It is amazing when communities of people who are ostracized by their larger culture can in some ways create a better one, if only because it seems to be blind to difference. This is not a new phenomena. Two thousand years ago Jesus encountered a small leper colony that seemed to look past stereotypes. This Colony was required to keep a safe distance from the clean population and would reside at the entrance of villages in the hopes for mercy and alms. This specific village that Luke writes about in 17:10 is on the border between Samaria and Galilee. So in some ways it isn’t surprising to find a Samaritan among the infected, even thought traditionally Jews wouldn’t associate with what those who they consider to be unclean heretics. It paints a beautiful picture of how adversity can cause us to look past our differences and find solidarity.
It is interesting the language these beggars use to call out to Jesus. Their use of the word Master makes you wonder if they already knew about this Jesus and his reputation. This word is only used 7 times in the entire New Testament. It is a term of respect and it makes me wonder if perhaps some of these individuals may at one time have found themselves in the wider circle of Christ’s followers. Perhaps they were part of the 5,000 who were fed a spontaneous lunch, or perhaps they sat on the side of the hill while Jesus shared his famous sermon on the mount. I wonder if any of them contracted this skin condition and were ostracized by there former communities of faith and family. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case. This is what faith communities sometimes do, they shoot their wounded. I know what it is like to be pushed out of a church. I have been one who was led to the door as a spiritual leper, the casualty of religious infighting. It is amazing how many people I meet who are casualties of faith. They never left the church because of Jesus but because of his apparent self proclaimed bodyguards.
What Luke records next is just as intriguing. Jesus tells the 10 to go and show themselves to the priest so they can be deemed clean and enter functional society again. Of course they will be required to provide a long Levitical list of sacrifices to appease the Old ways. I count it as part of desperation of these 10 that they do what Jesus says even though it seems irrational, and on their way they are healed. It is amazing how many times Jesus does this. I often wonder how much of our healing requires action on our part. I recognize the healing that happens when we move away from what represents our old sick ways and move towards what can restore us. I once quite a job without the security of another, because it was making me unhealthy. The miracle happened on my way out, I felt the release and freedom I could never find in a big fat paycheck.
There is an interesting dilemma as these men head towards the priest. After what brought them together was gone, there was now division. This Samaritan would no longer be welcome among them. We aren’t told what led to the return of this foreigner to thank Jesus. Was there an argument? Did the Samaritan just conclude that he can’t show himself to a Jewish priest. The old ways won’t work for him. Regardless of his reasons he returns to Jesus falls at this feet and thanks him.
Jesus is amazed that of all 10, it is the Samaritan who returns. Once again this turns what stereotypes we have on their heads. Jesus tells the man to get up and that his faith has made him well. There is buried in these words this idea that this man’s response to his new found life has made him well. All 10 were healed, but only one was made well. There are a lot of people who seem to be healed but very few who seem to be well, to be whole. To be healed is to merely experience the absence of affliction, but to be made well that can happen in spite of affliction. I think being whole is a state of being that is partly our doing. Like this Samaritan leper it was his faith, his desire to return to Jesus that made him whole. A miraculous healing is all God, but to experience wholeness requires something from us.
I can’t help but see something in this Samaritan’s life that is missing in so many lives of people who call Jesus ‘Master’. I think the missing ingredient is a thankful posture. We live in such a mixed up religious culture in the west. In so many ways we don’t need God, we heal ourselves with Pharmaceuticals, we feed ourselves with GMO foods, we worship in our million dollar tabernacles and wonder why we still have problems. Then we find all of societies social lepers and we heard them into categories and deny them the rights of our entitled communities. We hold back benefits and marriage and all the good things that only belong to the chosen. Ironically we see all our genetically modified wealth and health and we think it is God’s blessing. But it is the Samaritans, the outcast, those considered unclean who encounter Jesus at the city gates. I can’t remember who said it but I will never forget this quote: ‘When we respect the image of God in others, we protect the image of God in ourselves‘. Everyone is a child of God, made in his image. Often it is the ones who’s dignity has been robbed, who can be thankful for all of lifes small blessings and are in a position to hear their creator say, rise and go, your faith has made you well. Some are healed, but some are changed.
And in the end I have discovered that healed people don’t change the world, changed people do.
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