October 9, 2016 Ecumen
A large dog walks into a butcher shop carrying a purse in its mouth. He puts the purse down and sits in front of the meat case. "What is it, boy?" the butcher jokingly asks. "Want to buy some meat?" "Woof!" barks the dog. "Hmm," says the butcher. "What kind? Liver, bacon, steak ..." "Woof!" interrupts the dog. "And how much steak? Half a pound, one pound ..." "Woof!" The amazed butcher wraps up the pound of steak and finds the money in the dog's purse.
Contrast this with the story Pam shares. Pam worked in downtown Chicago and every morning for almost a year, she encountered a heavyset, middle aged woman in a shabby coat soliciting spare change. She greeted everyone with a smile and a pleasant "Good morning." Pam almost always gave her something. Suddenly one day, the woman wasn't at her normal spot. Pam wondered what had happened to her.
Then, one beautiful day, she was back, still wearing the same, shabby coat. As Pam reached into her purse for the usual donation, the woman stopped her. "Thank you for helping me all those days," she said. "You won't see me again because I've got a job." With that, she reached into a bag and handed Pam a wrapped package. She was standing at her old spot, not looking for a handout, but for the people she recognized so that she could give each of them a doughnut. She was thankful.
We have in today's gospel the contrast of some who were not thankful with one who was exceedingly thankful. We need to start with the lives of those ten lepers. We all are at least vaguely aware of leprosy and its terrible toll on the life of those who are infected. Debie Thomas in The Christian Century tells of her experience in India as a young child and it gives us a picture of what life was like for those ten calling out to Jesus for mercy. “My little brother pointed at two figures hunched in a corner. 'What's wrong with them?' he asked. Their faces were distorted, eaten. Their fingers were half missing, and their feet were scary, mottled stumps. 'They have leprosy,' our father told us. What struck me about those two figures huddling in the shadows was how alone they were. It was as if some invisible barrier, solid as granite, separated them from the rest of humanity.” It is a terrible disease, even worse 2000 years ago when medical care was mostly non-existent. In order to control its spread, the leper was removed from his family and his community. He could have no contact with his wife, children, grandchildren. They lived as social outcasts. The emotional pain would have been extreme, as Debie Thomas captured in her essay.
Back to our gospel, those these ten lepers saw their chance to be healed. Jesus was passing by! Jesus, the one who healed others, maybe he would show them mercy. Luke wrote, “Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, 'Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"' I think we can imagine that they would have expected him to come to them, to say some mysterious words or do some actions over them and they'd be healed. But he spoke to them where they stood, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." Not what they were hoping for. They look down at their bodies. The hands of one man are still mangled. Another man looks at his leg, which ends with a filthy rag at the knee. Another looks at his skin, and finds it as repulsive as ever. There was no healing.
And yet, the master told them to go to the priest, who was the only one who could declare them healthy and whole again. So they obeyed. And as they were on their way, they were healed. Perhaps they noticed it first in one of the group...his limp was gone, his foot was whole, his face healed. Each studied his own condition...fingers grew back, a crutch thrown aside, skin as smooth as a baby's bottom, to borrow a phrase. They looked at each other in awe and wonder. Is it true? Could they possibly be truly healed? And the celebration began. We don't know if they ever made it to the priest that day, but you can be sure they reunited with their family and enjoyed the touch of a hug, the embrace of a a loved one, the kisses of their wife and children.
So why do you suppose Jesus did not work a one on one miracle with them; didn't call them over and heal them in his presence? We don't know, but we can suggest that their obedience to his command to go was the outward sign of their inward faith. It can be a lesson for us. Perhaps we are taught here that our healing, our obedience, our faith is not based on conditions we put on God. We don't say to God, “Lord, I will follow you when this disease is healed.” We don't pray, “Lord, when you solve this issue in my family, then I will go to church.” We walk in faith often before we see God act. We may hear God say in this story, “Love me despite the disease. Obey me despite the lack of money. Praise me in the darkest of nights and the worse of circumstances.” Those lepers obeyed without receiving even the hint that Jesus was healing them. They obeyed because they trusted the Savior. That is lesson one for us today; trust the Lord even when things aren't going the way we would like, obey in faith that God is with you, believe without seeing the whole picture.
I'm fascinated by the way words are used. Please follow me as I share three words from our reading that all indicate that the lepers were indeed healed but the thankful leper received even more. First is in verse 15, “one of them, when he saw that he was healed”. That word “healed” is the Greek word iatha ("hi-a-tha), a medical term meaning to mend or to repair. A broken bone is iatha, mended.
Next is verse 17, Jesus asks the thankful leper, “Were not ten made clean?” Made clean here is a different Greek word, ekatharisthesan ( kath-a-ri-dzo) the root word for our English word catheter. A medical word, it means to remove the impurities. Made clean is a very good translation. You may recall from earlier lessons that a leper had to announced his presence by proclaiming loudly, “Unclean, unclean!” And so Jesus Katharidzo'd the lepers.
And the third word is in our final verse, Jesus tells him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." “Made you well” again indicates the healing, but this is a different word again. The word is Sesoeu ( So-dzo). It means saved, the Greeks would use it for a sailor who survived a storm at sea, when he was saved, they'd say he had been Sesoeu. This was not technically a medical term. It is used in other places in the bible as well. When Matthew tells the Christmas story, Joseph is told to name the child “Jesus” because he would “save” the people from their sins...he would Sesoeu the people. Paul used this word in the familiar verse, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”... you will be Sesoeu. (Romans 10:9)
Jesus does much more than heal this man of leprosy. He allows him to put his faith into action. He allows him to return to his community. He brings him the gift of eternal life; the gift he offers to each of us. We have gathered here in the presence of one another to offer our thanks to the Lord. Sometimes that seems difficult. Life can be hard. But in good times and bad, we can always hold on to that promise of salvation. We are here confessing Jesus as Lord...we profess our faith that God raised him from the dead. We are cleansed, we are mended; we are saved, Sesoeu'd.
Ten lepers experience healing, the one thankful leper sesoeu'd, saved.. We are gathered here in community to give our thanks to the Lord. First and foremost for this free gift of salvation given to each of us by grace. But our gospel story reminds us to give thanks for other blessings we may overlook. The touch of a hand; you have touched more people in our hour together than that leper did in many years! We give thanks for family...some gathered here today, some living a distance away; but the love of family gives us hope and joy. We give thanks for the fellowship we share in the name of the Lord, neighbors worshiping together. We give thanks for a roof over our heads and food on our plates. Thanks for the miracles of medical care, the Doctors and nurses that care for us, the medicines that treat our symptoms, the staff here at the Ecumen of Litchfield who care for the residents with love and respect. God has blessed us in many ways and despite our troubles and trials we can, as the lepers did, move in obedience to God without always understanding the journey ahead. But the thankful leper is our example, give thanks to the Lord for the things he has done. Amen.
Hymn: Now Thank We All Our God pg 241