Sunday, October 2, 2016

Luke 17.11-19: Keeping Their Distance

Only one said "thank you." That's the bottom line of the gospel reading for Proper 23C/Ordinary 28C (Luke 17:11-19). I think the story is more evocative in the imagining than in the text. The traditional composition shows nine men in the distance, often leaping for joy as they run back to their families. In the foreground, Jesus usually stands over one man who kneels at his feet, expressing gratitude and praise to the one who made healing possible.

Because the literal interpretation of the text is not particularly visually interesting, this week's blog post will link you to photographs of leper colonies. Because the colonies are officially closed, what you will see is what is left. Think about the lives lived in these places. Think about the people - human beings - who were forced to live apart from their families because of this disease. And not just "down the road" apart, but colonies that were established on islands to make sure that they were well removed from the general population. After all, these people, too, were forced to keep their distance from the general population.

The leper colony called Lovokomeio on the Greek island of Chios, was opened in 1378 as the first leper colony in Greece. On the island is a church dedicated to St. Lazarus, patron saint of lepers. The colony was officially shut down in 1957, after a cure for leprosy (Hansen's disease) had been found.
 Photos by Kelly Katsarou. For additional images from this colony, see: For additional work by Kelly Katsarou, see:
In the U.S., the National Leprosarium in Carville, LA, includes two cemeteries. Shown above is the second, with the first burial in 1922 and the last in 2014. Patients often used false names so that their families could avoid the stigma of having a relative with leprosy. The tombstones may be carved with a real or false name as well as a case/file number. Only those patients quarantined by law can be buried here. For more on Carville, see:
On the Hawaiian island of Molokai, the Kalaupapa community served as the leper colony. Now a U.S. National Park, the community was located on a peninsula that is separate from "topside" Molokai. Opened in 1866, Kalaupapa was the mandatory location for any Hawaiian suffering from leprosy until 1969, when the state lifted its mandatory exile law. More than 8,000 people died at Kalaupapa. For more, see:

Jesus' healing of these men changes their lives, changes the possibilities for human interaction, changes everything. We can understand the joy that would supersede all other thoughts after being healed. Certainly those nine men were anxious to return to families and lives from which they had been separated since the onset of leprosy symptoms. Still, it's a lovely moment when one returns to thank Jesus.

For thoughts on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, click here.

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