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The Gratefulness Factor

Luke 17:11-19 [NRSV]

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.’

gratefulThe adjective grateful means “thankful.” Gratefulness is an abstract noun formed by adding the suffix -ness to grateful and therefore means the state of being thankful.

Being grateful is a practice that all of us should take seriously. Why? Because gratefulness positively affects our brain function, according to a variety of studies out of the University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.[1] 

When you are grateful, your brain floods with reward chemicals. When your brain is experiencing gratitude focused on a specific person, i.e. thanking someone for how they have treated you, your brain fills with pleasure chemicals. It’s like eating chocolate—your reward center is activated and so your brain learns to crave that feeling again and again.

Secondly, when you are grateful, your anxiety and depression symptoms may lessen. Research shows that even something simple like keeping a daily gratitude journal has interesting effects on people suffering from anxiety and depression. Those who are anxious sleep better; those who are depressed experience more positive changes; their depressive symptoms rate better on regular mood tests. Gratefulness challenges and upsets the negative thought cycle that can send us into anxiety and depression.

Third, a grateful brain means that your hypothalamus is working better. Gratitude activates the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating all sorts of bodily functions, including hunger, sleep, body temperature, metabolism, and how the body grows. In 2009 studies using MRIs of brains showed that the limbic system [of which the hypothalamus is a part] is activated when we feel gratitude. Gratefulness actually makes our metabolism, hunger and other natural bodily functions work more smoothly.

Furthermore, when you’re grateful, you are more resistant to stress. Your body and brain, in a state of gratefulness, have the ability to bounce back from stressful events like trauma, homelessness, grief, or job loss.

I mentioned earlier that gratefulness helps you sleep better, and this factor contributes to you experiencing more positive emotions overall. When you are grateful, suggest some psychologists, your prefrontal cortex where memories are formed is being trained to retain positive information and reject negative info over time. Makes me think that practicing gratitude just might lead to increased happiness, right?

Absolutely, says David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar who gave a Ted Talk all about the link between gratitude and happiness.

Since 1953, Brother David has been a monk of Mount Saviour Benedictine monastery in New York, dividing his time between hermitic contemplation, writing and lecturing. He’s the co-founder of gratefulness.org, supporting ANG*L (A Network for Grateful Living). I invite you to listen to his Ted Talk or to check out his webpage. Some really good stuff there. To sum up some of his Ted Talk, Mr. Steindl-Rast says that “there are many things for which we cannot be grateful, but there is no moment for which we cannot be grateful, because in every moment, even difficult ones, we have the opportunity to do something.” He makes it clear that gratitude is not realizing that people are worse off than you. So pointing to be people going through tough times or those in horrific situations and feeling lucky or better off is NOT gratefulness. Instead, being grateful requires an appreciation of the positive aspects of your life—not comparing your life to another’s. So you can be grateful by appreciating even the simplest things in your life. And you can be grateful when you show appreciation for another person, which is openly expressing gratitude. Finally, Steindl-Rast says that being grateful occurs when something valuable to us is freely given. We do not earn it; rather, it is a gift.

davidgratefulGratefulness is the theme of the Luke story about a Samaritan leper giving thanks. I absolutely love this story, because I think it speaks to people on a universal level and you don’t even have to be a religious person to be blessed by it. There are obvious clues in this story as to how this thankful person was seen by others. He was a leper, so he was untouchable and lived on the margins of society. And, he was a Samaritan, so he was hated for his nationality, ethnicity, and religious tradition. But Jesus of Nazareth didn’t care about those things. Jesus chose to heal this Samaritan leper; he made him clean, along with nine others. The now-healed Samaritan leper realized his new situation. He shouted out with joy. He turned back, approached Jesus, got on his knees, and he said thank you. And then Jesus sent him out—on a new path of gratefulness, a new life.

I think the story speaks for itself. Practicing gratefulness can change our lives for the better. So to close, how can we be grateful like the Samaritan leper?

  1. We have to stop and give full attention to the moment we are in. This means letting go of those future and past-focused thoughts.
  2. We need to look at our lives right now and ask: What am I grateful for in this moment? What opportunity is life presenting me, for which I can be grateful? Keep it simple. Consider your senses, the weather, your ability to learn something, a pet, food, a friend, your body, or nature. Think of each of these things as a gift as opposed to a given.
  3. Practice this gratefulness thinking especially in times of transition or when you feel particularly vulnerable to stress.
  4. For some, keeping a record of gratefulness is a very meaningful and powerful thing. Consider writing down your gratefulness in a gratitude journal.
  5. Lastly, express your gratitude to others. There are many ways to do that: short FB messages, a kind email, a phone call, even a text! Taking a risk to acknowledge someone’s kindness, patience, or character is powerful.

