Facebook Lepers

Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, but he was not on Facebook.  Neither was he on Twitter.  He was hopelessly disconnected from the great big world out there, and he may have been a technophobe. And to make things even worse (as if…) he had leprosy.

But the Arameans had taken a young Israeli girl captive, who had been secretly keeping up with the news with an app on her iPhone.  And she received regular tweets about a hot young prophet, Elisha, who had inherited the mantle of Elijah.  Recent tweets reported that Elisha had raised from the dead the little son of a Shunammite woman by getting him to sneeze seven times (which is a story, frankly, difficult to convey in 140 characters or less).  And she told her mistress that “if only Naaman were with the prophet in Samaria, he would cure him of his leprosy.”

So Naaman got the king of Aram to send a letter to the king of Israel: hand-written and hand-delivered (not even snail mail!).  And the letter is all, “Oh king of Israel, when this hand-written, hand-delivered letter finally reaches you, please cure my great general Naaman of his leprosy.”

But the king of Israel is all, “What are you talking about?!  Am I God, to cure people of leprosy?  What are you trying to start here, anyway, a fight?  And, look, I seem to have torn my clothes, thanks to you!”

But someone in the court of the king of Israel must have changed his Facebook status to “Stressed out because of tense words between king and Naaman the general/leper; anyone got any ideas?”

Now, Elisha had just been posting some cool video of the Shunammite boy sneezing seven times and coming back to life, which was extra-cool because it was shot in HD on his Flip digital recorder, and much better than the grainy footage he got on his iPhone of Elijah being carried up to heaven in a whirlwind, escorted by chariots of fire, and which was barely distinguishable from Bigfoot footage shot by a Super-8, or that old VHS recording still floating around the Internet of Moses standing by a supposedly burning bush. 

And Elisha’s messenger saw the post from a Facebook friend in the king of Israel’s court about the tension between the king and the general/leper, Naaman, and of course he told the prophet what was going on.

Now the healing of lepers is not something to fool around with.  This is serious business, and Naaman was a serious man, and so was Elisha.  This was not going to be accomplished by merely instructing Naaman to change his Facebook status from “leper”, to “healed” and waiting to see what happened.  After all, Naaman had come a long way, and gone to a lot of trouble.  So, you heard how the story goes: Elisha sends his messenger to tell Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River.  Naaman thinks this is stupid, since there are plenty of rivers in Damascus he could have washed in, and why didn’t the prophet at least come outside and wave his arms around, etc., etc.  But Naaman’s servants have been watching the video of the boy of the seven sneezes, and they think maybe there is a connection, since the messenger of the prophet told Naaman to wash seven times, and they convince him that, hey, no harm: no foul.

So Naaman dips himself in the Jordan seven times, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.  And he instructed his IT people to get the word out ASAP, which they did by updating the status of the Aramean Army Facebook page to: “No God but in Israel!”  And sending out tweets to that effect.

Now, the healing of lepers is not something to fool around with.  Jesus must have known that it is a serious business – especially serious when ten lepers are heading your way, shouting, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Jesus, famously, never carried a cell phone, and the tablet computers of his day were crude and clunky (the iPad had not yet been introduced).  Although he was capable of attracting flash mobs wherever he went, they formed at their own behest, not his.   And he preferred to teach from a boat, a little ways out in the water, to let his voice carry across it, or from an elevated place on a mountain or even a slight rise on a plain, rather than using Power Point presentations, which he had reason to believe the Pharisees were constantly using.

The people who heard about Jesus often found out about him because their friends texted them, and posted their stories and photos on Facebook, and blogged about him.  There was a viral video circulating of Jesus healing a woman who had been crippled for 18 years, so you could see where the lepers got ideas; and although they, being lepers, didn’t have smart phones or laptops of their own, they had heard about Jesus on NPR.  So they are shouting at him, and begging him for mercy.

This was a serious business, and Jesus is a serious man.  He wastes no time: “Go,” he says, “and show yourselves to the priests,” who are also serious men.  And as the ten lepers turn to go, their leprosy is healed, and they are made clean.

Now, there is no evidence that any of the lepers ever made it to the priests.  We can assume that several of them blogged about their healing, a few might have appeared on Oprah, and a couple of them could have published ghost-written autobiographical books that chronicled the horrendous conditions at the leper colony and their miraculous healing, one of which was made into a movie that went straight to DVD.

But one leper stopped, as he was going on his way, realizing that he had already been healed.  And he alone turned back, and raised a song of praise to God from his lips, and fell down at Jesus’ feet to worship him and to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord Jesus, Son of God, for the mercy you have shown to me this day!  Thank you!”  And he was a Samaritan, not a Jew, not a son of Abraham, not a child of the covenant, not, supposedly, among God’s chosen people.

And Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean?  Where are the other nine?  Would not any of them return to praise God, except this foreigner?”

