New Testament Reading
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[b] approached him. Keeping their distance, 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 preparing this week, the theme of gratitude was in my thoughts…it made me think of my grandpa, or PePa.
PePa was someone that really believed in me. I always felt loved and respected by him. No matter what I was going through, or when I was acting out or having major growing pains…even as a teenager, he always had the effect of seeing something worthwhile in me. He was a huge encourager, I loved being around him.
When I graduated from UK, I wanted to change the world, so I went to work for a non-profit youth ministry. I didn’t make hardly any money, but my PePa still supported me and was proud of me. When I graduated from UK, I didn’t have any debt because of the generosity of my parents. After about 3-4 years or so of being on staff with this non-profit, I had accumulated quite a bit of debt. I had made a decision at that point to move to Atlanta to work in partnership with the PCUSA and another non-profit. My PePa had me over for dinner, and asked me to write down all of my debts. I was so embarrassed giving him that sheet of paper. But, when I did, he sat down, didn’t question anything, and wrote a check out to me for the full amount of my debts. He then said, “you need to start in Atlanta a new page and not have any financial debt to worry about. I believe in you and what you are about.”
My debt was gone financially, but I also felt something more, a deeper healing knowing that my PePa believed in me.
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 handout, 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.
On a run a few years ago, I came across a good friend that I have not talked with in a while. He was walking his dog and had a protective collar around his neck. I stopped to talked to him and find out how he was doing. He had major neck/back surgery, his work had changed dramatically and he was forced out as a partner, and he had to miss a major mountaineering trip that he had been planning for months…yet, he made a great statement: I’m alive and grateful for the life I live. He was experiencing wellness in the midst of hard things. He knew that Jesus believed in him and he had gratitude, which can lead to the deeper healing.
Friends, we have done an amazing job of welcoming the community this year in so many ways! 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.