s195g98 Somerton Park 11/10/98 Sunday 28
"your faith has made you well" Luke 17.19
I wasn't actually going to prepare a new sermon for today, but a couple of weeks ago I preached extempore on this passage and a few insights came to me which I wanted to set down, before I forgot.
I suddenly realised that these ten persons probably had just been expelled from the village. We are told that Jesus had entered the village, and therefore it is quite likely that they were going in the opposite direction. If they had been diagnosed for any length of time, they would have not been in the village to start with and would have taken care only to approach Jesus in the open country.
If this is the case, then in all likelihood they had just come from the priests who had performed the diagnosis as prescribed in the law. They had been exiled from the rest of common humanity, and their only possible contribution they could ever make again was to KEEP AWAY. The words: "Keep your distance" were probably still ringing in their ears.
This starts to answer for me at least why Jesus sent them back to the priests. Usually Jesus commanded silence after any sort of healing. It would be completely out of character for him to have sent the lepers back to the priests as an act of personal publicity.
It is however just possible that Jesus sent the 10 back, that they might feel that they were able to do something for Jesus. Instead of being totally useless, he bids them do something for him. In doing so Jesus lifts from them those feelings of exile and uselessness. They too were incorporate and valued contributors.
If not for personal publicity then it may perhaps be that Jesus send these ten back to validate the ministry of the ritual priesthood. Of course the so called "cleansing of the Temple" had nothing to say about the ministerial priesthood - those who were cleared away were the heavies, unordained people, who got in the way of ordinary people coming to God. The ritual priesthood were not into money changing or pigeon selling - they had a task to do. The law prescribed certain things had to happen if someone was suspected of having leprosy, as well as things to do if that leprosy had been cleansed.
So the first healing for these lepers was the healing of the low self esteem, exile and uselessness, and Jesus did this by giving them a task to do. They begin to undertake it and find they are healed.
I recall preaching, in times past, that healing comes when we do what Jesus says - when we are obedient. I think I want now to say that I was wrong in this perception - for that is to make Jesus out to be a great healer. Perhaps he didn't have a magic wand, and it seemed that here he didn't, as at other times, touch the person infected with leprosy. But to say that healing comes as we do what Jesus says to do is still to say that he has a special program ...
There are two reasons why I have come to this different conclusion. The first is that the sole Samaritan is commended when he doesn't do what Jesus says, but returns to thank Jesus. The second is that Jesus says to this person "YOUR faith has made you well", not MY faith has made you well. The healing emanates from within the person themselves.
So here we find the reason that Jesus' first concern is to raise the self esteem of the lepers by giving them a task to do. The raising of their self esteem enabled them to allow the healing to take place from within them.
It seems to me that this also might have particularly important consequences for how we look at other incidents in Jesus' ministry. The one that immediately springs to mind is the feeding of the multitude. We naturally credit the miracle to Jesus, when perhaps these words might bid us look at the disciples as the primary workers of the miracle as they distributed the loaves and the fish to the crowds.
I touched briefly on the fact that the Samaritan didn't continue to do as Jesus had directed him after he had realised his healing - and was commended for disobeying. We can go through life thinking: what does Jesus say about this or that - when perhaps circumstances might have changed, and we might be commended for not doing as Jesus says, but using our own brain, and doing something different. There is not just one way (Jesus is the way??) - we too might be commended for our initiative. Science and technology have brought to humanity many advances, and we are tempted to think that Jesus has got answers for them all; and of course his answer is usually NO! I believe we here have some justification for using our brains and coming to our own conclusions in our lives and we might actually say YES to some things.
The Samaritan realised the priests would be forever there. He could show himself to them at any time. On the other hand Jesus may well have gone by the time he had done as Jesus directed and come back.
The other nine just did as Jesus had directed them ... neither wavering to right or to left - and missed out.
Traditionally this incident has been an object lesson for thankfulness, and while I wouldn't want to decry the value of thankfulness, it is clearly about religious differences. I note two things. Firstly Jesus did not say to the Samaritan - "Thank you - now go back and show yourself to the priests as I originally said to do" So I conclude that the man - exiled from his home by the decree of a priest of another faith, is NOT asked to submit to that alien faith. Instead he is told to "go on your way" - return to your ordinary life. Secondly I note that Jesus tells us and him that this heretical / schismatic faith made him well. How often do we put up our version of the faith as the way of salvation and healing for others?
Jesus acts to give these people self esteem and the faith that this elicits (orthodox or not) brings healing. Jesus acts to raise people's self esteem so that their own faith might produce the miracles that they desire.
So when we look at the Cross on Good Friday with much self depreciation and weeping and gnashing of teeth, I wonder if Jesus is actually at all interested in this.
Our faith is faith that we are worthy for God's attention. Our faith is belief that we ourselves are actually worthy. Even the Syrophonecian woman expressed this faith (in that very painful statement of self abnegation) in that she is content to pick up that which falls from the master's table.
As I say in my sermon for baptism, the cross and the sacraments are Jesus genuflecting to us - saying to us - I died and rose again for all of humanity, I died and rose again for you and for me - because you and I and all of humanity are worthy - believe!
It is a truism to say that we are our own worst enemy. Whatever our feelings of self worth or self depreciation, Jesus acts to make us feel worthy, to incorporate us into the kingdom, because we feel worthy, because Jesus accepts our contribution too.
One of the crucial passages of human insight are contained in the words of Paul and Barnabas: "you ... judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life ..." (Acts 13.46) So much of what passes for Christianity is about trying to make people feel unworthy ... when Jesus seems to go out of his way to do the opposite. He sat down and ate with sinners ...
At the end of the day we are worthy, for Jesus has acted to make us realise we are. We are not put on this earth to slavishly do as Jesus says, down to the last "letter ... one stroke of a letter", but to realise how much we are loved, how much all are loved. This is the gospel.
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