancient times and had to cry out “unclean, unclean,” so people would give them a wide berth. Nobody must do this now. However, we, as a society, tend to avoid those with infirmities. Disability, illness and aging frighten us, whether we are in the presence of those who with cancer, are mentally ill, have dementia, or have had loss of physical function or speech because of a stroke. It can be difficult to be with a person who cannot find words or who repeats stories. It is a struggle to make conversation with someone drained from chemotherapy.

I feel sad when I visit my mother, who lives many hours away. My mother is 101 years old and bedridden. Her mind is active and alert some days, but she cannot turn over, feed herself or see the television. Her care is poor. The facility was bought by a venture capitalist firm that is only concerned with making money, so wages are low, and staff turnover is high. My brothers make sure that one of them is there six days a week, but most of the residents in assisted living or nursing care have few visitors.

Human connection — touch and conversation— is so important to the healing of bodies and souls, even when no cure is possible. Positive touching, like a hug and holding a hand, boosts our mental and emotional well-being. Kind, gentle, thoughtful words are beneficial, as well.

The room was softly lit and comfortable. Charles lay in a hospital bed that had been put in his den. The brain tumor had left him unable to speak, but he heard and understood people talking to him. Friends rarely stopped by, perhaps because there were no cheery or hopeful words to say. I sat and briefly visited with him, telling him about the dogwoods and tulips blooming. I held his hand and prayed, saying something like, “Gracious God, who is able to reach into the place beyond words, bring your comfort and care to Charles.” He squeezed my hand.

A few people also have the gift of healing touch. I participated in a ten-person retreat at a Catholic center, and as participants got to know each other, one woman talked modestly about her ministry of physically healing people. I was skeptical and curious. However, I got sick soon after with a fever and nausea. This woman came to me and asked, “May I touch your head and pray?” “Yes,” I replied. She laid her hand on my forehead and prayed silently. Afterward, I realized my fever had broken, and my stomach was calmer.

Jesus is on the road when ten lepers cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus does not touch the lepers and only tells them to go to the priests. As they leave, they are healed. Priests will have to verify they can return to society. One of the ten, a Samaritan who would have been ostracized by Jewish people, turns back to thank Jesus. Healing occurs on at least three levels: physical cure, inclusion and acceptance, and spiritual healing as his spirit is lifted up in thanksgiving.

Have you known the pain of not belonging? Exclusion and non-acceptance take a toll on mental health. Fifty to sixty percent of gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers contemplate suicide because of social stigmatism, bullying and family disapproval. Regardless of what anyone believes about homosexual and transgender people, acceptance of them as fully human beings is crucial. Jesus did not say that we are to love our neighbor only when they fit into our categories of what we think is good and right.

We each can contribute to the well-being and healing of people’s spirits. Who in your church needs regular visits, hugs, or an invitation to coffee? Who tends to be forgotten or left out?

You can purchase the PW/Horizons Bible study book through the PC(USA) Church Store.

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