19th Sunday After Pentecost, 10 October 2004
Thankful and Well
Have you ever been isolated from family or other people? Such as being in prison? Or, being in the military and posted overseas, without your family? Or, moved to a different community where you knew no one? Or, went away to university for the first time and all was new and different? Or, like I was, sent overseas as a missionary and knew I would not see family (except for my wife) for five years? Or, perhaps as my wife was? She had a childhood disease that kept her in bed, away from school for nearly three and a half years.
All of those are tough, very rough, very lonely, but... In all those cases, there was going to be an end. You would get out. You would develop new friends. You would return. You would get up and out sometime in the future.
Leprosy, true leprosy that is, did not have but one outcome: death. You were kept isolated from any contact with family, friends, all other people until you were cured or you died. Any kind of leprosy, any kind of disease affecting the skin was for God's people at the time of our Lord a disease that demanded your isolation until it was cured. It demanded separation from family and friends, unless, of course, they chose to join you. But why would they do that?
So you were isolated from the touch of spouse, from looking into the eyes of your children, from the joy of eating together, and doing all the activities that regular, healthy people do.
Yes, new relationships did develop. Relationships with other lepers, but all of you were in the same boat. Outcasts! Despised! Feared! Forced to live by begging, and that at a shouting distance from other people! The fellowship of the cursed.
And often, don't you and I think and even believe, that God is punishing us when evil/tragedy/misfortune comes our way? Incorrectly, of course, but sometimes it is so hard to trust that God is really going to bring some good from this cancer/death/loss of job/divorce/disease!
That is precisely what God's people at Jesus' time believed: leprosy was the punishment for sin, something the leper had done to deserve this fate.
Now for these 10 lepers who had some disease for which society demanded their isolation the news of a cure or curing person was like the news that there is a possible cure for AIDS or cancer or MS or Parkinson's or heart attacks. You would do almost anything if one of these diseases or something else were your disease or your family's disease.
These 10 met Jesus, and standing at the required distance, shouted: "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" They must have heard that this Jesus had cured others of this same disease that was theirs. They found this Jesus, somehow, and asked for pity.
Jesus sees them. He tells them to do what is required of cured lepers. They need a certificate from a priest that they were cured. Then, and only then, could they return to normal society, to family, to home.
We have no indication of any kind that anything more was said to these lepers. We have no indication of anything than that they were going to do as this Jesus, Master had told them.
And as they were headed for Jerusalem (that's the only place a priest operated), they were cured! The disease was gone. More importantly their isolation, their separation from society and family and home was ended! You could almost hear the "hallelujahs" in Jerusalem, I'll bet. Jumping up and down, whoop and hollers and dancing--I'll just bet that was a sight to see! For sure, for sure!
Don't you know they were happy, joyful, yes, even thankful that it was over!
And this enforced relationship with other lepers was ended. What united them was finished. Each person could go on his/her own way. Who wouldn't want to put an end to that leprous family? Particularly since a least one in the group was a Samaritan. You could go back to despising those kind of persons just like you and your family had always done. Well, he could do the same, of course.
One returned to Jesus. A Samaritan. He came whooping and hollering back, praising God! You'd never see that sight in a liturgical church would you? Then he throws himself down at Jesus' feet. He could not stand, he couldn't simply bow, he couldn't just kneel. No, he threw himself at Jesus' feet. And he thanked him.
It brings tears to my eyes as I think of what he did. No pretenses, no barriers to total thanksgiving. No sense of pride or dignity to stand in the way. It vanished!
This person, this curer of disease is more important than the priest in Jerusalem with his certification abilities. All others, the other nine, disappeared in the face that this Man, this Jesus, Master of all cured, yes, cured him! How could he do anything else but thank this person and praise God? What else could anyone do?
If you don't thank the one who cures you, what will life be like?
Oh, I suppose we are all thankful, in our own ways. We are thankful that we have family--spouse, child, parents, friends. We are happy for the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Such pleasant living, such good living. We are even thankful that we know Jesus, that we are Christians.
I wonder sometimes if we ever have realized from what we have been cured?
We do not have by nature a relationship with God. We do not by ourselves have anything but a disease, called sin which puts us far away from God. We cannot approach God with anything more or less than the cry of the lepers: God, have mercy on me a sinner.
All too often we believe that disease is something to be taken for granted. A clergy person in our community abused several teenagers. When he was expelled from the clergy, another prominent man in the pastor's community said, in effect, that he should have been treated better because of all the "good" the pastor had done for his community.
We see disease as common, everyone has it. Therefore, it is not too bad. Others are extravagant, therefore, I can be; all others are buying whether they need to or not, therefore, I may do the same. Every kind of moral and ethics is being challenged, so if I fail, why everyone else is doing it? Why should I be condemned?
We have masked the disease until the masks become real. We have become so convoluted in our perverted minds that reality is lie and lie is truth.
Jesus at the beginning of the story is going to do battle with the disease. He is going to Jerusalem where he will take, where he did take our disease, every last bit of it. It made him into someone despised by man because the mask was off. He was despised, rejected, a man of sorrows and griefs, stricken, smitten, afflicted with our disease and the chastisement of our peace was on him, and through his bleeding stripes we are healed.
The isolation is gone. God is our God. He is our Lord, our Master. He is our cure from disease of sin, hatred, enmity of God. He has sent us to proclaim to the world, as he sent the lepers, to tell the world of healing, of freedom from disease, of a Person who can provide the cure for all persons.
How thankful we are that we are healed now already and perfectly in the age to come! We are thankful to a person. Not just thankful. We honor the Father for caring for us even in our diseased condition so much that he sent into our world his one and only Son, who willing out of pity and care for us suffered the loss of all, even life to provide us cure and now those Two Mighty Ones send us the Spirit to continue to help us in our constant and continual recovery until we pass through the gate of death to the perfect life forever.
It is in the thanksgiving that we are made well, that we are saved. There is no salvation, no cure, no restoration of wholeness and health without thanksgiving to Jesus. It is important to keep that always in mind: thankfulness and wellness (salvation) go hand in hand. It is faith in the power of the Divine Physician expressed in thankfulness that give us wellness.
Thankfulness, which I believe is the biggest part of worship, is expressed in worship and it always, it must always, lead us back to see again the disease and its remnants which still burden our life. It is then that we see from what we have been healed and how much we need to speak about the things we have heard and seen.
If you have any sense at all of the enormity of the disease from which you have been cured, then praising God in a loud voice and throwing yourselves at the feet of Jesus should be a right regular occurrence, don't you think?
It is altogether possible for us to be very thankful for almost everything without giving any thanks to the Giver, but then that thanks is almost always either patting yourself on the back or being idolatrous, as when we "thank our lucky stars."
Thanksgiving to Jesus for his power and continual trust in his power to rescue when symptoms of the disease happen will make you well, save you, restore you the only relationship that finally counts: your righteous relationship wtih God. Amen.
Walter W. Harms