So find ways to start or to keep practicing gratefulness. Make grateful living your way. Become aware that every moment is a gift—you have not earned it or bought it. You don’t know if there will be another moment given to you. So this very moment is an opportunity and gift. What are you grateful for?

[1] Alex Korb Ph.D. PreFrontal Nudity: The Grateful Brain, The neuroscience of giving thanks, Posted Nov 20, 2012.

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How Do We Get Distracted?

Luke 10:38-42

distract
What makes you feel distracted?
What distracts you from being your true self?

Facundo-Cabral
Facundo Cabral, Argentine singer, songwriter, and philosopher (1937-2011), once wrote about distraction and depression. Here is an excerpt:

You are not depressed; you are distracted. You believe that you have lost something, which is impossible, because everything that you have was given to you.  You did not make a single hair of your head so you can not own anything.  In addition, life does not subtract things, it liberates you from them. It makes you lighter so that you can fly higher and reach the fullness. From cradle to grave, it is a school, and that is why those predicaments that you call problems are lessons, indeed.

Liberate yourself from the tremendous burden of guilt, responsibility, and vanity, and be ready to live each moment deeply, as it should be.

Love till you become the beloved, and even more! Love till you become the love itself!

This NT Gospel story is about distraction and about choosing a better way.
Here’s how it
goes:

Martha extends cultural hospitality to Jesus.
Mary sits and listens to Jesus’ teachings.
Martha completes the obligatory tasks of hospitality.
Martha complains that Mary has neglected said tasks.
Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her.
Jesus responds that Mary has chosen the better activity.

This story follows the parable of the Samaritan. This is a parallel tale.
Samaritan story: a dying man on the side of the road, but the obligation to help is not there for priest & Levite. They walk on by. The Samaritan is not obligated either, but chooses to help out of compassion.
Mary/Martha story: Jesus comes to their home. Martha feels obligated, according to the customs of society, to offer food and drink to Jesus. She considers that to be the most important thing. Mary shows hospitality to Jesus also, but not out of obligation. She sits at his feet and listens. Martha’s anxiety over getting the hospitality thing out of the way leads her to possibly resent Mary’s sitting.

Don’t be fooled, though. This is not Martha vs. Mary. Jesus does not rebuke Martha, remember. He simply states that Mary has chosen the better thing, just as compassion is better than obligatory service in the Samaritan story. Mary chooses to love and to show hospitality, but in a way that society did not require. Martha’s hospitality was fine, but it didn’t go the extra step. This is why Martha felt anxiety and was distracted. Or maybe Martha was anxious because she couldn’t find Pokémon? 

pokemonGo
Also, compare Mary to the Samaritan—both heroes in these stories.

The Samaritan was obviously an unexpected hero who fulfilled the law by acting with compassion. Mary, a female, was an unexpected hero by not filling the typical role for a woman and instead acting out of genuine love and desire to learn; she became a student/disciple.

The thing is, Martha is fine, too, until she lets her anxiety get the best of her. When she calls out Mary, she has stopped being hospitable. Now it’s all about her.

Jesus visits her house, not to praise her for what she does or how well she does it, but instead, Jesus comes to tell Mary and Martha that they are both valued for who they are as children of God.

This is the better thing—to listen to that voice, to embrace your value as a person; to not measure your deeds or to compare yourself to others. When we do that, we get distracted.

My take: we can do a lot of things. We can fill schedules and calendars. We can appear busy. And yet, if life is just about completing those tasks, where will we find love, compassion, and peace? Will our actions just be another thing to check off of a list, will we start to resent others who don’t “work” as hard as we do? Will we ever stop to just sit and listen, which to me, is checking in with ourselves? This kind of life can be depressing and empty.

At the same time, though, it’s not just about sitting and listening. The listening helps us to hear a good word about who we are as human beings—that we are loved and our worth is not measured by what we do or don’t do. After listening, though, we find strength to live, to do good things in the world. Look, this planet we live on is wrought with heavy and sad things—plenty with which to distract us and make us feel more anxiety and worry. 

And yet, we can stop to sit and listen. We are capable of that. Sometimes stopping and listening means that you stop talking and actually listen to another person’s point of view or their story without planning how you will respond. Maybe you’ll just listen. Or you may sit for a moment, take a break from your schedule and live a few moments that are unplanned. Or perhaps you need to hear the kind and compassionate voice in the midst of all the heavy and hateful voices. The kind voice says that life matters most above all things, and so anyone’s life in danger is your life in danger. And that is motivation to show love to people at all times; that is motivation to show love to yourself.

So may you find moments to sit and listen in a world that doesn’t seem to encourage that better activity. May you listen to others. May you embrace your whole self, realizing that your value is not measurable by the number of things you complete in a day, a week, or a lifetime. May you not compare yourself to others. May you listen to and embrace compassion, and then may you show it to others.

 

Who Are Our Neighbors?

Luke 10:25-37

WhoMattersMoreWhelp, this is a well-known story.

I’ll try to highlight some of the details that may sometimes go unnoticed before I share some thoughts. First off, the person asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is a lawyer. Why that is significant is because of what lawyers do. Lawyers qualify and define elements of the law, correct? Good lawyers are concerned about justice. So, in this case, the lawyer is examining the Mosaic Law of the Jewish faith to find out exactly what he must do to justify himself before God. This is not an attack on Jesus. This is a legitimate question. What do I need to do to be right with God? Jesus responds appropriately: “What does the law say?” And the lawyer knows:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, life, power, and thought; love your neighbor just as you love yourself.”

That’s from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. And Jesus says: “There you go, good job. Done.” But the lawyer isn’t satisfied. So he asks a follow-up question: Who is my neighbor? And then Jesus tells the famous parable-story. Some insight:  it begins in a typical way like many ancient Jewish teaching stories—with an introduction akin to a joke: A priest, a Levite, and an Israelite walk into a bar…

But in this case:
A dude is beaten up and dying on the side of the road, and then, a priest, a Levite, and….

And an Israelite walks by…right?

Uh, no. Remember that probably there were at least 70 people listening to this story. They all expected for the third character, the hero, to be an Israelite. But wait—it wasn’t. Before we get there, some quick notes on the first two characters. The priest decided not to help the dying man, most likely because he wasn’t sure if the dying man was a Jew. Better to be safe than sorry, because if he were not a Jew, going anywhere near him would defile the priest and he’d have to go through a lengthy process of becoming clean again. Oh, and also, the guy might die soon. So a priest certainly couldn’t touch him. The priest is the higher class, the elite. Then, the Levite. The Levites were not as high as a priest, but they were descendants of Levi and assisted the priests in the temple. The Levite decided to pass by, because maybe he saw the priest? How could he do that which the priest passed up? So the Levite walked on by. So now the lower-class Israelite will arrive and save the day, right? WRONG!

It’s a Samaritan. The Samaritans were a mixed race between Jews of captivity [when they were exiled from Israel] and the Samaritan people of the actual land of Samaria. Jews [called Israelites, too] were hostile towards Samaritans. The Mishna, the oral traditions of Judaism that developed about law, say this about Samaritans in Mishna Shebiith 8:10: “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.”

Right. That’s harsh. Also, you may remember Jesus talking to a certain Samaritan woman at a well of water? She told him: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan” [John 4:9]? This Samaritan, though, would be bound by the same law as the Jews. So seeing a dying person on the side of the road was equally dicey. This dying person did not qualify as the Samaritan’s neighbor. So why did he help?

Because he was moved with compassion.

He did the right thing, regardless of the ethnic and religious conflicts involved. He put himself at risk. And the crowds listening would assume that the half-dead person now rescued by the Samaritan was Jewish. So add that to the drama. Jesus tells the lawyer: go and do the same.

The lawyer wanted to know who we are obligated to love. Jesus answers with a story that says it’s not about obligation, of loving the person near to you, or like you. Jesus erases the line of difference. Whoever is in need or hurting is your neighbor.

mylifematters1Friends, in the course of 72 hours this past week, all sorts of &*$! went down. Two more Black lives were taken away. Their names are Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was needless violence, and yes, it was committed by police officers and once again against Black people. And then, violent individuals not affiliated with the peaceful BlackLivesMatter demonstrators in Dallas, Texas, opened fire on police and civilians, taking the lives of five Dallas police officers and harming many others. As a white person, I cannot understand the racial profiling that others have experienced. I can only stand with my friends and colleagues while they express anger, frustration, and grief. I can only continue to work for understanding and peacemaking in our communities. I can only choose to be vocal and to say that Black lives do matter.

girlBLMWhen thinking about this burning question of who is my neighbor, this is what I hear:
My neighbor is anyone and all who are ignored, discriminated against, treated as lesser, and all who are the targets of racism and prejudice.
I cannot just walk by and ignore their suffering; I shouldn’t try to silence their anger, frustration, and sadness. I should love them. I should stand with them. Loving my neighbor compels me to help put an end to this sick, institutional, societal racism in this country, inspires me to continue to talk with colleagues and church and community folk about why it’s important to stop saying that if we support Black Lives Matter that we are “against” the police or “against” others. That is not only false, it is also harmful. We can be “for” the just treatment of Black people everywhere and also “for” those in law enforcement. We can be “for” the honesty of admitting that the U.S. has deep, racist roots within its systems and society. And at the same time, while we support Black Lives Matter, we can also support the just treatment of undocumented immigrants, transgender and non-binary folk, the poor and homeless, the abused, and all else who deserve our love and attention. Of course we can.

I close with some words from the UCC’s Acting Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, Rev. Traci Blackmon:
Ultimately, the guns used to kill those 5 officers last night and wound 6 more and 1 civilian and the guns used to kill Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Amadou Diallo, 49 mostly black and latinx people who were LGTBQ at Pulse in Orlando, and the 9 people in bible study in Charleston, were loaded by our common enemies, fear and hate.  This same ammunition is responsible for the bombing of mosques and the burning of churches. This same ammunition fuels the escalating levels of death in our nation’s streets as a result of communal violence. Irrational fear and hatred that nurses at the breast of a nation increasingly divided against itself.

We must mourn them all because we are all connected.
And we must find our way back to love.
Murder is a by-product of people who have lost their love.
Love is our only hope.

changestartsBLM

And look–the WNBA players who chose to wear these t-shirts while warming up for their game were just doing what we should all do. Their message was simple: CHANGE STARTS WITH US. Let’s stop trying to spin things to fit some agenda that isn’t helping to bring us together. Remember the Dallas police officers who protected Black Lives Matter protestors. Let’s set an example for all the kids and youth who are just waiting for us to cooperate and love each other as we should. Come on. Change starts with us.

 

Bread of Love

John 6:24-35

breadLOVEPreviously, in this chapter of John’s story, something like 5000 people were fed when there seemed to be a scarcity of food. A handful of loaves and fishes proved to be enough to feed everyone. After the event, Jesus and his disciples took a boat over to Capernaum, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And this is where we pick up in the story. The crowds of people who were fed followed them to Capernaum. And then when they found Jesus, they asked him:

Teacher, when did you come here?

Notice that they say teacher and not prophet or lord. Seems like after they ate their fill, they forgot that earlier they called Jesus prophet.

This is not lost on Jesus. He knows that the right question to ask isn’t when he arrived in Capernaum. The right question to ask is why are these people still looking for him? The answer to that question was pretty simple: the people were looking for Jesus because they ran out of food.

They were hungry.

hungry

The “signs” they had seen during the great feeding has faded away into a distant memory. The crowds no longer saw signs, which I will define as “aha moments” or “time to stop and pay attention,” but instead they heard only their growling stomachs.

That is why the seemingly amazing event of the feeding of the 5000 was now a mere afterthought. So Jesus contrasts the food that perishes with the food that lasts. Of course, the food that perishes was and is the actual food they ate. The bread and the fish was great while it lasted, but once it ran out—everyone got hungry again. This is just true. If you’ve ever eaten a great meal–one that you thoroughly enjoyed—in spite of its greatness, that meal will eventually fade away. Your stomach will process the food. Chemicals and acids will break it down. And then, it will be released from your body. It’s temporary.

But not the food that lasts, according to Jesus. So what is this food? Is it some kind of magical energy bar that your body cannot break down, constantly providing nutrients, vitamins, and sustenance? Is it the miracle bar we’ve all been waiting for?

ML_MiracleReds_Berri_BARNo, it’s not. Jesus isn’t talking about food. He’s talking about presence.

At other times in John’s Gospel, Jesus calls himself the vine and the people the branches.
Abide in me, just as I abide in the vinegrower.

Once again, this Gospel is reiterating that Jesus’ presence [called logos in chapter one] is a divine presence that doesn’t go away—one not limited to ritual, religion, or social construct. The divine presence is constantly fulfilling.

