Made Well

  • November 21, 2017

Luke 17:11-19

Jesus is on the border between Samaria and Galilee when ten people approach him. We don’t know if they are Galileans like him or foreigners, outsiders, Samarians.  We don’t know anything about these people, except that they are afflicted with the disease of leprosy. They call out to Jesus: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus sees them, and he sees their affliction.  He hears them calling out to him with the name his disciples use for him. He hears them asking for mercy. Jesus says: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  They go, and as they go, these ten people are healed.

So far this story is not very remarkable, at least in the gospels. Jesus is, by nature, a healer. He heals whoever he comes across. He heals people, no matter where he finds them. He heals people, no matter who they are. Jesus’ healings are often simple, like this one. He doesn’t make a big show of what he can do. And the healing often takes place after the fact, as it does here.

The healing in this story is not very remarkable, at least for Jesus. The twist in the story comes after the healing. One of the people afflicted with leprosy – a Samaritan, a foreigner –  notices that he has been healed. And as he notices, he changes direction, turning back towards Jesus. He praises God with a loud voice. He prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet. He thanks Jesus. And Jesus tells him: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well. Your faith has saved you. Your faith has made you whole.”

In this story, ten people are healed from leprosy: a physically debilitating and socially isolating disease. For at least one of the ten, something else happens as well. He responds with praise, with worship, and with gratitude. His physical healing changes his heart. His heart is made well, he is saved, he is made whole. Jesus witnesses his transformation, and sends him out, to find an entirely new way.

The practice of being grateful is a hard one to learn. Day after day, I ask my children, after they have received something: “What do you say?”  Still, with all this drilling, they rarely come up with an unprompted “Thank you.” Learning to notice what we have been given, to delight in it, and to be truly grateful for it: this is a spiritual practice that most of us struggle with throughout our lives.

Christian blogger Glennon Doyle calls the shift from complaint to gratitude “putting on our perspecticles.”  As if gratitude is a pair of spectacles for the heart that can fundamentally change the way we view the world.

This week, there has been a lot of talk in congress about a new tax proposal. Normally, I do not have much to say about tax proposals, especially from the pulpit. Jesus didn’t tell us how a government could most justly tax its people. I am not an expert in tax plans, qualified to theorize about the common good.

Normally, I do not have much to say about tax proposals. But this week’s conversations about taxation are important to address in church because they highlight an underlying assumption in our society that is in direct opposition to biblical understanding.   More than most tax schemes, those in discussion now emphasize that our wealth belongs to us. We are entitled to have and to hold onto our wealth – particularly corporate wealth, and great personal wealth, and inherited wealth.

This may seem like common sense to us, but it’s not biblical sense. From a biblical perspective, resources – whether financial or otherwise – do not and cannot fundamentally belong to any person. Yes, people have wealth. But our wealth truly belongs to God. We are only stewards of the resources in our care.  As stewards, we are called to respond with gratitude and with wisdom: using the resources we have to meet our needs and the needs of the world.

Biblically speaking, wealth is not something we are entitled to, or something we are entitled to store up. It is a gift, which we have the privilege of passing on.

In this season of Congregational Giving, we’ve had an opportunity to consider what we wish to pass on from what we have, to this congregation and beyond.  Today, even more than most Sundays, we are practicing the spiritual discipline of giving, as our tradition teaches us.

Our giving would be incomplete, however, if we do not also take at least a moment to notice and really appreciate what we have been given: financially, and otherwise.  So let’s pause here, for a moment, like that tenth leper on the road, to take stock of our situation.

I invite you to consider what you have received recently.  Do you have food, shelter, safety?  Have you been blessed to witness a measure of beauty in the world around you? Have you felt the warmth of human connection?  Have you, through the grace of God, experienced forgiveness, hope, relief, or compassion? Take a moment, and consider quietly, how you have been provided for, and what in you has been been healed…

If and when our needs are met, no one can fault us if we simply continue on our way. We have things to do. We have places to be. But there is another option. God invites us to consider taking a 180 degree turn and heading straight back into her arms. We can shout about it together, and cry about it together, and take some deep breaths and cry glory in that divine embrace because sometimes, things go right. And if we rush back to God in praise, we have more than whatever we have received.  We allow a full measure of  joy, joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts as well.

Let us be made well. Let us be saved. Let us be made whole: not only by what we are given, but by how we respond.  First, we notice it. Next, we give thanks and praise. And then, after not too long God says,   “Get up and go on your way.” It will be time get out of there and start getting up to some kind of good, spreading the joy around a little. May it be so. Thanks be to God.