And when the tenth leper went home and signed onto Facebook, he listed his Hometown as Samaria.  And because of his privacy settings we don’t know what he put as his Religious Views.  And under Relationship Status, he selected “It’s complicated.”  And his favorite quotation was this” “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

And, of course, you would think that the moral of these stories is the importance of staying connected: how good it was that even though Naaman was a Luddite and resisted online social networking to his own peril, he had servants who used technology to great effect.  And how unfortunate it is to be a leper, without any Internet access, and only NPR to rely on, which means you are doomed to listen to its left-wing propaganda all the time, but that if healed, you too can share in the joys of social networking, where, by the way, you never have to touch anyone anyway.

But that is not the moral of these stories, for these stories are not morality tales.  But they show us that the healing of lepers is not something to fool around with; it is a serious business.  And no matter what the preoccupations of the day may be, God is about the serious business of healing lives that are sick, broken, out of whack, or going down the tubes.

And in his prophet, we see a man totally worth blogging about: who by inducing seven sneezes, or instructing a great general to wash seven times in eth Jordan, can bring about the power of God.

And what about Jesus?  After the day of his healing, the tenth leper, the Samaritan, must have followed the progress of Jesus, must have known that he continued on his way to Jerusalem where he would be hung on a Cross to die at the hands of angry, jealous, threatened men.  He must have heard and seen that he was more than a prophet; must have received the centurion’s tweet that truly, this was the Son of God.  Maybe the tenth leper even followed Jesus, and saw history unfold with his own eyes, felt the awful power as the earth shook that dark Friday afternoon.  How his life had changed since he’d been healed of his leprosy!  He was connected now to society, he was dating a great girl, who sent him flirty texts and posted smiling photos of the two of them on her Facebook wall, and ticked the “In a Relationship” status on her profile.

But the tenth leper realized that Jesus had never texted him, hadn’t friended him on Facebook (and probably wasn’t even on Facebook!), didn’t write a blog, and in fact only ever wrote one thing in the sand, which got blown away by the wind.  And looking back over his life, he could see that the best thing he ever did was to turn around on that fateful day, when Jesus healed him, and to fall at his feet and thank him.  Because of the many things he could not figure out in life, he was sure of this: that he was a beloved child of God, and that he would never stop thanking God for sending Jesus, his Son, into the world.

In our own day and age leprosy is not so much of a problem as it once was, and yet we know this: you don’t have to be a leper to feel like one.  This is the too-frequent experience of adolescent kids who begin to suspect that they are different because their hearts flutter in the presence of other kids of the same gender, which, when you are 13 or 14 or 15 and trying to fit in, feels an awful lot like leprosy, and you pray just as hard as you can that you can keep that part of you covered up, unexposed, because what would be worse than being known to be a leper, being known to be gay, when you are just a kid trying to fit in, and the wrong glance, the wrong word, the wrong move will send this rumor about you buzzing through space faster than you could ever control it, before you have even figured out how you are feeling, and before you have ever even felt what a kiss on the lips feels like, but the whole world knows, thanks to Facebook or Twitter, or whatever, that you yearn for lips you should not be yearning for: you are a leper.

And since this is the world we live in, by the grace of God such a kid might end up in front of a computer, not reading the idiotic, taunting, and unintentionally but nevertheless cruel posts of his or her peers, but watching instead the several videos that have been floating around this week of celebrities and normal people who very much want that troubled kid - who is feeling so low and so anguished, and so much like he or she can never be accepted by family or friends or the world at large, because he or she is just such a leper – to know that it gets better.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of those videos featured a plain looking person, who grew up in Samaria, and who looked earnestly and sweetly into his camera and said something like this:

“I know what it feels like to feel like a leper, because I was one.  I know what it feels like to be laughed at, ridiculed, taunted, and disliked for something you never asked for and couldn’t do anything about.  I know what it feels like to want things to change, to yearn to be accepted, to be afraid that people everywhere will always know that you are less than you should be, sick, warped, broken, not right.  I know what it feels like to be compared to an animal and to be treated like one.

“But one day in my life – a life in which I had always hoped that things would get better, but they never did – I met Jesus.  I had heard all kinds of things about him, and I can tell you now that what I heard about him was more wrong than right.

“And on the day I met him, I just yelled out, from a safe distance, ‘Jesus, have mercy on me!’  I didn’t know what I was saying.  And I didn’t know what he was saying when he said nothing more than ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests,’ which hardly seemed like a good idea since priests are often known to be not very kind to lepers.  But before I took two steps, I looked down, and I was healed, so I turned back and ran to Jesus and praised his name, and fell at his feet to thank him.

“My young friend, you are not a leper.  Nothing in you needs to be healed except your tortured heart, which has been so hurt that it has fantasized about leaping off of bridges.  This alone needs to be healed in you – this idea that there is no other path that will work, no other option that is good, no other way to escape the pain you keep so carefully hidden inside of you, so no one can see it, and no one will know who you really are.

“But Jesus already knows who you really are.  He made you, and he loves you.  And he wants you to live.

“Turn around, my friend, and see him standing there, ready to do anything for you, ready to die for you.  And hear him promise, with me: It gets better.”


Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen

10 October 2010

Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia

Posted on October 10, 2010 .