Ten Lepers healed

Sermon by Fr David McGladdery, St Thomas’ Church, 9 October 2016

“Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17. 11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 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. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

What do we know about the lepers? We know that leprosy is a terrible, debilitating disease – and that lepers in the Palestine of Jesus’ time were considered totally unclean and totally unacceptable to the point of exclusion. Lepers could not live, worship, eat, walk or talk amongst “normal” people. They were excluded from every part of community life. They were forced to live as best as they could at a distance from everyone else – surviving on what they could, dependent on the leavings and charity of others. They had nothing – and no hope – other than to wait for death watching the rest of the real world, real life happen out of range, just beyond their reach.

Ten of these lepers met Jesus – no doubt they called out from a distance; Jesus with love for them in his heart, healed them and told them to go show themselves to the priests. Only the priests could validate their healing and give them permission to re-join the social world.

They were healed. Clean. Acceptable. A miracle! Now the world lay at their feet once more – a world of hope and possibility. Off they went. Jesus loved them and watched them. Jesus had given them back their lives – made them whole once more – he made no demands, he put no conditions on their healing – Jesus just stood there and watched them with love – nine of the ten went on their way; one remained.

But this is not a Gospel about good manners…it is not a Gospel about why we must say thank you; like a well-brought up child after a party, being sent back down the path to thank friends’ mum… no…think about it – the Gospel message of the healing of the ten lepers is much more profound.

There is no clearer picture of what our culture is like – and what our own lives are like than the one we have in this Gospel passage of Jesus standing there watching the those nine healed, ecstatic people running with all their might – going off to live their lives, make their plans: so much to do, so little time to do it. The issue isn’t lack of gratitude; the issue is that 9 people were so full of the excitement of the gift they had received; they didn’t need the giver anymore. It wasn’t that they were ungrateful, it was that they were busy. That’s all – just very, very busy getting on with the hectic business of living.
But hang on a minute! That’s us. That’s our world. Those of us who have received so much – are so busy running to make use of what we have given – we lose sight of the giver.

Only one, when realised that he was healed, stopped and turned back towards Jesus and saw Him standing there, looking at him and loving him. Only one was drawn towards Jesus by the wonderful gift he had received. But the one who turned round and went back to Jesus – that one knew Jesus had more to give. Nine had been given their lives back, but only one was made whole by the total love received by coming into Jesus’ presence. And that one was a Samaritan – a foreigner. One whose loyalties and allegiances lay elsewhere. Perhaps to stop and turn to Jesus and receive the whole of His love, we have to be foreigners. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that our allegiances and loyalties, by instinct, lie elsewhere. The foreigner didn’t fit into the world quite like the others, he didn’t have as much to run to. So he alone could see beyond the gift to the giver, he alone could see the Lord more clearly – he alone could turn towards the presence of Jesus.

That is the hard message of this Gospel. We have all been long established in the land, we are all very busy indeed, busy running with all our might– it takes courage to step aside from what makes us run so hard and fast. It takes courage to turn and face Jesus and to know that simply to stop and wait in his presence and look at him looking at us with love in His eyes is enough to make us whole. Stop, turn, look – and hear Jesus say: “your faith has made you well.” Amen.