Sunday October 13 2019 St Thomas – Revd Janet Bromley
This morning two of our readings are to do with miraculous healings – Luke’s two part story of the cleansing of the ten lepers and the Samaritan’s conversion follows the prototype of Naaman the Syrian being cleansed in the river Jordan and his return to Elisha to confess his faith in the God of Israel.
In both of these stories those who needed healing had either leprosy or a very invasive and virulent skin disease – leprosy in particular was a much dreaded disease which often forced those who had it to live on the margins of their communities – it has been compared with AIDS for creating similar stigmas and negative responses and there are many other conditions and diseases which provoke similar negativity or fear today – cancer – Parkinson’s disease – Altzheimers – We do not want to believe that its possible for us to suffer like this – we pray that it will not happen to us or people we love. And we remain strangely unaware and apart from such diseases until we ARE personally affected in some way. Maybe that has something to do with us not liking to be confronted with our own mortality.
Even when we are concerned about our health many are put off from finding out what is wrong – because in our own way we think it cannot possibly be happening to us – Naaman, a great and mighty warrior, would not have received healing without the young girl who told him of the prophet Elisha and even then he needed further prompting from his servant before he would wash himself seven times in the Jordan. Our own healing can be helped by unlikely agents too. Elisha and Jesus performed the healing miracles – the girl and the servant helped … we too can thank God for the skills and knowledge of our doctors and nurses and all who work in the health service. But sometimes their expertise is helped by others, especially when we are dealing with a life threatening disease or long term disability. Then the healing can be helped by the sharing of experiences, by conversations which inadvertently make us face up to what is happening and from direct questions which help us to work out how we feel.
Understandably, our own death frightens us, especially when it becomes a distinct possibility rather than something which we know will happen but not just yet thank you. It is now twenty five years since I was in Frenchay hospital having major surgery for breast cancer: and it was a student nurse who asked the most helpful question – “Are you afraid of dying” … as a newly ordained deacon of two months – I think most of the hospital staff thought I might have sorted that one out already – but that nurse allowed me to say ‘yes’ and then to go further and think ‘why’. For some death itself holds little fear at all – it is the way that they will die that worries them; for others what being dead holds for them is of greatest concern and for some the sense of being cheated out of what life had yet to bring; what they had worked for not coming to be is a very real feeling.
This is why the two part nature of both these stories is important, they are about more than the physical cure of the two men. Naaman, a foreigner is cured and also converted and Jesus’ miracle in Luke is likewise the catalyst for the conversion of the Samaritan. Luke’s emphasis is on the faith of the Samaritan – the attitude of the man cured – when Jesus says ‘get up, and be on your way, your faith has saved you’ it is not just the cleansing from leprosy he is talking about – for we remember that nine others had been cleansed on that day too. But it is only the Samaritan that sees and fully understands what has really happened – just as Naaman was able to say ‘and now I know’ – the leper’s seeing led him to understand – not only was he healed – BUT that he had found God’s salvation – and in choosing the Samaritan, once again Luke draws his hero from outside the chosen people – the least one expected or perhaps even expecting to be saved.
Yesterday as I was thinking through what I wanted to say this morning – my mind kept moving towards the horrific deaths of innocent babies and children in Syria and Turkey since that conflict started – but we must take heart that our ultimate healing is what happens when we die rather than what happens to us in our life on earth – although this can never take away the profound grief and shock that their families must be feeling at this moment.
Just over two thousand years ago there were others feeling just the same way after someone they had loved dearly had undergone a terrible death – the small group of women who had stood at the foot of the cross – who had watched from a distance as their Lord had been tortured on the cross – the women who had gone to the tomb and found it empty on Easter morning – who were deeply frightened and felt helpless and lonely – but the angel had a message for them – one which is important for us today as well – they are to go on to Galilee where Jesus will meet them – they will see him and be able to follow and serve him
Jesus goes ahead of us too into all places and all situations – however dark – however evil – however bleak – and in these places we too can see him and learn to follow and to serve – to bring some essence of healing into the world’s grief. And it is not just Syrian and Turkish families who need our prayers this morning – it is the thousands of men, women and children caught up in conflict and terror throughout the world – for to Jesus every human life is of infinite value – every human life is worthy of the hope of salvation.
What can we learn from the group of women in these times of violence and tragedy – that to serve is not a humiliating activity – it is a mutual giving and taking – a self surrender and mutual acceptance – an exchange of love, tenderness, help and comfort – a healing action: when we feel the horror – when we fell helpless – we too can be present and serve – remain alongside those who need healing – silently maybe – praying certainly……
But what can we pray? Imagine for a moment what the prayers of the women at the cross might have been –
we tried to be with you but we could not help you
we feel our helplessness but your nearness
we want to be with you in your suffering
and in the suffering of the whole world
we love you and hold you in our hearts
Those women wept for Jesus and he has wept for all of us – as his disciples today we are the only hands and feet and lips he has on earth and we must weep for and pray for healing – physical and spiritual – in our world today……. for all those who live in daily fear of their lives – for the dead and the dying – for the injured and for their families ………..
We cannot take away or diminish their loss, their grief, their overwhelming sadness and bewilderment – because THAT we cannot and must not do — but we can share in it with them – just as the women shared in the life and suffering of Jesus – and Jesus shares in the life and suffering of all people revealing the unending and unconditional love and compassion of our heavenly Father –
Some words from the prophet Jeremiah:
For the hurt of my people, I am hurt. I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. O that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I may weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.