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This morning I was reading the Gospel story about Jesus healing a group of lepers. My guess is that many people are very suspicious about the miracle stories of Jesus, seriously doubting that they ever actually happened. After all, who today has ever witnessed the healing of a leper or observed a blind beggar given sight?
The answer is: "I have." Yes, I have witnessed a leper being healed; and with my very own eyes, I have observed a blind beggar given sight.
A few years ago, while we were still living in Los Angeles, I would often sit at an outdoor cafe not far from where we lived, sip coffee, and watch the world go by. The cafe was located in a pretty posh part of town and was frequented by a lot of the "beautiful people" from the surrounding Hollywood neighborhoods.
One afternoon, a menacing-looking homeless woman decided to take up residence at one of the outdoor tables and beg for "spare change" from the passersby's on the street. I say the woman was "menacing" because she had a hostile look about her. She literally wore rags, her hair was wild and unkempt, she smelled very badly, she had almost no teeth, and there was a wild look in her eyes. And, as she sat there, she was continually mumbling in such a way as to appear she was growling- ready to bite.
As this woman sat down at that outdoor table in that posh Hollywood cafe, the immediate effect was that the people at the tables surrounding her emptied out almost immediately - It was as if someone had cried out "fire!" - everyone making a mad dash away to safer territory.
As people walked by on the street outside the cafe, this woman would jingle her little cup of change and mumble (growl). Some passersby's walked to the other side of the street in order to avoid her; while others walked quickly by averting her gaze, protectively holding on to their kids and shielding their dogs.
And as each person would ignore her and pass by her, she became more and more despondent, aggressively barking out some disparaging remark. I was sure the manager of the cafe was on the verge of calling the local police because the situation seemed like it was about to get out of hand.
But then something happened to change it all. A young man walking by stopped in his tracks when he saw this woman. He came right up to her and looked her in the eyes as he smiled and put some cash in her little cup and for a brief moment held her hand.
And a miracle happened. I could literally see this menacing beggar being transformed before my very eyes. Her demeanor changed from hostility to tenderness. Her wild eyes lit up with joy. I could see tears streaming down. Her grumbling growl was calmed, as she smiled a big toothless grin, held the man's hands, looked him in the eye and said, "O, God bless you, God bless you!"
She wasn't blessing him because he gave put a couple dollars in her cup. She was blessing him because, perhaps for the first time in days or months or maybe years, another human being stopped and actually looked at her- acknowledged her existence, treated her with dignity. It was a miracle.
There is a follow-up to this "miracle" story. A few months ago, I had the occasion to go back to Los Angeles for a few days and I visited my favorite outdoor coffee shop in that posh Hollywood neighborhood. As I sat at a table sipping my coffee, I looked up and I couldn't believe my eyes. That same "homeless"woman was sitting a few tables away, only now, it didn't seem like she was homeless any longer- at the very least she had lost the hostile "menacing" look; she was wearing clean clothes, her hair had obviously been washed, cut and combed and she sat there peacefully as she also sipped her coffee along with the rest of us.
I thought to myself, "I really did witness a miracle that day when the young man stopped and looked her in the eye."
I wonder how many lepers are out there in the world around me today just waiting for a miracle.
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