«…he, wonder of wonders! comforts our sorrows. People come from Hippo and Gamala and even from Gherghesa and Aphek to hear him. When he heard of the miracle of the two men possessed… oh! he began to preach faith in You. Lord, if men greeted You with Your name of Messiah, if women greeted You as victor and king, if children know Your name and that You are the Holy One of Israel, that is due to the poor leper.»
– An elder describing to Jesus the faith of an amazing poor leper as they approach his cave.
448. « Master, You have cured everybody here. But there is a leper in a hut in the wood. He always begs us to take You to him…»
« Let us go! Please! Let Me go. Do not hurt yourselves! I am here for everybody… Please, make room. You are hurting women and children. I am not leaving yet. I will be here tomorrow and I will be in this area for five days. You can follow Me, if you wish so…»
Jesus tries to discipline the crowd, to ensure that the citizens, in order to benefit by His visit, may not harm themselves. But the crowd is like an elastic substance which dilates then presses round Him once again, it is like an avalanche, which by natural law can but become more compact the more it descends, it is like particles of iron attracted by a magnet… Thus progress is slow, encumbered, difficult… They are all perspiring, the apostles are bawling, elbowing their way through the crowd, kicking shins at the same time… All efforts are vain! It takes them a quarter of an hour to cover ten meters.
The village, which stretches more parallel than vertically to the lake, is soon crossed and they find themselves in the peaceful silent country at twilight. However, it does not get dark, as the transition from daylight to moonlight is imperceptible. They go towards the ramifications of the high cliff, which farther south stretches out as far as the lake. On the cliff there are some grottoes, I do not know whether they are natural ones or dug on purpose in the rock; many have been walled up and whitewashed outside and are certainly sepulchers.
« Here we are! Let us stop in order not to be infected. We are close to the leper’s hideout and this is the time when he comes to that rock to collect offerings. He was rich, You know? We remember him. And he was also good. But now he is a holy man. The more sorrow struck him, the more holy he became. We do not know how it happened. They say that it was brought about by some pilgrims to whom he gave hospitality. They were going to Jerusalem, so they said. They appeared to be sound, but they were certainly lepers. The fact is that after they left, the wife and the servants first, then the children, finally he, became infected with leprosy. All of them. The first — and it was their hands that became infected — were those who had washed the feet and the clothes of the pilgrims, that is why we say that they must have been the cause of it all. The children: three, died soon. Then the wife, and she died more of grief than of disease… He… When the priest declared them all lepers, he bought this part of the mountain with his money which had now become useless and he had provisions stored there for himself and his family… including servants, together with hoes and picks… and he began to dig the sepulchers… and one by one he buried them all: his little children, then his wife, the servants… He is the only one left all alone, poor, because everything comes to an end, as time passes… and the situation has lasted fifteen years… And yet… never one complaint. He was a learned man: he repeats the Scriptures by heart. He repeats them to the stars, to herbs, to trees, to birds, he repeats them to us who have so much to learn from him, and he comforts our sorrows… he, wonder of wonders! comforts our sorrows. People come from Hippo and Gamala and even from Gherghesa and Aphek to hear him. When he heard of the miracle of the two men possessed… oh! he began to preach faith in You. Lord, if men greeted You with Your name of Messiah, if women greeted You as victor and king, if children know Your name and that You are the Holy One of Israel, that is due to the poor leper » relates on behalf of everybody the old man who was the first to speak of John.
« Will You cure him?» ask many.
« And are you asking Me? I have mercy on sinners, so what will I have for a just man? But is it perhaps he who is coming? Over there, among those bushes…»
« It is certainly him. What wonderful sight You have, Lord! We can hear the rustling noise, but do not see anything…»
The rustling also stops. There is dead silence and expectation…
Jesus is clearly visible, alone, a little ahead of the others, because He has gone forward as far as the rock on which some provisions have been laid; the others disappear in the dim light of some trees, mingling with trunks and bushes of the unbroken ground. Children also are silent, either because they have fallen asleep in their mothers’ arms, or because they are frightened of the silence, of the sepulchres, of the bizarre shadows which the moon casts illuminating trees and rocks.
But the leper must see, and see well, from his hiding-place. He must be able to see the tall solemn person of the Lord, handsome and all white in the white moonlight. The tired glances of the leper certainly meet Jesus’ bright eyes. What language is spoken by those divine, wide eyes, as bright as stars? What language is uttered by the lips open in a smile of love? Above all, what does the heart of the Christ say? A mystery. One of the many mysteries between God and souls in their spiritual relationship. The leper certainly understands because he shouts: «Here is the Lamb of God! Here is He Who has come to cure all the sorrows of the world! Jesus, blessed Messiah, our King and Savior, have mercy on me!»
« What do you want? How can you believe in the Unknown One and see in Him the Expected One? What am I for you? The Unknown…»
« No. You are the Son of the living God. How do I know and see? I do not know. Here, within me, a voice has shouted: “Here is the Expected One! He has come to reward your faith”. Unknown? Yes. The face of God is not known to anybody. Thus You are the “Unknown One” in Your appearance. But You are the Known One because of Your Nature and Your Royalty. Jesus, Son of the Father, Word Incarnate and God like the Father. That is who You are, and I greet You and beg You, believing in You.»
« And if I were not able to do anything and your faith were disappointed?»
« I would say that that is the will of the Most High and I would continue to believe and love, always hoping in the Lord.»
Jesus turns to the crowds who are listening in suspense to the conversation and He says: « I solemnly tell you that this man has the faith which shifts mountains. I solemnly tell you that true charity, faith and hope are tested more in sorrow than in joy, because the excess of joy is often the ruin of a spirit not yet perfected. It is easy to believe and be good when life is a placid succession of days all alike, even if not a pleasant one. But he who is able to persist in faith, hope and charity, also when diseases, poverty, death, misfortunes cause him to be left all alone, forlorn, avoided by everybody, and he does nothing but say: “Let that be done, which the Most High deems is useful to me”., he truly not only deserves help from God, but, I tell you, his seat is ready in the Kingdom of Heaven and he will suffer no delay in expectation, because his justice has cancelled all debts of his past life. Man, I say to you: “Go in peace, as God is with you!”»
He turns round in saying so and stretches His arms out to the leper, with His gesture He almost draws him towards Himself, and when he is close at hand and clearly visible, He orders: « I want it! Be cleansed!…» and with her silvery beams the moon seems to cleanse and wipe away the pustules, the wounds, the nodules and the scabs of the horrible disease.
The body recomposes its features and becomes sound. It is an old dignified man, ascetic in his leanness, who, as soon as he becomes aware of the miracle through the hosannas shouted by the crowd, bends to kiss the ground, as he cannot touch Jesus or any other man before the time prescribed by the Law.
« Stand up. They will bring you clean clothes so that you may present yourself to the priest. But always present yourself to your God in purity of spirit. Goodbye, man. Peace be with you!»
And Jesus joins the crowds and slowly goes back to the village to rest.