Good morning! Have you ever had good news--great news--news so wonderful that you couldn't wait to tell someone? The story this morning is about a young man who had an experience like that. Let's call him Eli.
Eli worked in an inn owned by his father, Jethro. Their inn was a busy place, full of travelers needing food or a bed. Eli worked long hours doing all kinds of jobs--from taking care of guests' animals to checking people into their rooms and sweeping the floor. Eli worked hard, but he didn't mind. He liked helping make their business a success -- for his father's sake and his own. He knew that one day the inn would be his.
One day, Eli was changing into a clean shirt when he noticed an odd rash on his arm. He didn't think too much about it and went into the inn to help his mother serve dinner. A few days later, he noticed the rash had spread and there was another spot on his other arm.
Eli lived a long, long time ago. There were doctors then, but not like today. And many diseases that are easy to cure today with medicine and other modern treatments baffled the doctors back then. One of those diseases was leprosy. Everyone was afraid of leprosy. No one knew how to cure it and nobody wanted to catch this skin disease. People who came down with leprosy were forced to leave their homes and their communities and live alone or in a leper colony with others who suffered from the disease.
When Eli looked at the rashes on his skin, he became afraid. Leprosy! For a long time, he hid his problem from the guests at the inn, his friends, even his mother and father. He didn't want to have to leave the inn. But eventually the disease spread to his hands and neck and he could hide it no longer. His family hid Eli from the guests because they couldn't bear to let him go any more than he could bear to leave. He ate and slept in the stable with the animals and tried to stay out of sight.
Then one day, a guest came to the stable super-early to get his donkey. He saw someone sleeping in the stable, and moved his lantern closer to see who it was. When he saw the spots of leprosy on Eli's skin, the man ran from the stable shouting, "Unclean! Unclean!"
Eli woke wth a start. He heard the man's shouts and knew immediately they were about him. He ran from his home, his life, everything he knew and loved. He didn't even say "Good-bye" to his parents because he knew if the authorities found him there, his mother and father would be in trouble.
From that moment on, Eli lived the sad life of a leper. Then one day, he heard rumors about a man who was traveling about, teaching about God and healing people of all kinds of diseases. "Maybe this holy man could heal me, too," he thought. Finding Jesus was not all that hard. People everywhere talked about him and the amazing works he did. When Eli found Jesus, he kneeled in front of him and begged to be healed. "If you choose, you can make me clean," Eli said. Jesus reached out his hand, touched Eli and said, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately, the leprosy disappeared and Eli's skin was healthy and clean again.
What a miracle! Eli had his health back! And with his health, he could get everything else back, too--his family, his friends, his work, his inn, his place in the community! He could go back to his life, but I'm sure his life was never the same for him again. Because now he knew for himself how strong the power of God is.
Before Jesus left Eli, Jesus did something we still don't completely understand today. He told Eli not to tell anyone that Jesus had healed him. Eli tried to do as Jesus asked, but he just had to tell everyone he met the wonderful news. And Jesus' fame spread even further.