*For Parts 1 and 2, click here. It is an unnatural feeling, this nerve bristling, the bubbling up at the end of my skin. Before the shame, I used to look into my wash basin, marveling at the face that had been knit for me. Now, my nose is bulbous and swollen. I miss my nose more than my faith.
I stand apart from this crowd—a crowd of former respect. They used to seek me out and ask me questions about the scriptures. They followed my lead on the practicalities of pure living, of living by the code. They knew I held an open hand to the poor, blessed as I was. But today, I respect their well-founded fear and stand a healthy span away. I can feel their judging eyes.
When the doctor saw my thickening skin and the maddening look in my eyes, he breathed the words “leprosy” and the people collectively whispered “sinner.” Some said that my piety had been seen as idolatry in the eyes of God. Some said I must have obtained my wealth by thievery or cunning words. Mostly, though, the crowds accused me of sleeping with the same prostitutes that are waiting for this rebel-healer to speak. There are so many prostitutes in this crowd.
The lepers say that this teacher’s words are salve and salvation, and though I am not convinced, I hope. The law has failed me. The doctors have failed me. My family and wealth fled. Now I own only lepers’ rags and some tattered hope. Soon, I will pass away and my clothes will be burned in accordance with the laws of the Pharisees. Will hope remain?
Jesus is surveying the crowd, now. He is slowly scanning, and I know that look. It is the look of the doctor ready to pronounce a terminal disease. But then, he turns to me and the left side of his lips curls into a sly half-smile. His eyes are knowing and he reminds me of my list of former accomplishments: the Sabbath rest, the scripture recitation, the unleavened-ness of it all. The right side of his mouth curls mirror-image and his spirit whispers to mine, “go and sin no more.”
Then, with the joy of a king handing an appointment to his closest of friends, he stretches an invisible scepter to my heart and his voice explodes across the valley,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven."