Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Your faith has made you well

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 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. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

- Luke 17:11-19

This passage is somewhat similar to other stories, but it's used to illustrate the idea of gratitude - that we should not take spiritual gifts for granted, that participation in this kingdom is not something that we own like a possession which is ours to trade on. It's also important to understand that when Jesus tells the lepers to show themselves to the priests, it is because this is a special duty for the lepers: lepers were set apart from the society and had to show themselves as cleansed in order to be full participants again. It is on the way to do this deed that they are healed.

As in the parable of The Good Samaritan, which appears only in Luke, it is only the Samaritan leper who turns back in gratitude to Jesus for the gift of healing. It is once again the outsider - here a "double outsider" who is both a leper and a Samaritan, considered therefore doubly unclean or untouchable in a sense (and doubly ostracized) - who is grateful for the gift, and who understands the spirit in which it must be received.

It's also important that this parable comes immediately following yesterday's reading, in which we were instructed to understand that there are duties expected of us that come with membership in this kingdom. When we practice mercy, kindness, we are doing what is expected of us. We are behaving as we ought to if we call ourselves Christians and followers of the teachings of Jesus. In this parable that follows, we have a similar kind of teaching about what is expected of us. We not only have a duty to the grace given us, but we also must remember it as a gift. Christianity is not to be a "buying and selling" experience. We are not owed or entitled here; nor do we have claims to exploit and sell to others. In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus is quoted as telling his apostles: "Freely you have been given, therefore freely give." But with a gift must come appreciation and understanding that it is indeed a gift. We share in that mercy: therefore it is up to us to give it and to receive it with respect for its value and its nature. It's not a possession to grasp and hang onto, through which we lord it over others, but rather something that must be lived, all the time. Otherwise, you're not really a part of that kingdom. And it is a gift that requires discernment.

Membership in this kingdom is open to all. But we mustn't view it as a commodity we carry with us like an entitlement or something we've paid for. The gift is with us and within us, to share and to value in either case, whether we give or receive. It is to those who value this gift truly that the kingdom belongs - they are the ones who "get it" - who truly understand it.

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