Peter: Hey, John! James!… Leave the nets and come here. Hurry!
One morning, while we were cleaning the nets, Peter called us aloud from the house of Caleb, a fisherman from the village. When we got there, he seemed to be in mourning, the women were screaming, the people were shoving each other at the door, and the house smelled of eucalyptus leaves burned near the sick. Caleb’s wife, who was dressed in black, was weeping non-stop, as she pounded her head against the wall.
Anna: This is a curse of God! A curse of God!
Eleazar: It is leprosy! It is leprosy! We shall call for the Rabbi right away to examine you!
Caleb: Don’t touch me! You’re lying, this isn’t leprosy… Don’t touch me!
Eleazar: You’ve been hiding it all this time, you wretch. Why don’t you remove those bandages and show us your arms.
Caleb: They’re only wounds… so…. leave me alone. This isn’t leprosy. No, it isn’t.
John: Peter, is Caleb a leper?
Peter: That is what they say. Imagine the hassle caused by Eleazar’s news. He says he has some stains beneath those bandages and claims they’re leprosy.
James: Caleb is a liar! He told us he was bitten by a spider, that is why his arm is wrapped with bandages!
Peter: Eleazar has spread this thing all over the village, and he wants to bring this to the priest, to make sure what it really is….
James: Well said, dammit! Let the Rabbi come and if this fellow really has leprosy, then, he should get out of here! And what does he want? For us to catch the disease?
Anna: This is God’s curse.
All of us were scared of leprosy. It spread through the flesh, like vines extending through the walls, devouring the body until it was eaten away. Besides, since leprosy could be contagious, the law demanded that those afflicted be separated from family and community, and that they not go near anybody. Leprosy was the most dreaded of all diseases…
Eleazar: You see? You see?… These wounds are leprosy. They have the color of sand.
Caleb: This isn’t leprosy, Eleazar, I swear to God Almighty, it is not!
Eleazar: Don’t swear, you liar! You should’ve told us about it. This thing is contagious, and you know it!
Anna: This is God’s curse! This is God’s curse!
A Woman: Poor wife, she does nothing but pound her head against the wall…
Salome: If Caleb has leprosy, then the wife may just as well be a widow…. what with the three sons she has!
Another Woman: He must have done something to be punished by God. I never really liked Caleb… He must have something impure inside him…
Caleb’s house was full of people. The news that he had leprosy spread like wild fire through the village of fishermen. Old Eleazar, after having removed the bandages around his arm and examined his wounds, went to the synagogue to look for the priest. It was he who had the last say. Soon after, the Rabbi arrived at Caleb’s house.
Rabbi: Okay, out of here!… Out, everybody!
Anna: Ay, Rabbi, we are cursed by the Lord!
Rabbi: Be patient, woman, and stop talking about curses, until we know what this really is.
Caleb: This is not leprosy, Rabbi! Old Eleazar is lying!
Rabbi: I said, everybody, out! Now, let me see your arm…
Caleb: I don’t wanna leave my house! I tell you, it isn’t leprosy! I’m clean!…
Rabbi: Well then, what are these stains, Caleb?
Caleb: They’re wounds, Rabbi, wounds that can be cured.
Rabbi: Have you put something on to cure them?
Anna: Rabbi, I applied oil with sunflower seeds and the intestine of crushed red fish….
Rabbi: Humm…. Since when did you have these wounds?
Caleb: I don’t remember…. About four months ago… I don’t want to go away from here!
Rabbi: Well, you have to leave your house, Caleb. Your wounds are stuck to your skin, and your hair has turned white…. it’s leprosy, alright.
Anna: This is a curse of the Lord!
Caleb: No, no, no, I’m not going to leave!..
Eleazar and the rest of the men threw him out of the city. For fear of touching him, they tied him with a rope and dragged him out of the house like an animal. Caleb resisted, hitting them and kicking them, as he wept desperately. His wife and children saw how he was dragged through the wide streets of Capernaum, to the hill caves, where the lepers lived and died in solitude.
Anna: Ay, Salome, what has my husband done to be punished by God this way?
Salome: Don’t ask me, woman, I have not slept for two nights since I learned about it…. How would I know why the Lord has punished him this way!
Anna: Tell me, what am I going to do now?
Salome: Look, I already told my husband, Zebedee, to give you some money, so that you can mend nets. With this, you’ll have something to keep you going. If you need something, just let me know, and I’m gonna help you… If we eat, so do you…
Anna: What will my poor Caleb eat in the caves? He will live at the mercy of the almsgiver….
Salome: Woman, don’t weep. Your sons need you…
Two weeks passed since Caleb was taken away from Capernaum. One evening, while we were playing dice at home, my mother, Salome, brought in a pot full of dried fish and some pieces of bread…
James: There goes number four!… You win, Jesus…
Peter: Six and three!… It’s your turn, James….
Salome: Hey guys, take this food to poor Caleb. His wife is sick and, can’t go. I have to take care of the boys. I told his wife not to worry, that we would attend to it…
James: I’m not going, woman. You wouldn’t want me to be taken to the caves as a leper, would you? You know it’s contagious, don’t you?
Salome: I know, I know, but you don’t have to go near. Shout so he hears you, and leave the food in the middle of the road….
Salome: And you, Peter?…
Peter: Well, lepers make me sick to my stomach. Something happens to me that… I don’t think I can go near them, even if they pay me one hundred dinars!
Salome: That’s very brave of you, big nose!
Peter: Say whatever you wanna say, but I don’t think there’s anyone here who would dare….
James: Are you scared of lepers, too, Jesus?
Jesus: It’s not that, James, but….
