Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, October 9, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecost 18

Pentecost 18, 2022
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Psalm 111
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Leprosy is a terrible disease—which is still around, by the way, but it was much scarier in Jesus’ time, because there was no cure.  (Though, even then, leprosy did not make your limbs fall off.)  Leprosy was considered among the worst diseases, because it also made you ritually unclean.  Anyone who touched a leper was considered ritually unclean, and no God-fearing Jew would go anywhere near them, let alone touch them.

As we heard in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus encounters 10 lepers at one time.  They call to him from a distance (since lepers were forbidden to approach others, because of that ritual contamination thing).  So, these lepers stand at a distance and call out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  Ten unclean people, standing at a distance, pleading with Jesus for mercy.  Notice, that Jesus does not heal them there and then.  Instead, he says “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  And . . . as they went, they were made clean.

Several things are significant here.  First, to a pious Jew (like Jesus), there were things a priest had to do for someone who is cured of leprosy.  At some point, if you’re really curious, you can turn to the 14th chapter of Leviticus and read all about what a healed leper has to go through.  32 verses involving birds and yarn and hyssop and fresh water and shaved eyebrows and a lamb and grain and fire and blood, and anointing an earlobe a thumb and a big toe with a log of oil.  Unless the person is poor; then there’s a whole different set of things.  But the first step is to present yourself to the priest . . . AFTER you’ve been cured of leprosy.  And given what the priest has to do to make you ritually clean—all that stuff with animals and big toes and fire and stuff—I would imagine that a priest would not be too excited to see a former leper show up on his doorstep.  

But, Jesus sends them to the priests before they are cured.  Before there is any need to turn to Leviticus 14, the lepers do as he says—still covered with horrible sores—they head off toward the priests.  Jesus has not promised to heal them.  He has not done anything except to see them, and tell them to go see the priests.  AND THEY GO!  Is this faith?  Is this stupidity?  I don’t know.  But they go.

And on the way, one of the lepers realizes he has been healed.  He praises God with a loud voice, and turns back to go to Jesus.  He falls at Jesus’ feet and thanks him.  It was his natural response of gratefulness for what God had done in his life.  When Martin Luther was asked to describe what true worship looks like, he pointed to this leper for his definition: Praising God, bowing down, and giving thanks to Jesus.  Our natural response to what God has done in our lives.  Praise, worship, and thanksgiving.

And as we begin our Stewardship Campaign this week, I want to point out that one out of ten healed persons returns to God.  One out of ten.  10%.  Does that remind you of anything?  Returning 10% to God?  Isn’t that interesting?  Though every good thing comes from God, 10% returns to God.  And, though all ten are redeemed by the power of Jesus’ healing, one out of ten is dedicated to the worship of God.  Are the other nine any less healed?  No.  Any less redeemed?  No.  Any less loved by God?  Of course not.  But it is an interesting thought, as I say.  Though 100% belongs to God, and is redeemed by God, only a small percentage comes back to God.

And I could add a similar thing about our Animal Blessing this afternoon.  Our pets are our companions, and they are gifts from God.  We talk about them as if we “own” them, but we don’t really.  We don’t deserve them, but they are part of our lives.  And bringing them back to church to be blessed is a sign that we get it.  They get blessed and are then taken back home to bless us.  Blessed to be a blessing.  Okay, but I know I’m kind of reading that into the story.  So, back to the story . . .

That one healed leper comes back to Jesus, and offers praise, worship, and thanksgiving.  The other nine, we might say, are being ungrateful.  Or rude.  They are showing what my grandmother might call, “bad breeding.”  The temptation is strong to turn this story into an object lesson on the importance of writing thank you notes.  And maybe you’ve heard that kind of lesson yourself.  You could read this gospel to your kids and say, “and the moral of the story is, always say thank you when someone heals you of leprosy,” or whatever.  Don’t be ungrateful.  Saying thank you is a sign of good breeding.  

But here’s the irony about good breeding thing:  the ONE person who returns to thank Jesus is a half-breed.  A Samaritan.  A mud-blood.  Samaritans do not have good breeding; in fact the Jews would have said they have bad breeding.  The last person anyone would expect to do the right thing is a Samaritan outcast.  Which is why this is so great!  He returns because he can’t help it.  His worship of Jesus is a natural response to the joy he feels in being cleansed and redeemed.  

This is not a lesson about good manners, writing thank you notes, or being grateful to others.  If this were just a morality tale designed to remind us to say thank you . . . well, first of all, the 9 ingrates would not have been healed, right?  I mean, you can’t make the point of the benefits of being grateful if the people who aren’t grateful get the same reward, right? 

So what do we make of this story then?  Jesus finishes by saying to the leper, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  And the word used for “well” here can also mean  “whole,” or “healed”  So, maybe the point is that Jesus offers salvation to the people who are grateful.  Could that be the point?  Maybe Jesus only saves the people who are thankful that he saves them?  But not only is that kind of backward, it also doesn’t fit what the text says.

All ten lepers were healed on their way to see the priests.  The Samaritan turns around because he could not help it.  And, the other 9 were doing exactly as they were told.  All ten were healed.  It is not the gratefulness that heals this one leper.  It is not the good deed of showing thankfulness that heals him either.  Jesus does not heal him because he is grateful.  Jesus heals him because of his faith.  And you can’t say that the Samaritan’s faith is that he returned to Jesus.  If faith is what heals them, then it is the going to see the priests that is the faith, not the returning to worship Jesus.

And of course we WANT it to be his gratefulness that saves him, since we want people to be grateful.  But it seems to me that his faith is shown in this:  doing as Jesus says—heading off to see the priests while still covered with sores—trusting Jesus, despite all evidence to the contrary.  And (as I reminded you last Sunday), faith is a gift from God.  Jesus says go, and faith makes us go.  Jesus says to ten lepers, who still have leprosy, go and show yourselves to the priests.  Go forth as though you are already redeemed.  All ten lepers head off to see the priests, apparently sure enough, or desperate enough, or filled-with-faith enough that they start toward the temple.  Still lepers.  Still unclean.  Still outcasts, whom the priest will not even speak to—since they are ritually unclean—let alone perform sacrifices for.  Yet off they go, given the gift of faith, trusting that Jesus will heal them, make them well, make them whole.  And Jesus does.

100% are healed.  100% are made whole.  One in ten comes back to worship, and responds with gratefulness to God’s unmerited healing.  A small number of people see what God has done and turn around.  They sing songs of praise, they proclaim God’s love, they profess their faith, they pray together, and they share God’s peace with one another.  And then in gratefulness they come to the altar, where God feeds them with a life-giving meal.  And then they hear the reassuring words, Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.

Jesus loves the lepers, and he makes them whole because of their faith.  Jesus loves you, and does the same in your life.  Whatever it is that makes you feel unworthy, or unloved, or unclean, whatever other people say that makes you feel you don’t belong, leave it behind as you go on your way.  And then, come back to worship Jesus.  You and I cry out together, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!” And together, we bow down in praise, worship, and thanksgiving.  Together, we come to the Altar to worship Jesus, because we are all made whole.


1 comment:

  1. Father George, A fellow parishioner at my church in New York also subscribes to the St. Tim's newsletter and enjoys watching your services. I am chairing the stewardship drive here and she recommended your sermon to me. Thank you for your inspiring and uplifting words and continued blessings on you and St. Tim's.