His Touch–Part 2 (Clean)
“When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them’” (Matthew 8:1-4 ESV).
(I’ve taken creative liberty to historically fictionalize the story of the healed leper from Matt. 8, having researched the ancient Hebrew culture and their customs, including Jewish law regarding that which deemed someone unclean. This is a continuation of my last post titled “Unclean.”)
The morning he left us had blazed brightly; that is, until about midday, several hours after he’d returned home having been working in the fields. But indeed, earlier that day, the day everything changed, was awash in light.
Funny how one looks back and laments over lasts, especially if he or she has no warning that it will be the last. Like the last breakfast at the table. The last echo of his laughter. The last butterfly kiss on the tip of a daughter’s nose. Those last intimate moments.
When Ethan’s fingers were grazed while working the scythe cutting grass, he knew, and that’s when he finally confessed what he’d suspected for quite some time. But the word–leprosy–seemed to coat our kitchen in frozen, white fear, and all time stood still, though only moments passed.
It was Abigail who’d interrupted our paralysis. She’d pranced in to the tiny, steaming space unexpectedly–lentils simmering in the pot over the fire. She’d been outside playing, and I remember how her big eyes blinked in the sudden darkness, so dim was the light compared to the sunshine that summer day. Funny, too, those random things we recall.
“Abba,” she’d cried upon seeing his injured right hand. “Mama, Abba’s hurt?” Her dark eyes shifted from Ethan to me, back and forth with worry.
“Now, now,” I replied, folding the edges of the towel Ethan had across his knee, covering his wounds. “Nothing to be concerned about, Flower. Abba’s fine.” Pausing, I scanned the kitchen. “Come now. Help me with the bread.”
Distracted, 3-year old Abigail danced across the room to stand adjacent to her father. Running her finger through flour still strewn about on the handmade table, crafted by Ethan’s strong, capable hands, she exclaimed, “Abba, look! A staff.”
And sure enough. Our daughter had formed what appeared to be a shepherd’s staff in the finely ground grain. Holding up her hand, sun-kissed and bronzed, she continued with a giggle. “And look! My hand’s white!”
The irony struck too close for comfort, and I fled the room.
Outside, I tried to catch my breath, but no matter how hard I sucked in, all I could do was gasp for air, like a dying fish on the Galilean shore. Gazing up at the cloudless July day, I nearly choked on the words.
“My God! My God! Why?”
How could it be? I knew what would happen next. Ethan was duty-bound to present himself to the priests. It would be them, these men who rarely displayed emotion, who so often seemed haughty, who’d determine my husband’s fate. If they, too, thought it leprosy, he’d be gone. Just like that. Gone.
And, just like that, he was, and three years have passed. Abigail, who’s now six, is tall and sturdy like her father and is nearly to my chin, though, despite my twenty-one years, I’m barely five feet, and that’s when I’m standing tall. Mostly, I’m stooped, so weary am I, and I sometimes wonder if my mama named me Leah for that very reason. Weary one, that’s what I am.
Just complaining even the slightest bit, however, floods me with guilt. I know that, despite the difficulty of doing life without Ethan, it’s been much harder for him. After all, he lost everything that mattered. His family. His occupation as a farmer. His home. His health. Indeed, his dignity.
There were times early on when we’d go to the edge of town, visit the leper colony that Ethan called home–take fresh-baked bread, kneaded and prepared by Abigail. “For Abba,” she’d sometimes say, and it was on those occasions that I knew we’d go, for how could I argue with a daughter who simply longed to see her daddy?
The last time, however, was after Ethan had only been gone a year or so. As we’d walked outside the city, passing through the protective gate, a gust of hot wind blew carrying with it the scent of sickness. We’d covered our mouths and noses with our veils as we pressed on, Abigail clutching her little loaf to her chest with her free hand. I, too, carried a gift that day, clutching it tightly to my breast.
But when we arrived at our normal meeting spot, that place Ethan had planted daisies in the spring to mark the place he’d see his daughter–his ‘Flower,’ as he’d always called her–he never showed. And it was then that I knew. The disease had taken too much of him, though I honestly wondered if perhaps death had taken him entirely.
I inquired, asking several within earshot, “Have you any news of Ethan Ben-Joseph?” but no one answered, just stared at me with the rheumy eyes of sickness, blinking behind filthy cotton wraps.
“Mama, where’s Abba?” Abigail asked, and she began to cry. “I want my abba.”
Kneeling before her, I locked my gaze with my daughter’s as our tears spilled out and over, and I said, “Abba loves you, Flower, and he always will. Never forget that.” Using the corner of my head covering, I wiped her eyes before wiping my own, then continued. “Come now. Leave your loaf right there on the daisies. He will find it, I promise,” though I feared my promise might not be kept. As I stood, I whispered a silent prayer–
“Jehovah Rohi, please hold near this little Lamb. Hold each of us, Your flock, we pray. And Jehovah Rapha, I beg of You–please, please heal Ethan. In Your mighty name.”
That was the last time we visited the leper colony, though it certainly wasn’t the last time I would pray. Had I known the time before, that time we actually got to see Ethan with our eyes, would be our last, I’d have looked a little longer. Held his gaze awhile more, appreciating deeply my husband’s smile, even though it held a hint of doubt–as though Ethan wondered about my love. My loyalty.
As I said, he’d lost everything, and with the death of his dignity he must have questioned, too, whether or not I would remain faithful. And though I knew of my commitment, I also feared our coming might cause him pain–pain in seeing all he was losing, all he’d lost. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t come that day. Somehow he knew.
I am only two decades and a year. My womb is waiting, ready, for the arrival of more children. Still, until I receive word that my Ethan has passed, my loyalty–my heart–is his. I have been faithful to my covenant, and, though he is away–sick though he may be–he is my covering. Yes, his banner over me is love, and only death would separate.
Imagine, then, how I must have felt–how my heart skipped–when, just this morning, merely moments ago, I saw him, tall, just as I’d remembered, rounding the top of the hill. I thought it a dream, and I rubbed my eyes, smearing flour all over my face, before daring to look again, fearing I would awake. But no–there, enveloped in a ray of sunlight, was my husband.
“Abigail,” I cried. “Come quickly.” And my daughter came running from where she’d been playing on the floor, her playmate following close behind.
“What is it, Mama?” And though I’d given no answer, somehow she knew. “Abba?”
Funny the things we notice when our hearts are stirred. The way the sunshine pierces through windows is creating diamonds from the dust, and my daughter and my son–yes, our son, now himself only three–is shrouded in the treasures of all the evidence of life.
Taking their hands, I say, “Abigail, you are Abba’s joy, and Benjamin, you were named with hope in mind. Indeed, you are Abba’s ‘right hand’.” Looking at one, then at the other, I continue, “Come. Let’s welcome him.”
Turning, we step out into summer’s light, blinded more by the radiance of that which had come as an answer to my earnest prayers. For though I’ve never met the One who heals, I know He’s healed, because my husband–my Ethan–is home.
(For His Touch–Part 1 (Unclean), click the title.)
How has Jesus cleansed you? Thank Him for His healing, for His forgiveness.
Thank you, Sweet Savior, for being our Healer. Our Shepherd. Our Friend. Amen.