November 14, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
The reading with today’s good news is from Luke 17:11-19.
As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met [him]. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
Luke is the only gospel writer to record this story. As related in an earlier reflection, Leviticus describes specific purification rituals that a cured leper must follow in order for a priest to declare him fit for human contact. Apparently the other nine lepers were Jews since Jesus refers to the one who returns as the foreigner, signaling his difference. Isn’t it interesting that these Jews and at least one Samaritan banded together even though Jews customarily would not mingle with Samaritans; they were unclean. Common disaster or crisis or suffering often brings together those who otherwise wouldn’t have anything to do with one another. They were all unclean outcasts, which created a bond among them that enabled them to overcome their biases.
They were focused on the law, not on Jesus, even though it was Jesus who told them to go to the priests. They knew who Jesus was — a healer and teacher. However, they could not recognize that he was the agent of God, the face of God. They were too eager, perhaps, to return to community, to resume their former lives, to be accepted and touched. Jesus cured them physically, but he wasn’t able to turn their hearts. The heart of the Samaritan by contrast was touched and he turned to Jesus and to God in praise and thanksgiving. He was converted; his faith has saved him. What does that mean? He had already been cured of his leprosy; he could be reunited with family and neighbors. I think it meant that he could or had entered the kingdom of God.
As John Sanford in The Kingdom Within writes, “Faith is a fundamentally important element in the journey to the kingdom, but the nature of faith has often been misunderstood. When Jesus speaks of faith, he is not thinking of what we might call doctrinal faith. He never asks anyone to believe in a doctrinal, philosophical, or metaphysical creed of any kind. When Jesus speaks of faith, he is speaking of a certain capacity of a person to affirm life in spite of what life may bring, and even in the face of doubts.” This Samaritan didn’t have a doctrinal Jewish faith in God obviously. But he did have the capacity to affirm life; he had the capacity to give thanks; he had the capacity to receive Jesus as the restorer of life. It was that capacity that opened to door to the kingdom of God, to new life, not a purification ritual enacted by a priest.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion and evoker of emotion. The blessings that God showers upon me everyday are innumerable and I am never grateful enough, I’m afraid. When I am suffering or I want something, my prayer can be intense — long, fervent, drawing out my full awareness. Even when those prayers are answered in ways I hope for, my prayers of gratitude pale in comparison — shorter, less focused, calmer. It makes me think back to Sunday’s gospel reading of the woman who gave her two small coins to the temple treasury. She gave from her gratitude for her blessings, even though many others may have considered those blessings to be meager. She shared herself with her God, the temple was just a vehicle or a repository.
I think gratitude gives us a generous heart, a heart open to the abundance that God has provided for us in this life. Jesus is obviously disappointed when we aren’t grateful, when our hearts don’t respond in love and praise for our blessings. He yearns for us to “affirm life in spite of what life may bring, and even in the face of doubts.” By showing our generosity to others for God’s blessings, for the life he has given us, we build the kingdom of God to reside within.