Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[b] approached him. Keeping their dis- tance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’[c] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
As I was thinking of this past week’s lectionary, I was thinking about what it means to be well.
I know that I like to exercise, I also know my need to be around deep friends that believe in me and I in them, and I try to do self-care as I also practice others care. But, what does it mean to be well? I think sometimes, we have to be led into the deeper parts of who we are…and sometimes that means confronting ourselves and seeking out others who may be different from us that can give us perspective.
St. Francis of Assisi, the great Catholic medieval monk did just that. He walked away from wealth and prestige, fell in love with simplicity, and lived among those that were marginalized.
Lepers, those with this horrible disfiguring disease that were considered outcasts, especially taught St. Francis some things about life and wellness.
Richard Rohr has been writing about St. Francis in this past week’s devotionals, here’s a quote from St. Francis:
The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord . . . led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and then I left the world. —Francis of Assisi
Augustine Thompson, a Dominican friar, writes:
This encounter with lepers, not the act of stripping off his clothing before the bishop, would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. . . . Wherever the lep- rosarium was, Francis lodged there with the residents and earned his keep caring for them. . . . It was a dramatic personal reorientation that brought forth spiritual fruit. As Francis showed mercy to these outcasts, he came to experience God’s own gift of mercy to himself. As he cleaned the lepers’ bodies, dressed their wounds, and treated them as human beings, not as refuse to be fled from in horror, his perceptions changed. What be- fore was ugly and repulsive now caused him delight and joy, not only spiritually, but also viscerally and physically.
Francis’s aesthetic sense, so central to his personality, had been transformed, even in- verted. The startled veteran sensed himself, by God’s grace and no power of his own, re- made into a different man. Just as suddenly, the sins which had been tormenting him seemed to melt away, and Francis experienced a kind of spiritual rebirth and healing. Not long after this encounter, later accounts tell us, perhaps in allegory, that Francis was walking down a road and met one of these same lepers. He embraced the man in his arms and kissed him. Francis’s spiritual nightmare was over; he had found peace.
Jesus also understood that embracing those on the margins would lead to wellness within one’s self and be a blessing for others.
Jesus, in our passage, is on a journey towards Jerusalem still…he passes through a region and there are some men who meet him. They have leprosy, which could be interpreted not only as leprosy, but some other skin disease. Because of their ailment, they could not be a full part of the community, they were outside the village, marginalized. So, from a distance, they call out to Jesus. They recognize that Jesus is someone who has a standing in society, they call him Master. They ask him for pity…they could be asking for a hand- out, a healing, or simply some kind of connection.
Jesus replies, from a distance, go and show yourselves to the priests…this was customary…priests didn’t have healing power, but if someone is healed, they have to prove it to the priests, and the priests go through a process of purification and then declare folks to be able to be in community again, restored.
As the ten are going, they are healed along the way. One, only one, praised God and went back to find Jesus. When he found him, he recognized that Jesus had healed him, and fell at this knees, bestowing honor and deep gratitude towards Jesus.
And, the kicker, for the first time in this story, the healed man who returns is identified as a foreigner, and, even more, a Samaritan. Jesus had crossed cultural boundaries, had healed and restored a foreigner to community…showing immense compassion and love for this person.
Jesus goes on to ask, “where are the other 9”…they are assumed to be Jewish folk, part of Jesus’ tribe, folks that should have known better and were shown the same affection as the Samaritan by Jesus, but they didn’t return…maybe they got distracted, or didn’t want to travel back, or wanted to get on with the process of being restored…they were, after all, doing what Jesus had asked them to do. Not bad folks…but, the Samaritan responded to the healing with gratitude.
So, Jesus then heals him even more, not just the physical healing, but uses a different word for healing in the last verse from verse 15…in the last verse Jesus uses “sozo”. Which means wellness or well being. Jesus not only takes away the physical disease, but gives this man peace, wholeness, or wellness. He cleanses him on the outside and the inside..the whole person.
In other words, this man’s gratitude opens him up the fullness of God’s Presence, the fullness of the good news of the Kingdom of God, release from what is keeping him back on the inside, what voices or fears or anxieties that have prevented him from living, from having you, from knowing that someone truly believes in him.
Friends, so many things about this past year have been magnificent in and through our church…our community has been blessed by your actions, you serve them well in conversation and in welcoming through events and by simply being you! Now, we have the awesome privilege of continuing to welcome our community, but also going to them and showing them that they can be well also, that they can be loved…and it starts with us knowing that God believes in us, which enables us to be believe in others and to demonstrate to them God’s love as Jesus did…and in so doing, bringing wellness to our lives through gratitude, and bring wellness in the lives of others. That’s good news.