By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
October 10, 2010
Read: Luke 17:11-19
Jesus and company are walking to Jerusalem in “the region between Samaria and Galilee”. The word Samaria is itself a red flag. Observant Jews, in that time in history, did not go anywhere near Samaria or Samaritans. Samaritans were a despised group, culturally inferior.
So, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters ten men with leprosy. It would be difficult to exaggerate the social alienation and isolation of these ten men. Leprosy was highly contagious and people lived in dread of leprosy. The result was that people with leprosy lived in total isolation; banished from their homes, from the loving touch of family, friends, their faith community. They lived alone, away from the community. Sometimes they banded together to become a small company of misery. It appears that these ten men were united in their misery; living on the boundary – in no man’s land; living in exile.
They call to Jesus, keeping the required distance. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus does what is fairly typical in a healing – asks them to do something – “go and show yourselves to the priests” and when they go they are made well as they go on their way. One turns back praising God, prostrating himself and giving thanks. And he was one of those dreaded Samaritans.
Then Jesus asks where are the other nine? Given that Jesus has commanded the ten to follow the law – to go show themselves to the priests, his question seems a tad disingenuous: “Where are the other nine?” To which one might answer, “They are going to show themselves to the priests in accordance with the law…just like you told them to do.” Then why does Jesus ask? The one who returns is a Samaritan or, as Jesus describes him, a foreigner; someone a first-century Jew would not normally look to as an example. Amid the ordinary, something has changed.
Jesus says to the Samaritan, “Your faith has made you well.” The Greek can be translated either of these ways: healed, made well, saved. It can also be translated “Your faith has made you whole.” However we translate it, one thing is clear: there is more at stake here than simply healing.
Taken together, these details orient us to the possibility that Jesus instructs his followers – then and now – that faith is not a matter of believing only, but also of seeing. All the lepers were healed; one, however, saw, noticed, let what happened sink in…and it made all the difference.
-Because he sees what has happened, the leper recognizes Jesus, his reign and his power.
-Because he sees what has happened, the leper has something for which to be thankful, praising God with a loud voice.
-Because he sees what has happened, the leper changes direction, veering from his course toward a priest to first return to Jesus.
In this light, this story serves as an invitation to believers – then and now – to recognize that what we see makes all the difference. In the face of adversity, do we see danger or opportunity? In the face of human need, do we see demand or gift? In the face of the stranger, do we see potential enemy or friend?
And it goes further. When we look to God, do we see stern judge or loving parent? When we look to ourselves, do we see failure or beloved child? When we look to the future, do we see fearful uncertainty or an open horizon? There is, of course, no right answer to any of these questions. How we answer depends upon what we see. Yet how we answer dramatically shapes both our outlook and our behavior.
At the outset of this story, ten men are stuck. They live “between regions” in a “no-man’s” land of being socially, religiously, and physically unclean. By the end of the story, all ten are made well. But one has something more. He has seen Jesus, recognized his blessing and rejoiced in it, and changed his course of action and behavior. And because he sees what has happened, the leper is not just healed, but is made whole, restored, drawn back into relationship with God and humanity. In all these ways he has been, if we must choose a single word, saved.
There is a legend about a man who found the barn where Satan kept his seeds ready to be sown in the human heart, and on finding the seeds of discouragement more numerous than others, he learned that those seeds could be made to grow almost anywhere. When Satan was questioned, he reluctantly admitted that there was one place in which he could never get the seeds of discouragement to thrive. ‘And where is that?’ asked the man. Satan replied sadly, ‘In the heart of a grateful man.’ A lot has to do with our attitude. When we expect to get certain things from life, from other people, from God, we are often disappointed, discouraged, demoralized. Yet, when we learn to live thanking God for that which we do have, our attitudes change, our outlook on life changes. A fellow minister tells this story: I was locking up the church building one evening, ready to get in my car and go home after a long day, when an unfamiliar vehicle came crunching up the gravel driveway.
A woman I did not know got out and asked if I was the pastor. I was prepared to listen to a plea for money, but she surprised me by saying that something especially wonderful had just happened to her and she wanted to thank God. She asked if she could go inside the church to do so. Still a bit wary, I unlocked the door and followed her into the building. She entered the sanctuary, slipped into a pew, and bowed her head in prayer. After about ten minutes, she got up, thanked me, and went on her way. This incident has stuck with me over the years, and it comes to mind again as we consider this text.
You see, the other nine lepers may very well have rejoiced over their healing. They may have told the priests, their families, their friends the glorious news about how they were healed, maybe even who healed them. Yet, none of the nine performed the simple act of giving thanks and praise to God. We will never know why the nine stayed away and the one returned. We do know this, however, that the one who returned was not simply healed, but was made whole. That changed his whole life. The question we must ask ourselves is, do we simply want healing, or are we ready to be made whole?
The healthiest people I know are not the ones who delight in being the proverbial self-made man or woman. The healthiest people I know are those whose lives express a deep gratitude for everything and everyone that has reached across a boundary and border to enrich and embrace them. For them, dependence is not the dirty word we have sometimes made of it, but merely the simple pattern and the plain truth about life. Jesus said, at the end, to the Samaritan,” Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke, I suspect, knew that the healing came from God and not from the Samaritan’s belief, but he also knew that to be truly well requires the embrace of heartfelt gratitude with the alien grace of Christ’s daring love, that the gifts of grace demand and evoke the answering gratitude of God’s children.
Writer Anne Lamott says her two favorite prayers are: In the morning, “Help me. Help me. Help me.” And at bedtime, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Amen.
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