Sunday, October 9th, 2016 – An Incomplete Healing, a sermon on Luke 17:11-19

You can listen to this sermon here.

Luke 17:11-19
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers 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’ 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.”

I wonder what it was like. To become a leper.[1] Surely it did not happen over night. It began with a mark on the skin and a sinking of the stomach. Followed by prayers and prayers that it goes away.

But then it gets bigger and it boils up. You chose long sleeves each day, hoping no one will see what you see. And then it spreads to the other arm. And then to the leg.

Soon, people start whispering and pointing at you in the marketplace. Until one night, around dinner time, the priest shows up at your door and you realize it’s time.

Because you know what the bible says. The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” 46He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

So the priest shows up. And at this point, maybe your family has already disowned you, or maybe they are still weeping for you. But whichever it is, you can’t even hug goodbye. You just look at each other, knowingly, before you head out the door.

I doubt there is much of a welcoming committee for new lepers exiled outside the community. After all, you are to live alone. To not be part of anything or anyone. And all the while, an even greater disease is slowly going septic throughout your entire being. A disease that says you are unwanted, unlovable, you are bad.

I wonder how these 10 lepers found each other. I wonder what gave them the courage to break the law and approach each other, so as to not have to live alone. Marginalized outcast people seem to have always known that they need to come together in order to survive. I bet they would sit around the fire at night and tell each other about their families. I bet they would help each other change their bandages, like the hard to reach ones on the back. And maybe they would take turns letting each other have the last olive each night.

And get this, we know there was a Samaritan leper among them. Now, Jews and Samaritans hated each other. They disagreed about how to worship God and where to worship God. And therefore, they did not mix, they did not socialize. But this Samaritan – this Samaritan leper has been in this group of 10 all along. And they would’ve know it too.

I can’t help but wonder if the 9 Jewish lepers saw the Samaritan leper and if, at first, there was a resistance – this impulse to do what they would have normally done, which is to exclude him. Until finally, one of them just said, “Oh, who cares. What’s the difference? Come on.” In a strange way, it was their brokenness, their leprosy, that could erase the religious and cultural borders between them.

Now the text says Jesus was headed to Jerusalem, and he was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. Which means he was right on the border of home and enemy territory. He’s walking on the train tracks the run right through the neighborhood your parents let you go through and the neighborhood your parents don’t let you go through. We know what that’s like, right? To be divided by train tracks?

And if you look at a map, for Jesus to get to Jerusalem, the region between Galilee and Samaria isn’t exactly on the way. In fact, it’s sort of like going from here to Decorah, IA, by way of South Dakota. It’s possible, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So Jesus goes near enemy territory that is out of the way. Which teaches us that sometimes following Jesus with your life will be both risky and inconvenient.

And notice that Jesus first came near to the lepers – to their village – before the lepers came near to him. Jesus makes the first move. Jesus draws near to you before you can even realize it. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus doesn’t wait for you to choose him in order for him to be part of your life.

I wonder what it was like for the 10 lepers to see Jesus drawing near to them. I imagine it would feel like it was too good to be true, that someone who walks in the name of the Lord would come to them. Which is why they approach Jesus but they don’t get too close. Don’t get your hopes up.

And then they cry out to Jesus. “Master, have mercy on us.” They don’t ask for healing. They don’t ask for food. They just ask for mercy. And to ask for mercy is to ask for a chance to start over. Jesus, can we just start over?[2]

And then it says, Jesus saw them. Do you hear that? He saw them. In his first sermon, Jesus says, “I’ve come to bring release to the captives and sight to the blind.” Jesus has come to give us sight. But first he must model that seeing.

And what does he see? Not their sickness, not their condition, but their humanity. Their brokenness. Their made-in-the-image-of-God-ness, which is to say their goodness.

And after seeing them, Jesus says, “Go and show yourselves to the priest.”

Go and show yourself to the priest. Get them, the ones who condemn you to a life of isolation and shame, get them to see in you what I see in you.

Which to them must’ve seemed utterly ridiculous.

I mean, nothing’s happened yet. They haven’t been healed. The sores on their arms haven’t dried up and gone away. Why would they go to the priest? So that he can say to them, “Yep, still a leper. Now get out.”

But here’s the thing: they go. That’s one of the miracles of this story – that these lepers would go to the priest to show their cleanness with no evidence whatsoever that they actually will be clean, healed, when they get there. They simply trust that what Jesus sees in them is true. And is of value. Trusting that Jesus sees more in them than what they can see in themselves.

So, on their way, the lepers are made clean. They are healed.

And now this is the part that stopped me in my tracks this week. One of them – and we know which one, the Samaritan – notices that he’s been healed. And he turns back and draws close to Jesus, close enough to be at his feet to say thank you, and Jesus says, “Where are the other nine?”

And there’s heartache in that question. Because it means the Samaritan came back alone.

Alone.

Remember what the law said about lepers? That they shall live alone? Now this one, who had a community when he was a leper, now when he’s healed of his leprosy is alone.

Now, I know this is supposed to be a sermon about thankfulness. About how we’re never really healed or whole until we can be thankful for our life. And how it’s good to say thank you to God.

But I just couldn’t get over the punch-in-the-gut punchline of this story – that he was a Samaritan and he’s alone.

Now, hear me out. Remember they were a group of 10. And clearly the lepers didn’t care that one of them was a Samaritan. They were a group. A family. A unit. But could it be, that when they all were healed, suddenly the Samaritan’s Samaritan-ness mattered again?

Because suddenly this family of 10 is now a group of 9 and 1. What was a community is now fractured.

And so, I’m not convinced that this is a healing story. Or at least that the healing in this story is complete.

Because I think what Jesus is intentional. Jesus is trying to give sight to the blind to something that is very important – that there is a deeper sickness, a deeper disease that still needs healing. And it is a disease worse than leprosy.

It is the disease of separateness and exclusion. The belief that some are good and some are bad. That some should be in and some should out.

And Jesus even highlights this when he says what sound like harsh words – 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?

 And we cringe at those words – this foreigner – but Jesus says them with a little wink to the Samaritan. Because Jesus is a foreigner too. He’s got those great Old Testament foreigners’ blood in his lineage and in his veins – from Ruth, the Moabite and Rahab, the Canaanite.

And Jesus is saying here, “You can follow me, but can you accept him? Because we’re both foreigners.” That’s the real disease at work here, the disease that we can lived separate and isolated from each other. The disease that we can say hurtful things about other people as if they don’t actually hurt us in the end.

And that is what we need to be healed from. This idea that we are not one human race, this idea that we are not all family. When God says – you are.

The Samaritan gets it. The Samaritan is healed and whole. Why? Because in the end he walked straight up to Jesus. He, a Samaritan, walked right up to Jesus, a Jew. Close enough to kiss his feet. As if there was no religious or cultural boundary dividing them anymore. Because there wasn’t. There is no longer Jew nor Samaritan. No longer clean or unclean. For we are one in Christ.

The Samaritan gets it. It the other 9 who don’t. They aren’t fully healed yet of their disease. And neither are we.

So, whose your Samaritan? Whose the unclean one to you? Whose the foreign one in your eyes? Is it a co-worker? Or your family member? Or your neighbor and their political signs out front? Who is it for you? And can you approach them with new prescription lenses from Jesus?

So that you may see them as Jesus does. As made in the image of God. As clean. As whole.

May our faith in Jesus make us well. Amen.

[1] I’m grateful to Alan Storey for this insightful approach to the text.

[2] Ibid.

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