In the name of God, who is love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Every single one of them remember that terrible moment. The moment they first glimpsed down and then stared in horror as they noticed their skin lesions. Leprosy! Suddenly, the world came crashing down!
Oh, a few tried to hide the offending skin for a while. Others gave in immediately to the inevitable. All of them ended up in the same condition. Turned out from family and home and work and worship. Clothes torn and the word “unclean” never far from their lips. Always careful to keep their distance from those who had not been stricken by this dread disease.
They’ve banded together out of necessity. They really don’t have a lot in common. They come from all walks of life and from different places. One even comes from Samaria. It took a while for the rest of the group to accept him. In their previous life, the others wouldn’t have known him, wouldn’t have wanted to know him. No good Jew has any contact with a Samaritan, but then, the others aren’t really “good Jews” now, are they? Leprosy must mean God has condemned them, at least that’s what the “good Jews” say.
They get by, living off the land, begging people to help them out – from a distance, of course. It helps to be together. They can pool their resources and abilities. The company keeps them from complete despair.
Even as outcasts, they hear rumors of hope. There’s a holy man who seems to care about people like them. People everyone else seems ready to throw in the garbage. He’s called Jesus of Nazareth. Nazareth. A nothing little village, but who cares. They feel like nothing little people. He seems to be heading to Jerusalem. Maybe they can find him if they stay near the route to Jerusalem. Maybe he’ll care for them.
One day, off in the distance, they see a group of people walking toward them, heading to the village they’ve been near to beg for help. More people start coming from the village, and they hear the excitement. They hear that name—Jesus. It’s him!
A few brave ones immediately move as close as they can, hearts beating with hope. Some others timidly follow, a glimmer of hope calling them forward. Ten lepers are on the move. The rest stay right where they are, sure no one could possibly help them, no one would want to help them. The crowds glare at the ones approaching and insist they stop. Finally, the ten lift their voices together, calling, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
All faces turn toward the ten. Many faces are filled with disgust and condemnation. They don’t even have to say “unclean” because “unclean” is written all over those faces. But the face of Jesus and of some who are closest to him are filled with compassion. Written on these faces are an awareness of suffering, a desire to help, and love. And then Jesus speaks. “Go,” he says, “and show yourselves to the priests.”
All ten immediately head into town to find the priests. The end of their exile is in sight if the priests declare them clean once more. They can’t wait to get back to family and home and work and worship. They’re planning how to make that happen, hoping they can find their way back to the lives they once knew.
Some are so intent on their task that they run. Others go more slowly, making sure they allow time for the healing they hope will take effect. One looks at his skin, sees that the lesions are gone, and turns back to Jesus. He praises God for this blessing and kneels at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks. He’s grateful even before he’s restored to the life he once knew.
Funny, the one who gives thanks is that Samaritan. The outsider, the one who had to struggle to be accepted even by a group of outcasts. Seems like he would be bitter, but instead he’s grateful. And Jesus tells him, “Your faith has made you well.” He was already healed physically. It seems that Jesus is talking about a wholeness that comes because of his faith-filled gratitude. Like gratitude unlocks the key to the deep healing that leads to wholeness.
What about the other lepers? The lepers who had no hope and didn’t ask for healing? Maybe some of them become bitter. Maybe others find seeds of hope in their hearts. They begin to learn to be grateful for the good that comes their way. In the midst of their genuine suffering, they find sources of gratitude. And perhaps another day, they will find some of Jesus’ followers who have learned to be compassionate. Perhaps on that day, they will have enough hope to ask for healing and enough gratitude to move toward wholeness.
I’ve been telling you a story set in the world of first century Palestine, fleshing out today’s Gospel lesson.1 How does this story relate to our stories in the twenty-first century? How do we each connect to this story? And where is God in our stories?
Are we in need of physical healing? Of course, with the advance of modern medicine, physical healing has become much more common. People with God-given abilities keep working to learn how to bring healing to many more people. These healers may be people of faith; certainly, their compassion comes from the ultimate source of love—the God who is love.
Yet, not all are healed physically. Disease and death are still sources of suffering in our world. We also may feel like outcasts. We may sense a separation from community that brings emotional and spiritual pain. Suffering can come in many forms and from many sources. Natural disasters, sinful patterns in society, and intentionally hurtful individuals may cause suffering. Without meaning to, we as individuals may be stuck in sinful patterns that harm those around us and harm ourselves. Whatever the source, we all suffer at some time.
Even when we are suffering, we can experience joy. Learning to be grateful is a powerful way to find joy even while suffering. Are we learning to be grateful to God? To be grateful to those who show God’s love? If so, we are growing toward wholeness.
Some of us may not be suffering greatly. Perhaps we are like those in the crowd who saw the lepers. We’re looking in on the suffering of others. Are we full of condemnation for those who suffer? Or are we growing in compassion for those who suffer? Are we doing what we can to bring hope and healing to those around us, especially those in greatest need?
Here at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, we strive to be a faith community where hope, gratitude, and compassion grow. In whatever way you connect to St. Andrew’s, we want you to know that you are loved as you are. We want to cultivate hope and gratitude together with you. We want you to sense that your suffering is not the final word, that joy can also be found in life. And as you move toward healing and wholeness, we want to encourage you to then reach out in love to others who are suffering. What’s more, as a faith community, we want to reach out in love beyond St. Andrew’s to our city and world, especially to those individuals and neighborhoods and regions in greatest need.
A beautiful way to think about our life together is found in what we call The Baptismal Covenant. I’m going to ask the last five questions of The Baptismal Covenant. So, you can listen or, if you’d like to follow along, turn in the red Book of Common Prayer to page 304 near the bottom. The response to each question is “I will, with God’s help.” That response is so important because we aren’t in this alone. God helps us. Plus, we say this together because we help one another as we grow together in hope, gratitude, and compassion. Here are those questions on page 304.
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? I will, with God’s help.
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will, with God’s help.
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God’s help.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God’s help.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help.
Together, may we continue to grow in hope, gratitude, and compassion. Amen.
1Background information for this “fleshed out story” came from commentary on Luke 17:11-19 in the following:
Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary
The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (ten volume set)
Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels