Healed or Saved?
Artwork: Ten Lepers by Michelle Winters.
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master,have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.
On the way to Jerusalem to face the cross - while he was near Samaria, Jesus encounters ten lepers - ten outcasts.
They are under a sentence of death - no one will come near them - no one will touch them - no one will even touch their clothing and their eating utensils.
By the rules of their society, rules created because of the fear of contamination, lepers were forced to live apart from everyone else, and on those occasions when they drew near to others for one reason or other, they rang little bells to announce their presence and to warn others to stand off.
Until very recently Lepers were treated as the living dead - shunned and avoided, they were regarded as unclean, - as people most likely guilty of great sin, - as men and women of the greatest misfortune, - as people beyond help and beyond all but the least significant form of compassion - charity.
As Jesus enters a village ten lepers approach him and, mindful of the rules of their society, mindful of their need to avoid contaminating anyone, and mindful too of the fear that others had of them, they call out to Jesus from a distance: "Jesus, Master, Have Mercy On Us."
What a plaintive cry that must have been. With what sense of futility, what desperate hope - must they have called out?
But Jesus does respond - even to them - but he does so in a most unusual manner.
Rather than saying, as he had said to others - "be healed - rise up - look and see - take up your bed and walk", Jesus responds to their cry by saying - "go and show yourselves to the priests".
It helps us to know that Jesus was referring to Leviticus 14:1-3, which specifies what a priest is to do with a leper who happens to get healed.
Lepers were not allowed in the temple because they were regarded as "unclean". If cured, however, the leper could gain re-admission to the temple, and to the rest of society, if he was ritually purified and certified as "clean" by a priest.
Still, Jesus' command to the ten lepers is a bit confusing. They have asked for mercy - they have asked to be healed. But Jesus does nothing for them but tell them to go and act as if they are healed - to go and present themselves to the priests as if they were whole, healed, accepted, living people.
Yet, despite the unusual response of Jesus - despite the possible confusion in understanding what Jesus is about, they go, and as they go - as they walk down the path towards the priests in the village they are healed.
The Greek for the word healed here - in verse 14 and again in verse 17 is IAOMAI - which literally means cleansed or cured.
As we know - one of the ten - a Samaritan man upon realizing he has been made clean, turns back and praising God with a loud voice he comes to Jesus and prostrates himself, he falls on his knees before Jesus' feet, and thanks him.
And Jesus looks upon him - and he says something very strange - and very important to his disciples. He says: "'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?' And then he says to the man: 'Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.'"
The word for well that is used here in the Greek is SOZO - which like the word IAOMAI - can be used to mean "healed" - but unlike IAOMAI, SOZO also means to be made whole or to saved.
We all know, or ought to know, that faith makes us whole. That is a basic tenant of our teaching. But here, in this story, we have the opportunity to see faith in a different light than we might normally see it.
We have the opportunity to see faith as something that leads us to a life that is more than normal.
And we have the opportunity to see faith as nothing more difficult and as nothing more profound as remembering what God has done and giving thanks to him for it.
What, after all, is the difference between the nine lepers who are made clean and the tenth leper who is not only made clean, but made whole? Between the nine who go to the priests as commanded and the one who returns to Jesus praising God and thanking Jesus for healing him?
Robert Capon, in his book "Parables of Grace" urges us to think about it this way.
The ten lepers are all dead people. Whether you are talking physically, spiritually, or socially, they are dead. They would love to get healed which, in this context, means they would love to get raised from the dead, and return back home to a "normal life".
That's all that they, like most people, ever really asked for. Just a chance to "be like other people", an opportunity to go back home be like everyone else, to be normal.
They assume that this is what Jesus is all about - a return to the normal, a revival of the ordinary for people who, because of their infirmity and illness, are abnormal and sub-ordinary.
But one of the healed lepers, the Samaritan, realizes real resurrection. He alone comes back to say "Thanks". He realizes that his healing comes from God - through Jesus - and that God has put him in a relationship to Jesus - and that relationship alone has made him whole and alive again.
All that the other nine wanted out of Jesus was to made well, to go back home and start all over again, doing what everybody else had been doing: going to school, driving to work on Mondays, attending synagogue on Friday night if nothing more interesting is going on, eating yogurt out of plastic containers, meeting someone and maybe starting a family of nice, normal, ordinary kids? And who would blame them?
But that one Samaritan comes back not only cured, but saved, made whole.
He comes back - saved - because he alone saw that his healing, his resurrection, for what it was.
He was saved and accepted by Jesus - by God - while he was a leper, while he was still sick, while he was untouchable, before he got well.
He realized that Jesus didn't just want to heal people, much less make them normal, but that he wanted to, and had the power to, raise them from the dead, now. Today.
Nine lepers got healed, one got saved.
Nine people go away from Jesus healed, but not saved, because they put their lives as lepers, as outcasts, as dead people, behind them.
They go in obedience most certainly, but they go in a hurry, anxious to be on with it, to begin living like everyone lives.
They go away unsaved because all they really want is a normal life - a life like that they have dreamed of, a life like that which they had before they became lepers, a life like everyone else's.
But the tenth leper - he is not in such a hurry to forget how bad it was - he's not in such a hurry to get a normal life. He realizes something important.
He realizes that the hand of God has touched his life; that Jesus has accepted him - as he accepted the other nine, before he, before they, were healed.
It didn't matter to Jesus that they were lepers, that they were outcasts, that they were dead in their sins.
And the Samaritan realizes this - he realizes how unusual, how out of the ordinary, how exceptional this is, and he gives thanks to God, and to Jesus for it; and his acknowledgement of this fact - his Thanksgiving – is called faith by Jesus, a faith that saves.
How many of us have made vows to God to do something for him if only God in return would do this or that for us - and then promptly forgotten those vows when our lives have returned to normal? Too strong an example?
Well then, how many of us have had an experience of divine grace, - only to forget that experience shortly there afterward like those who have never encountered grace?
How many us have had an experience of knowing that God is truly out there and that he truly cares, only to go on with living our lives like normal people, like those who have never known the grace of God's forgiveness or the wonder of his many gifts? Too remote an example?
Well, how many of us have been in trouble, how many of us have despaired, how many of us have been rejected by friends and by family members, and then encountered one day a person who has really helped us, or experienced an event or a series of events that has allowed us to live again, to live and rejoin those whom we had feared forever lost to us and then failed to treat each day thereafter as a incredible gift from God?
I fear that all too many of us are in the position of the nine lepers who went onward to the priests and to a renewal of their "normal lives".
What a shame to have met Jesus, the Lord and Giver of Life, to have met the one who loves to eat and drink with sinners and to worship in the synagogues and in the temple and to pray alone on the mountain tops and in the wilderness, and to then come away from that meeting with nothing more than our health.
What a shame to have met Jesus, the risen Christ, the one who takes us and embraces us just as we are, the one who forgives us and gives us his resurrection power, and come away from that meeting with nothing more than normal.
The power of salvation, of wholeness, is in remembering our previous state - what was normal for us - how we were enslaved by the powers of despair, darkness, and death, and seeing the miracle of what we have now - of seeing that God has acted and is still acting; of acting like this is the day that the Lord alone has made, and rejoicing and being glad in it.
Our faith is not about how to live a normal life.
It is about how God touches us and Christ embraces us, and raises not only that which was dead to new life, but transforms that which was ordinary into the blessedness of the more than normal, the blessedness of knowing that God's hand and God's heart is in each and every moment of each and every new day.
One day Jesus healed ten lepers. Of them nine went away as commanded to show themselves to the priests and to return to their normal lives. But one of them, a Samaritan, turned and gave Jesus thanks - and he was made whole, he was saved - on account of his faith.
Blessed be God, day by day.
Lord - in and through Jesus you make known to your healing will and your saving desire. In Him you give life, as fresh as on the first day of creation, without fanfare and without fuss. You bring us wholeness as we journey on our way - asking nothing from us except that we remember and give you thanks - and that we in turn offer your good gifts to those around us who are in need. O God, we thank you and we praise you. Like the Samaritan leper you healed, we return our gratitude to you.