The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
10 October 2010
A Sermon Preached by Ms Rebecca Barnes, Seminarian
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In the Name of the One, Holy, and undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Several years ago, I was caught somewhat off-guard when a woman in my parish, someone with whom I had really never had any previous conversation, approached me wanting to know if she could ask me a question. “How should we approach communion?” she asked. In an almost knee-jerk reaction, I heard the words, “in prayer with thanksgiving” rolling off my lips, words that welled up less from being well catechized, but more likely shaped by believing. I recall going home that evening and pondering responses that perhaps would have been “better” but rested in the spirit of the words of the 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart who said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”(1)
In today’s Gospel we hear an extraordinary story of Jesus healing the ten lepers and one who returns to give thanks. Luke tells us that, Jesus and his disciples were “on the way to Jerusalem” in the region between Samaria and Galilee when upon entering a village he encountered ten lepers. Immediately, we hear two “buzz” words – Samaria and lepers. Observant Jews didn’t go near Samaritans, a despised minority who were considered social and religious outcasts, or lepers; both were extreme outsiders.
There are numerous references to leprosy in the Bible, but it is at best, a generic non-scientific term, both in Hebrew and Greek, for any number of skin conditions. It is not the condition known in modern times as Hansen’s disease, a condition which causes numbness, thickening and blistering of the skin, whiteness, and in extreme cases loss of body parts. As prescribed in Levitical law, lepers were considered unclean and were required to live outside of the camp. They were to cry out that they were “unclean” if anyone were to approach them. When, and if, they recovered, they were required to present themselves to a priest who would certify their healing and offer sacrifices; then, and only then, could they be restored to community.
Upon Jesus’ entrance into the village, we hear of the ten lepers crying out from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.” Unlike an earlier story in Luke 5, where Jesus heals a single leper by laying hands on him and then once he is healed commands him to show himself to the priest, he stays at a distance and tells them "Go and show yourselves to the priests." Luke then states that as they went, they were made clean. What seems striking here is that they were not already healed, but were while on the way. Indeed, all ten acted with great faith. But, Luke goes on to say “then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.”
There has been much written on this and depending on individual theological views a temptation to interpret this passage in so many ways. I don’t know how you feel when you hear this, but I can’t help but hear this I find myself with far more questions than answers. I wonder what I’d do I if were in the shoes of some of these characters. Before having evidence that I’d been healed, would I have trusted and had the faith to head out to show myself to the priest in order to be pronounced clean and restored. And once I realized I was healed, would I run even faster, doing as I was told and being obedient to Jesus’ words to present myself to the priest - after all, that was the law.
Or, what if I was the Samaritan? If I suddenly realized I was clean, would I too run back and throw myself at Jesus’ feet praising God and giving thanks? Would I be filled with extreme thanks and praise, or would my return be less enthusiastic realizing that I had had two strikes against me and even if I was healed, being a Samaritan would mean always be marginalized. Or would it? Just as Luke’s previous parable on the Good Samaritan exemplifies that the one who is the true neighbor is the one who does mercy, so too this story we see that no one is outside the healing love of God and that like so many others that Jesus healed, it was their faith that made them well. The Samaritan was not grateful out of duty or obligation, but because of his faith and healing experience of God in Jesus Christ – a healing that is not just physical but a holistic healing of the whole person.
While quarantine and isolation may still be necessary in our own time for certain medical reasons, we don’t require that lepers live outside the camp. But how quick we still are to marginalize, to cast off those we fear and to draw lines in the sand- Yes, to this, and no to that, you’re OK and you’re not, you’re in and you’re out. But the truth of the matter is, is that each and every one of us is in need of God’s healing love and mercy.
In today’s Gospel, the ancient word for the thanks expressed by the Samaritan is well known to us in the church; it is the word Eucharisto – the same word we use for our celebration of worship – Eucharist. When we gather together we lift our voices in great thanksgiving for it is indeed very meet, right, our bounden duty, and we are united as one body in Christ being fed with spiritual food and drink. Cynthia Bougeault, an Episcopal priest and contemplative teacher in one of her most recent books, the Wisdom of Jesus, describes our participation in the Eucharist as a spiritual practice whereby “Jesus was intent upon a living connection, an open channel that would allow him to remain in communion, across energetic realms, with the hearts of his beloved ones – ‘I in you and you in me so that all may be one.’”(2) Indeed as we kneel here together today, I invite you to recall the Samaritan who threw himself at Jesus’ feet praising God and giving thanks for the gift that he had received. Let us likewise express our faith through a life lived in gratitude and always remembering that no matter who we are, what we do, how busy we are, no matter what challenges life throws our way, we don’t have to go anywhere to find God, because God is with us all the time. We believe through faith and baptism, God lives and dwells in each of us through the power of the Holy Spirit – the Divine Indwelling. God is as has been said, closer than our own breath. And God cares for you; wants to be with you; and wants to love you into life…and nothing, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”(3) If to this the only prayer we offer is ‘thank you,’ it will suffice.
© 2010 Rebecca Barnes