11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
During my time in seminary, out in Berkeley, some of my favorite and most memorable nights were when a bunch of us would bring what food we had out to the courtyard. We’d fire up the grill, pour a glass of wine, and spend time talking, laughing, and dreaming about the future.
Every once in a while, during one of these nights, I’d find myself pulling back from the group a little bit and becoming aware of something bigger going on. I was able to see the blessing of friendship and community in a very real and present kind of way. I was filled with a sense of gratitude each time I found this happening. And then one of us would just come out and say it: “Isn’t it just great when we get together like this?” In the naming of that blessing, we give thanks.
We have these experiences often, don’t we? We have experiences that are enhanced by simply naming the blessing of that time. It could be sitting by the river and reading a book on a nice, fall afternoon. It could be gathering for dinner with friends and family who you haven’t seen in far too long. Or it could even be taking a step back from homecoming festivities to notice the blessing of friendship and community.
There’s a blessing in simply doing these actions, but it takes on a bit of a different character when we can name that blessing and be present with it in that time and space. This is what our Gospel story is getting at today.
Jesus is traveling through an in-between land. He’s not quite in Galilee, but not in Samaria either. He’s walking the land in between. And it’s worth noting that these two regions do not like each other. Galileans saw Samaritans as unclean heathens who were not worthy of being seen and respected.
Jesus enters a village and ten lepers approach him, but they keep their distance. They call out and plead with him to have mercy on them. Jesus sees them and gives them a command. He tells them to go show themselves to their priests. We then hear that as they went on their way, they were made clean. Turns out the priest didn’t have any special remedy or anything like that. Rather that it was in the obedience and turning in a new direction, that they were made clean.
Then we hear that one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned around to give thanks. There’s something about seeing and recognizing something in the present moment, and being able to give thanks that increases our awareness of God. Jesus sees these lepers and sends them on their way to healing. The Samaritan leper sees that he has been healed and his only response is to return to Jesus and give thanks.
After the cured leper gives thanks, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.”
The words of Jesus healed the man of his leprosy. The man’s thankful response made him well. There’s a substantial difference between treating an illness and treating a person — between being made clean and being made well.
I’m reminded of the Robin Williams film Patch Adams. In this movie, Williams plays Patch, a rather unorthodox medical student. He sees offering medical care as not only treating diseases, but also treating people. He doesn’t focus so hard on treating the illness that he loses sight on also treating the person.
He doesn’t want to help people just survive. He wants to help them live. He focuses on wholeness. He uses laughter as a treatment. There are some incredible scenes where he goes into the children’s hospital wearing his white coat and red clown nose.
He does this because he knows that there is more to making someone well than just curing their illness.
At the end of the movie, he’s brought before a board of physicians to defend himself against a malpractice suit. He gives an impassioned speech which crescendoes with the line, “You treat a disease, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you win!”
There’s a difference between being made clean and being made whole.
Having eyes to see that difference, and to see those in need around us, is something so important. So often we can get caught in the rat race of what we’re supposed to do that we sometimes don’t see things that are right in front of us. We spend so much time trying to be the smartest, or the most athletic, or the best parent, friend, or volunteer that we can sometimes be blind to the people in our community who might be crying out for mercy.
There’s an ancient rabbi who says that when Moses passes by the burning bush, the bush has always been burning.
This time, Moses finally stopped long enough to realize it.
We pass burning bushes and people crying for mercy everyday — all through the day. But we move so fast and we can be so pre-occupied that we just miss it.
Where are the burning bushes that you encounter in your everyday life?
Who are the people from the fringes of your life who are crying out to you for mercy?
What would it look like to spend this next week intentionally doing what we can to see those around us?
This past Wednesday, when we did the healing service, there were a number of us who were struck at how sacred and holy it is to come forward and say, “I don’t have it all together. I’m broken. And I need to be healed.”
In that moment of humility, we are seen and we are loved by a God who is so much greater than our faults and our shortcomings. We are called forward to be healed and made whole by a God who constantly brings life out of death. And then we are sent out as messengers of this good news to bring mercy and wholeness to the world.