As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him… Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. —Luke 17:12a, 15-16
The context of the cleansing places us smack-dab in the middle of the drama and danger inherent in border crossings—Jesus is in one of those uncertain, vulnerable, in-between spaces we all know and fear (in his case the region between Samaria and Galilee) and the lepers are maintaining their distance from Jesus because the Law requires a separation of clean and unclean. Jesus and his disciples have already experience some rejection on their journey, people and places that were walled-off from their ministry. And the lepers certainly know their place—banded together as outcasts and kept apart from community and religion.
When Jesus heals them (from afar, mind you) he sends them to the temple to get the appropriate re-entry-to-society-stamp of approval from the priest. On the way they see that they are in fact healed and one formerly leprous soul, a much maligned Samaritan, turns back to express, profusely, his gratitude. The others are doing what they were told, following the rules, observing their religious practice, heading to the Temple to get their ticket punched so that they can get back to business as usual. But as one commentator observed, the Temple isn’t a place the Samaritan would be welcomed anyway. “There’s no cure of being a Samaritan, a big-time outsider…there’s no ex-Samaritan program he can enter to…rehabilitate his otherness” and so he has plenty of time to turn around and say thanks!
So of course this is another lesson in who is in and who is out. Just as we struggle today in the contemporary church to cross boundaries of culture and race and class to carry the message of the gospel, so too did the early church. Luke’s community was trying to figure out how to relate to the Jewish roots of their faith and what to do with the Gentiles that were coming into their churches. And Luke offers this story of yet another outsider who recognizes Jesus for who he is and seems to “get it” more clearly, more gracefully, more open heartedly than the Jesus’s own – the nine church insiders who are off attending to their own “religious” stuff.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in a beautiful sermon on this text writes that “Ten behaved like good lepers, good Jews; only one, a double loser, behaved like a man in love.” She thinks then about how hard she tries to fulfill expectations and obey rules and be a good church-going person, like so many of us. “I know how to be obedient,” she writes, “but I do not know how to be in love” (The Preaching Life).
What about you? Do you want to know how to be in love? I sure want to be a follower of Jesus who acts like I am in love, carried away by the gratitude of being saved, every day, from my ‘self’. I want to be full of joy and celebration because God loves me that much. I want to be so expressive an example of grace and redemption that the people who see me wonder what it is that has made me so passionate and in love. I want to be the kind of follower of Jesus that will tell someone why it is so! I even want to be the kind of follower that shouts out loud now and again about how much I love Jesus! You know, the kind of Christian that makes us “Frozen Chosen” really uncomfortable because we assume that if you are talking about it you must be an Evangelical or Fundamentalist. It makes us nervous to imagine ourselves like the leper, moved by grace enough to sing and shout and dance about God’s blessings. We think we can’t talk about it because people will think we are crazy (and yes, some people do)!
Yet, as we wonder about the future of our church and ask ourselves if we have a ministry to give, we will need to wonder about what we express about our faith and how people experience what we have to give. Will it be enough to keep doing what we have always done? Will it touch people if our expression is contained and subdued? Will the way we talk about our faith be enough to cross some boundaries and reach some “outsiders” who would love to know Jesus? As we seek discernment about what God is calling us to be and do—I guarantee that if it is to be sustainable, it will need to include passion and literally sharing the good news of God’s love and grace. In today’s postmodern world, it is not enough to hope they will come. We will have to go out and witness to the good news. I also guarantee that is includes reaching across some boundaries to meet people who need the gospel message—not here at 400 High Street, but over there, somewhere else, meeting them right where they are. For surely if all we can do is follow the rules and return to the Temple, we will be hard pressed to share the good news with anyone who has yet to hear. Beloved I pray for this: may we find our passion, may we find our way, may we see our healing and turn around to say thanks!
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade, firstname.lastname@example.org