Homily: The 10th Leper The Double Outcast

In this week’s gospel, Jesus heals ten lepers. Jesus instructs them to go to the Temple in Jerusalem, as the Law requires. Nine of them obey Jesus, and head off for Jerusalem. But one of the cleansed lepers disobeys Jesus, and instead returns to thank him.

All ten lepers were healed, and that did not change because only one came back to say thanks. We don’t know what the other nine did. Perhaps they were so thrilled by their healing that they raced to their families to announce the great news to them. Their exile into uncleanness was over. Perhaps they followed Jesus’ instructions and headed immediately to the priests to have their clean state confirmed. We simply don’t know.

Giving thanks doesn’t come naturally for most of us. The pace of life can cause us to move quickly to the next important thing/appointment/activity, and we never stop to thank those who by their very presence have made the last encounter a significant event.

Their lack of choosing the best option after their healing by the nine didn’t nullify God’s goodness to them. Thank God that our bad choices don’t negate God’s goodness. The central point of this story from Luke is the goodness of God – all ten were healed, and their varied responses to the healing did not change that fact.  (© Rev. Charles Lane, Evang. Lutheran Church in America)

Gratitude is an emotion, like happiness, sadness, anger, fear, jealousy.  A feeling is a feeling—it is what it is and we really can’t control it. But we know from experience that we can often guide ourselves through our emotions, sometimes having less to do with the ones we’d like to avoid, and spending time with the ones that are helpful and enjoyable.  We have all done it.  We can nourish our negative feelings—let the anger or hurt feelings simmer, or we can decide that’s really not where we want to be, and teach ourselves ways of moving on.

There are those positive emotions we hope to encourage. Gratitude is one of those emotions that feels good, and that helps our frame of mind. Studies have shown that actually a developed sense of gratitude affects our health and our general attitude toward life.

Gratitude is unlike other emotions.  You can tell when someone you love is angry, happy, afraid.  You can read it in body language and facial expressions.  The only way we can tell people are grateful is when they say something, or do something.

I have to believe that all of those other 9 lepers were just as happy for their healing, just as glad to imagine they might be able to go home to their towns and families—perhaps for the first time in years.  They were so thrilled, they may have been thanking God the whole way, and I have to say I sympathize with them.  I’m not sure I’d be the one turning back.  I’d want to get to that priest before the Jesus miracle wore off so my life to get back to normal.  I’d be running toward my restored life, not turning around toward Jesus.

Only the Samaritan returned to thank Jesus. For this he was praised as an example of gratitude in motion.  We do the same when we return, sharing something we’re grateful for.  Having something for which to be grateful is a wonderful gift.  When we turn back to share it with others, our gift expands to include those around us.  (© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2010)

You have to keep in mind that the one who returned was a Samaritan. That presumes the other nine were Jews. They could go to the temple freely, travel freely in and out to ask for thanks from the priests.

But the Samaratan was a double outcast. As healed leper, he has an obligation to go to the temple to show himself to the priests. But as a Samaritan, he cannot obey Jesus’ instructions. Samaritans, weren’t welcome in the Temple in Jerusalem, and he had good reason in any case to expect ill treatment from those who saw the Temple in Jerusalem as being the only true one and him as a Samaritan who did not reverence the Jerusalem temple.

Perhaps we would understand better if we called him, not a Samaritan, but a Palistinian.

Can who imagine what courage it must have taken for this man to call out to Jesus in the first place? The text points out that as they cried out, the whole group kept their distance, as they would have been expected to do as lepers. Even so, the trust of every one of them in Jesus, even the Samaritan, is clear from their crying out to him. Imagine the joy this group must have felt when they realized that they were cleansed, that their status as outsiders had ended!

Well, all but one of them. As the other nine headed off toward Jerusalem, the tenth realizes that even if he isn’t a leper, he’s still a Samaritan, set apart even from the nine people he was with when they were all lepers. As the others head off for the Temple, wondering what they can offer Jesus in return, the tenth returns, “praising God with a loud voice.” And Jesus in turn praises the Samaritan — not for giving thanks to him, but for giving praise to God.

As Samaritan and leper, the tenth person healed knew doubly well what it’s like to be an outsider. And this is the person who saw and acknowledged God’s hand in his healing, in Jesus’ ministry.

What grieves me in this culture of ours is the way in which those who are privileged, no matter how limited that privilege is,  seem increasingly to use their privilege to isolate themselves from others they fear as not being, well, ‘people like us’.  Crime and poverty go together, so they object when housing that’s affordable to the poor is proposed for their neighborhood. They build gated communities. They fuel “white flight” to the suburbs, even when that gives them long, miserable commutes.

Even our churches are often structured to divide rich from poor.  The wealthy are “members” who are welcomed warmly to participate fully in worship and leadership, while the poor are targets of ‘outreach ministry’ that assumes those served have no spiritual gifts to offer the community except the chance to make us feel generous and to stay out of sight and preferably somewhere else the rest of the time.

We’re missing out in a big way, though, when, we exclude outsiders, when we don’t listen deeply and look them in the eye. We’re missing out on their spiritual gifts, their vision; we head off for a temple humming happily and we miss the chance to see God in human flesh before us.

But we have another choice. We can turn to face “outsiders” as neighbors, beloved children of God, sisters and brothers in Christ. We can turn to face Jesus, and when we do, we just might find ourselves identifying and crying out with Samaritans and outsiders everywhere, objecting to the circumstances of all who the church and society makes ‘outsiders’, and giving thanks to God who is healing and reconciling, not only the saved, but the whole world.  (© Sarah Dylan Breuer)

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