|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 11, 2016 at 11:30 AM|
Sermon on Luke 17:11-19
Ok, so I never much like this story of the 10 lepers who were healed and the one who returnd to Jesus to say thank you. Not because it's a bad story, but because I think it’s easy and too moralistic to really struggle with. And I like Jesus stories that make you struggle. this is one where you ust nod your head. “Jesus wants you to say thank you” seems too simplistic a message, even though it’s something I tell my daughter most nights when she complains about saying grace before dinner. This message is something we already know, even though we don’t do it. And frankly, Jesus sounds a little like a mother pulling a guilt-trip- “what, I healed 10 and only one can be bothered to come back and say “thank you?” The story is fine but it doesn’t really inspire. Guilt never does.
And I struggle with the story because every single leper was healed. All 10 of them. They do exactly what Jesus tells them too. They run right to the priest when Jesus tells them too. And frankly, this is an act of faith. Can you imagine living with a disease that cut you off from your entire community? Your whole life is gone. And the only way to escape this reality is to suddenly be healed and then get the approval of the priest that you are actually clean.
So, when Jesus tells these folks that they are healed, they have to go walking off to the priest without any assurance that healing will come. They have hope, but no proof. And all 10 of them go and do exactly what Jesus tells them. And that’s more faith than I always have. And in the midst of this faithful walking, their skin changes. Their fingers and toes are restored. They are healed. They are restored to their families, their work, their lives. I can’t imagine there was a single man with leprosy that wasn’t thrilled. Their restoration was so important they couldn’t wait to have it proved true. So they kept on running to the priest.
But one stops. He looks at his hands and feet restored and he starts shouting. Starts yelling, “Thank you Jesus!” Starts dancing with those restored feet and thanking God with a voice loud enough for the whole town to hear. And he let everyone know that God is up to some stuff in him. Instead of yelling “unclean, unclean” as lepers were supposed to go around saying so no one would accidentally touch him, he yelled, “God has healed me!” so loud that people came to stare.
And when he gets to Jesus, he falls down on the ground and bows- the way you would honor someone far above you in power. This Samaritan- this outcast even among the outcast lepers- bows to Jesus as the one who has the power to bring healing and restore life. He notices God’s power in Jesus can’t stay away from this one who changes the future.
And Jesus says, “This one, this Samaritan, this man with leprosy- this man who you had written off as not worth anything- this is the man who saw the power of God at work in me. He can see the truth of who I am and what I came to this world to do. This man recognizes and praises and stays close to me. Oh, how I wish all my people would do this!” Because “Love that springs from gratitude is the essence of faith.”
And then he tells this 10th man- “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Go back to your life a changed man and live like that for the rest of your life.
But those words, “your faith has made you well” or “your faith has saved you” always stick with me. Because Jesus says that a lot. To the woman anointing his feet, the woman with a hemorrhage, and the blind beggar. And I always think that leads us down a slippery slope- that only those who have enough faith in Jesus get healed. And that’s not my experience.
And even more than that- I don’t think the leprosy just came back for the other 9 because they didn’t say thank you. Just because they didn’t have the same faith as the 10th man. So what does Jesus mean? How does this faith save this 10th man? How does it make him any more whole than the other 9 who were healed?
Well, I don’t think that this saving means what we often assume- that he got into heaven because he noticed Jesus. I assume he did, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about. I don’t think Jesus healed the other 9 to test them and then tell them they weren’t getting into heaven because they didn’t say thank you.
The one who returned to Jesus saw that this wasn’t just an awesome miracle, but the beginning of a new life in Jesus. He noticed the miracle for what it was- the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. He saw with kingdom eyes. He had his eyes turned to what God was doing in the world.
He was saved- or made whole- by being welcomed into a life lived in the kingdom of God. From that day forward, this Samaritan man lived his whole life enveloped in the reality that God is in charge.
He lived his life knowing that God works good in the most desperate circumstances. He knows that God chooses him in love even when no one else would. He lives his life looking into the world and seeing God’s good intention for it. And knows that God can and will work for the life of the world. Even when it seems impossible. All 10 got the miracle of healing , only one got the life spent with Jesus, the thing that made him whole
Now, I visited the Religious Fundamentalism class at Towson this week to answer questions and someone asked why God doesn’t show up the same way God did before and speak so clearly anymore. I said that I think it’s really a matter of us not looking into the world with the same eyes. Of us looking into the world like the 9 lepers instead of the 10th. Of seeing only the miracle and missing the one who brings it. We tend to explain away miracles using science rather than letting science point us to the mystery and beauty that is God at work.
And one of the practices of the Christian community- the stuff we’ve been talking about on Tuesday nights- is to teach us to look into the world with kingdom eyes. To expect God to be at work. To remind each other of such work. To celebrate it and run out to tell about it. To come back to Jesus in those moments with thanksgiving and love. To let those moments of return and praise change us. Save us. Make us whole.
Seeing with kingdom eyes means seeing God at work within the small coincidences and miraculous moments in life. And seeing in those moments a power so far beyond ourselves- a power so good and gracious and beautiful that it could only be named God, . Of relationships healed. Of peace coming in the midst of painful anxiety. Of being put in the right place at the right time to be able to do God’s healing work. Of recognizing the sacred when everyone around us only saw ordinary life.
God will continue to heal and fight for life- that’s God’s nature. But we have the gift of being like the 10th leper- of recognizing God at work. Of sharing it. Of celebrating it. Of living our lives out of the knowledge that God is at work in this world and that we get to get up and go be a part of that work, too.