But the people in the crowds want more nutritional information. Like how many carbs? And what kinds of religious things must they do to perform works of God? Rather than embracing the divine presence as something that just is, they still want to figure it out and to limit it to certain rituals or moral standards.

Jesus, talking on another level, tells them:
This is the work of God, that you trust in the one whom God has sent.

Now I changed the wording for a reason. I’ve mentioned before that “believing” things about Jesus is not really what John’s Gospel focuses on. It’s a language issue. In Greek, this text should be translated: faith into the one sent. But faith is not a verb in English. So many translators unfortunately change faith to believe.

What the original language says is that the people are to orient themselves towards the divine presence, and to trust in it. So this is not a passage appropriate for any bully pulpit, to claim that people need to believe this or that about Jesus.

This is about trust and re-orientation.

But the crowds still aren’t convinced. In order for them to “trust” and “reorient” themselves, they will need some proof. So they ask for signs, which to them are miracles. They cite Moses, of course. Bread from heaven [manna] came down and the Israelites ate. So, Jesus, what ya got, huh? You better than Moses?

But Jesus is ready for their superficial request. He tells them that manna from heaven didn’t come from Moses, but from the Creator. Likewise, the true bread from heaven comes from the Creator. And this true bread gives life to the world.

The crowds finally seem to understand and so they respond much like the Samaritan woman at the well, who when told about living water, said to Jesus: Lord, give me this water always. In this case, the crowds say: Lord, give us this bread always. All of a sudden, Jesus is no longer just a teacher, but now a lord.

I think that the more we honestly examine John’s Gospel, the more we find out how just how much of our thinking about G-d [theology] and Jesus [Christology] is based on “going backwards.” What I mean by that is the fact that most of us are taught some interpretation or theological view as kids or youth in a church or at home, and we start there. Eventually, we may make it to the scripture itself, but by that time, we are already reading the scripture with a set perspective and interpretation. Rarely do we read a scripture story coldly without some agenda or bias leading. That’s why I argue that it is important and worthwhile to reread scripture stories that you think you know so well.

Because a typical interpretation of all this is that Jesus is the bread of life, and so it follow that those who “believe” in Jesus are fed and those who don’t go hungry. Also, this story is often a basis for the institution of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist/Communion, which uses the symbol of bread to represent Jesus’ body.

But John’s Gospel isn’t establishing any institution of this sort. Instead of the so-called “last supper” that the other three Gospels include, John includes the foot washing story.

What if we read this story without thinking about Communion or some church sacrament? What if the story is about presence and trust and moving past the superficial? What if the story is about bringing people together—those who are hungry for something more than they see in the world and in society, people who crave much more than conventions or the status quo?

What if this story is about the Creator raining down this lasting bread of presence on all people out of love, with the desired result of it being an awakening and re-orienting of life?

It can be easy to react like the crowds and to view Jesus as some kind of delicious, glutinous bread that we crave, only to fill our stomachs for a short while. It’s easier to make a list of things we need to do in order to perform the works of G-d or to profess certain beliefs that we think punch our ticket to salvation.

It’s a challenge to seek more than just sandwich bread and black-and-white theology. Instead, it’s a wonder and sign, I think, when people at odds come together out of passion for a cause; when warring factions make peace because they love their future generations more than their anger; when someone chooses to make unpopular decisions because she feels it’s right; when people don’t just buy into the easy, conventional way of life, because they seek something deeper and more inclusive; when the symbol of bread becomes more than just a ritualistic item in worship or a temporary fix for hunger; when bread truly becomes life, and love, and humanity, and cooperation, and connection, and the divine presence.

Like the Samaritan woman at the well and the people in Capernaum, we are meant to wake up and re-orient ourselves. We are meant to go after more than just the quick fix or easy out. So may we listen more to our beautiful minds and hearts. May we feed them with love, compassion, and community.

May we not try to fill ourselves with the superficial and the easy, cookie-cutter answers.

May we be awakened by life, filled with it, and therefore full of life in this way.

Love that Arises from Gratitude

Luke 17:11-19

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]

10Most likely all of you have heard about the concept of a top ten list.

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:

10. Memories.

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

5littleducks Maybe you remember this book. Perhaps as a kid you sang the song as a way to learn how to count:

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.

leftoutBut 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?

6. Healing

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

mapsamariaIn 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.

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