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.’ [NRSV]
Wait! Don’t run away!
I know—a top ten list can be quite boring and tired. Believe me, I’m not a huge fan. For some reason, however, this story about 10 people inspires me to share 10 reasons why I really, really like this story. So here we go: ten reasons why this healing tale is wonderful:
Okay, this is a personal reason. When I was ordained into the United Church of Christ, one of my mentors, Rev. James D. Eby, preached a sermon on this passage and he really spoke directly to me. Being a minister is no picnic. Basically, every day that I do this crazy work I am reconsidering it. And that was Jim’s point to me at my ordination service.
May your living out of your vocation be about returning to give thanks.
I have carried that with me since then. The moment I am not finding joy and having fun—if I am not returning to give thanks—it is time for me to move on to something else. In the meantime, though, in my living out of my vocation as a minister, I will try my best to use my gifts passionately and to live a life of gratitude for all the opportunities in this life of sharing compassion, building bridges; laughing, connecting, and transforming perspective. But you don’t have to be an ordained minister, obviously. This can apply to everyone.
May your living out of your vocation be about returning to give thanks.
9. 5 Little Ducks
5 little ducks went out one day, over the hill and far away.
Mother duck said: Quack, quack, quack, quack!
But only 4 little ducks came back.
The song goes on until none of the little ducks return:
Sad mother duck went out one day, over the hill and far away.
The sad mother duck said “Quack, quack, quack.”
And all of the five little ducks came back!
Yes, it is about numbers and returning home. Sometimes the most simple is the most profound. Little children [and all of us, I think] can resonate with the story of the ten.
10 lonely lepers went out one day, bordering Samaria and Galilee.
Jesus said to them: Go, go, go, go!
And only one thankful leper came back.
But in this story…
8. All 10 of the lepers are still healed.
Jesus, in the story, doesn’t ask for the lepers to return. He actually tells them to go. All ten of them are healed because they go. In the process of asking for mercy and then believing that they have it, the ten go out into the world as new people. And this leads us to ask the question:
7. What is a Leper?
In the New Testament Greek language, the term leper meant a lot of things. Leprosy is a real disease of the skin, of course. But the word used in the NT gospel stories can mean many different types of skin diseases and disorders. Some scholars even think that leper does not have to mean someone with a skin-related disease. Leper could mean simply one who is marginalized. Often I notice that we read these stories at a distance. We do not see leprosy [this type of specific skin disease] on a day to day basis, right? So it is tempting to discount the story and read it as ancient literature that doesn’t mean anything.
But think about 10 marginalized human beings, and now it’s personal. We do not have to look hard to notice people who are marginalized in our communities. There are people we push to the margins of society for lots of reasons. Maybe they don’t have much material wealth. Perhaps they are not originally from this country. Maybe they have struggled with addiction. Some have different worldviews or don’t share the same religious traditions; some eat different foods; others don’t follow certain social conventions. The list goes on. We marginalize people all the time! We push them as far away as we can, hoping that we won’t have to talk or interact with them. If we do see them, we try our best to ignore them. It is AWFUL to feel marginalized.
If you have ever felt left out of a group or family, shunned by others, or singled out as the “weird” or “alien” or “outsider,” you can resonate.
So the story tells anyone who has ever felt marginalized that they are accepted just as they are in God’s eyes. The world, however, doesn’t accept them and this is not ignored. But Jesus of Nazareth pays attention to them and cares for them. It is a message to everyone that God cares for all of our “marginalized” selves. But not only that, the marginalized in the story [the lepers], are held up as shining examples. They are the heroes, and not those who criticize, push people away, and ignore.
If only that actually happened more often in the world, am I right?