Salome: Well, you better decide, between now and tomorrow. I spent quite sometime preparing this food, which is not for you, in any case.
Finally, after long discussion, Jesus and I decided to take the food to the caves. The sun had hardly risen, when we started for the caves. They were at the exit of Capernaum, on the left side of the road leading to Corozaim…
Jesus: Call him, John. When he hears you, he’ll come out.
John: Hey, Caleb!…. Caleb! Where are you? This is John, the son of Zebedee! Caleb!
Soon, a man whose body was covered with rags, with dishevelled hair, came out from one of the caves. It was Caleb, the fisherman from Capernaum….
John: Look there, Jesus… But I can’t just throw him this food, as if he were a dog…
Jesus: So, what do we do now?
John: Maybe we can go a little closer. He’ll be happy to see us, but… it might be risky, because the disease is contagious. I don’t know… If you don’t want….
Jesus: Okay, let’s go, John.
Jesus and I moved closer until we reached the clearing where Caleb was waiting. When we were just a stone’s throw away, we stopped. Caleb wept.
Caleb: John, how’s my wife?… and the kids?
John: Don’t worry about them, Caleb. Anna’s mending nets on the wharf, and earning her dinars. The children have to eat, you know. They’re alright.
Jesus: How are you, Caleb?
Caleb: And how do you think I am? Dying of disgust!… what with all these rags… A number of lepers are already rotting… If it weren’t for this damned disease…. I’d go back to fish in the lake, I want to be with everybody…!
Jesus: Do you still have those wounds on your arm?
Caleb: Yes, but it’s not leprosy!… If only God would cleanse me!… But God never passes through these caves…
Jesus: Caleb, look, Salome prepared this fish and bread for you..
Jesus went closer, to give him the food…
John: Be careful, Moreno!
Jesus: Let me see those stains, Caleb…
Jesus helped him remove the dirty bandages around his arm…
Caleb: I wanna go back to Capernaum….
Jesus: But let me see those stains, first….
Caleb: Look at me…. look… look…. there’s nothing…! Where are my wounds?… I’m clean!… The stains are gone! I’m clean!!
John: Jesus, what happened? What happened?
Caleb: I’m healed! I’m healed!!
John: What have you done to him, Jesus?
Jesus: But, John, I….
Caleb: I’m clean, I’m healed!!…. Help me remove all these rags!… I’m healed!!
Jesus: Caleb, don’t shout so loud, the others might come out of the caves. Come, let’s go to Capernaum. You gotta show yourself to the priest, to make sure that you’re clean.
Caleb: I’m clean, I’m healed!…
The following day, the Rabbi purified Caleb with the blood of a bird offered as sacrifice. He washed him seven times and declared him clean, and released another bird as a sign of his healing.
Rabbi: Yes, it’s true. His flesh is clean and there’s no white spots on it. Your leprosy is gone. You may now go back to the village, Caleb. You’re healed. You may go back to your family.
Caleb was free again to live with everyone. That evening, we had a party in the fishermen’s village to celebrate. Weeping with joy, Caleb recounted what happened: He said it was Jesus of Nazareth who cured him. The news spread so fast that Jesus had to stay away for a time from Capernaum.
Leprosy, which in the Bible includes many skin diseases (like rashes, bumps, stains, pimples, etc.) was a most dreaded disease. It was always considered as God’s punishment, obliging the leper to separate from family and from the community in order to live. The leper was, aside from being repugnant, impure from the religious point of view, so it was the priest who determined the disease as well as its cure, if there ever was any. The law on this matter was extensive and presented in detail in the Old Testament. Because it was such a horrible disease, it was the popular belief that it would disappear with the coming of the Messiah.
Lepers were to live isolated in caves. They could not go to cities, and when they were on the road, had to shout their impurity, to warn people. Such isolation was not only on account of the contagious nature of the disease, but because its religious implication, that the afflicted was “cursed by God.” When Jesus went near the leper and touched him, he showed a gesture of compassion, which was a voluntary violation of the religious law, making liable anyone who touched an impure person (Lev 5:3). This is a sign that with Jesus, all limits between the pure and the impure are gone, and that the God that he reveals to us disregards whatever external distinctions exist. God does not punish nor curse anyone with disease. Neither leprosy nor any sickness, no matter how terrible, is God’s punishment or revenge on people. Its explanation is found in natural causes and it is the field of medicine which determines origin and cure.
The bacteria that causes leprosy was not discovered until 1868. Nowadays, it is no longer considered an incurable disease, although there are still a number of Hansenites all over the world. Poor hygienic practices and lack of preventive care at the onset of the disease explain why the disease still continues to be widespread. Present-day Hansenites still live in separate communities, although it is a fact that leprosy is no longer a contagious ailment when minimal precautionary steps are taken. The four evangelists attribute 41 miracles to Jesus. Matthew cites the greatest number: 24. John gives the least: 9. The stories about the miracles are strictly related to what the evangelists narrate about activities and mission of Jesus. In this sense, we can say that they are essential to the gospel. Most of these acts or miracles are related to the healing of different diseases. Even the severest of critics acknowledge that Jesus became a man with certain powers to cure the sick, to alleviate suffering, and to strengthen faith which would be the source of healing. These are powers that are difficult to determine to this day, even over a distance of two thousand years. From the theological point of view, the miraculous act in the gospel narration must always be viewed not as a manifestation of something “extraordinary,” but as a sign of liberation. God sends his son as the liberator, Jesus proclaims the good news of this liberation, making signs, at the same time, to indicate that this liberation has already come.
(Mt 8:1-4; Mk 1:40-45; Lk 5:12-16)