Luke 17:11-19 Of Gratitude and Healing Susan J. Barnes
October 9, 2016 St. John’s, Minneapolis
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
In this pledging season, we are invited to consider God’s abundant gifts to us and with thankful hearts to pledge a portion of them toward God’s work here. With alliteration we often speak of those gifts as the three Ts: there are talents–the skills of mind and body; time, the priceless gift of life; and treasure, our monetary wealth. It is a season for gratitude. Studies show that gratitude is the most healing of emotions.
So the story of Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers is timely. A tale of healing and gratitude, it is rich in metaphor and truth.
In first century Palestine your relationships defined you. Family, clan and class were the building blocks of community life. And they were barriers. In Jesus’ kingdom vision, there were no such barriers. So, in his ministry—particularly as told in Luke–Jesus constantly reached out to include all people, especially the marginalized. The message: everyone belongs in the only family there is: the human family, God’s family.
No one was more marginalized than lepers. Their disease dissolved their identities. Lepers were outcast from their families, from all society. Exiled without care, they were left to wander and to beg for their food. Lepers traveled together. Their disease forged a bond among them that overrode the usual divisions. Among this group of ten was a Samaritan, a man whom Jews would normally have shunned. Ironically, his leprosy had brought him as an equal into relationship with nine who were Jewish.
Jesus met the ten of our story on the outskirts of a village they were forbidden to enter.
Lepers could not deny their condition. They knew and admitted their deepest need. When the lepers saw Jesus, the healer, the holy man, they did not ask for food or money. They cried out for healing, transformation. As one, they said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Who among us does not need healing of some kind? But in our self-reliant culture, it’s hard to admit our needs, and harder still to ask for help. I walked through life for years: a professional success, healthy in body, and totally in denial about my illness, the emptiness of my soul. I knew something was missing. But instead of seeking God’s healing, I read stacks of self-help books! The lepers had a lesson for me: know yourself, recognize what ails you, seek the transformative healing you need. Ask for God’s mercy.
God wants us to heal. God made our bodies to heal themselves and for the most part they do. Our immune systems throw off countless diseases, before we know they have come. We watch our wounds heal whether they’re from a scraped knee or a broken bone. With the psalmist we can say: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Every bit as vital is the unseen, the inner healing: God’s transformative balm for the wounds of our souls. Most of our metaphysical wounds seem to heal without any special care –much like the colds, the surface cuts or scraped knees on our bodies. But others we cannot ignore: a death, a professional catastrophe, a betrayal, a terminal diagnosis illness, a spiral down into addiction. Any of those may lead us to admit our need, may help us finally cry out with the lepers, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me.” wow
The image of being healed along the way is a fine metaphor. Spiritual healing is never once and for all. It’s a process that happens all along the way. We may take those blessings for granted. Like the nine lepers, we may run on: to work, to friends, to play—run on as if nothing had happened, or as if we had healed ourselves.
God heals us whether we admit it or not. And God forgives us when we don’t return thanks.
I hear God’s gracious forgiveness and even amusement in Jesus’ rhetorical question to the disciples: “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Only the Samaritan responded to the magnitude of God’s healing grace. Overcome with gratitude, praising God, he turned back, fell at Jesus feet. Healed in body already, he sought deeper transformation. He surrendered to a new relationship with God.
Ten lepers cried to Jesus for mercy and they were healed along the way. Nine went to the Jewish priests, where their healing would be certified, and they would be restored to their former communities, reconciled with their families and friends. The one who came back to Jesus, the Samaritan, gave thanks and received much, much more in return.
With his beautifully-healed flesh, the Samaritan was a new creation in body and soul. The story does not tell us what became of him. But in returning to Jesus, with gratitude and praise to God, he offered the most important thing, his whole self—his soul, his faith, his heart, and that newly restored body. With gratitude, he closed the circle of grace. His faith had made him whole. His faith had made him well.
I cannot end without saying a word about the difficult difference between healing and being cured. Wholeness, wellness is the deepest kind of healing–involving spirit and mind. It sometimes takes place when the healing of the body does not, when the medical cure for which we also pray fails. I learned that along the way in a story with which I will close.
Lois Ann Peckham was a Southern beauty whose wit was as sparkling as her smile. A smart, successful investment banker in Houston and a devout Episcopalian, she was struck with cancer in her late 30s. Bravely she went through medical treatment. At the same time, she engaged deeply in spiritual direction with a priest turned Jungian therapist. As medical options ran out, she doubled down on her spiritual work, sharing the story of her gratitude and transformation in missives to her faith family. This was thirty years ago, before the days of the internet; such writings were much more rare. Her small group of friends savored them together.
The last of these closed simply like this: “The end is coming soon. Please know, and please say to all who will hear, “Lois Ann died well”. We knew what she meant by that. Lois Ann’s faith had not cured her cancer. But her faith had made her well.
Thanks be to God.