Healing is an action that both Jesus [the healer] and the receiver of the healing participate in together. When someone is healed, it is not just because Jesus waved his magic wand and then everything was great. No! The person receiving the healing had to do something. He/She had to change perspective, be transformed, accept mercy or forgiveness, forgive another perhaps, walk away from evil and hate, or simply say thank you and mean it. In each healing story, people meet Jesus as they are and where they are. This is powerful stuff, because you and I often claim that God cannot love us because we have been so bad or because we are so far away from forgiveness. Sometimes we are so hard on ourselves and start to believe that there is no way for us to heal. But that is not true. Everyone has the opportunity to heal. We have built-in mechanisms within ourselves to heal. Sometimes we need to reactivate them; others times we need someone to remind us; some days we have to physically move or change a behavior in order to break out of our unhealthy living. Healing is more than a band aide. Healing is real, ongoing, and can become a day to day process of our lives. How long did those ten lepers walk before they were all healed? We don’t know, and that’s the beauty of it! It could have been days, months, years! Healing is for all.
5. Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.
Healing is nuanced. In Greek, the word for faith has made you well is sesoken, from the root sozo. It can be translated any of these ways: healed, made well, saved. Healing is holistic and depends on what the person who is being healed actually needs.
4. Luke’s details
This Gospel is chocked-full of juicy details. Luke’s authors want us to dig into those details and find various meanings in the story. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Okay, that’s important. Jerusalem was the center of the conflict, the heart of the Greek and Roman occupations–the place in which the climatic end to Jesus’ life story would take place. But Jesus took a strange route–walking the border of Samaria and Galilee.
3. Samaria and Galilee
In order to go to Jerusalem, why in the world would someone walk the border of Samaria to get there? It is out of the way. Luke begs us to pay attention. This reveals that Jesus is not some sort of status quo religious leader, on his way to claim power in Jerusalem and maintain things as they are. Jesus went looking for Samaritans, who were one of the most-marginalized groups of the time. We are reminded that the categories we create for each other are ridiculous and harmful. This story wakes us up with a glass of cold water and says:
God doesn’t classify people or avoid them, so why should you?
2. The one of ten who returns to give thanks is a Samaritan.
Yep. The hero, the one who returns, is indeed a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans did not like each other because of their long history full of imperialism, displacement, war, and prejudice. Jews and Samaritans, at one point in history, were actually the people of Judea—one nation. But Babylonian and Assyrian empires conquered them and split them up. Eventually, Samaritans and Jews became rivals because their cultural and religious identities had been frayed. Sadly, this might as well be modern-day history. There are countless examples of people who now hate each other because someone from the outside conquered their land and split them up, drawing borders where there were none. A simple exercise is to look at maps from various eras. Notice how borders change around the world. War, conquest, colonization. Today we can look at what is happening all over the globe and clearly see how we are taught to hate certain people. But the story challenges us with a refreshing perspective. Jesus, a Jew, makes a point to tell us that the thankful leper who returns is a Samaritan. This is not the first time that Jesus does this. It is about reconciliation and also justice. The hatred we have for certain nationalities or cultures is wrong and becomes a disease that spreads quickly. It is time to heal wounds and to forgive, but we won’t do that until we stop exalting and using hateful, violent, and prejudice-filled words and actions. The Samaritan is our brother or sister.
1. Gratitude, gratefulness, and authentic love
I am not a big fan of thank you notes. The reason is because when I give someone something, I really do it expecting nothing in return. So when I receive a Hallmark thank you card, I never cry or laugh out of great joy. But I have been changed and filled with immeasurable joy when someone has authentically taken the time to find me and thank me personally. It is incredibly wonderful. Sometimes when a person approaches me to give thanks, I am so humbled and moved that I turn around from that experience and find someone else who I should be thanking. You see, gratitude, gratefulness—this is contagious, friends. We do not show our gratitude enough. How often have you shown or told a friend or loved one just how much they mean to you? When was the last time you took the time to find someone who has blessed you or mentored you, just to say thanks. No strings attached.
May the story of ten move you to healing.
May it move you to accept people as they are, no matter what.
May we live with gratitude. Amen.