October 13, 2013
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
In Jeremiah, the prophet sends a letter from devastated Jerusalem to those who had been rulers and elders and priests in Israel, now the captives and slaves of Nebuchadnezzar.
These displaced people, these exiles, are in grief. Thanks to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross we know grief is often experienced as anger or denial or depression or bargaining and finally, maybe, by the grace of God, acceptance. Jeremiah has a word for those who are in denial and depression and anger and bargaining.
“Thus says the Lord:
Build houses and live in them,
Plant and eat,
Marry and have children.”
In other words, LIVE! Even in a foreign city, LIVE!
Jeremiah goes a step further to say:
But seek the welfare of the city
where I have sent you into exile,
and pray to the LORD on its behalf,
for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
The Temple is ransacked, the land is distraught, the people are scattered, but that does not mean that God is no longer present and does not hear their prayers. They are to pray, even for their city of captivity.
On the one hand, this is realistic politics, that if their new city falls, they will fall with it. It is also God’s reminder that wherever we go we are a contingent people, relying on one another, needing one another, even, especially, in a foreign and difficult place.
The lepers are also displaced, exiled from home and family and community. They are contamination, contagion, dangerous, the boogie-man for young children who do not do their chores.
So in a certain village between Galilee and Samaria (we see right away it will be a story about boundaries), Jesus is approached by ten lepers. As the law of Leviticus and general fear demand, they keep their distance.
“Jesus, master, have mercy on us.”
At other times, such a cry might be for bread or water, but with Jesus more is going on.
“Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
If your disease clears up and you want to rejoin your community and family and home and Temple, you must present yourself to the priest to be okayed to come back in.
As they go, in ways beyond the description of the Gospel, they are healed, cleansed, restored. From there, nine do what Jesus told them to and go stand to be declared clean.
But one of them, a Samaritan, a foreigner, one of “them,” turns back and with a loud voice gives thanks to God.
All ten lepers are healed, but only the foreigner offers thanks and praise. Only then does Jesus says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
This story has invited so many interpretations.
One is that the Samaritan is healed while the other nine, who did not thank Jesus, find their leprosy returning as they go on their. This is theology in the key of neener-neener-neener. Once again these lepers are boogie-men. It does not sound like the Gospel to me.
A similar one says that while the nine were “healed,” this one was “saved,” since a different word is used.
The problem is that Luke does not draw so sharp a line between being healed and being saved. So many times, Gospel moments of healing mirror the resurrection. Healing is a resurrection; forgiving is a resurrection; casting out unclean spirits is a resurrection, realizing God’s love is resurrection.
Anthony Robinson points out how this story critiques our culture of narcissism, our sense of entitlement as “God’s chosen people.” Well of course, God would heal us, so why bother giving thanks for it.
Do you remember the Disney animated movie Beauty and the Beast? Gaston, the local blowhard and bully, wants to marry Belle, not because he loves her or she him, but because she is the most beautiful and that makes her the best and doesn’t he deserve the very best?
For Gaston, Belle is not a person but an object whose job it is to increase his status. In our culture of individualism, narcissism and entitlement, God is not a person with whom we must relate, but just another thing to meet our needs.
There is no need to go back and praise God or thank Jesus. After all, is healing not our due as part of God’s chosen people?
But the one under no such illusion of entitlement gives thanks and praise.
Some say that the Samaritan leper was doubly marginalized, by ethnicity and by condition. The Samaritan being doubly saved is twice as thankful.
Here is my take on the story: God makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.
Life, new life, was given to all 10. Not because of worth, not because of their faith. Not because they earned it. In Jesus we see that God loves all, but especially those at the margins who are most in need. The nine healed lepers do exactly what Jesus says, so there is little fault to be found there.
But one turns and praises God, and only then is faith mentioned.
Faith does not earn us healing. Faith is our gratitude in answer to the love which has set us free before we even thought or knew how to ask. It is not the case that the healthy ones are loved by God and those poor, sick ones, well, bless their hearts. The God we see through Jesus loves all.
If we move past our individualism and narcissism and entitlement we also start to see that while loving to all, Jesus prefers to hang out at the margins where the need is greater, and the thanks are greater still.
God loves us. God heals us. God sets us free. Thanksgiving for the saving acts of God is the beginning of faith, the beginning of worship.
So what are you thankful for?
How has God touched your life recently with new life?
And let us say: Thanks be to God.