Today’s sermon can be heard on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read it here.
Two weeks ago, we heard Jesus tell a parable about a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man who went nameless. As I preached that week, I told you that I thought that parable was all about seeing. The rich man saw Lazarus and chose to ignore him. Jesus is very interested in who we see and how we see them. Last week, Keith preached on a difficult text in which we find the disciples begging Jesus for just a little more faith. Through a great story about Murdoch and his never-ending bag of supplies, Keith showed us that the key to growing our faith is giving thanks to God for what we already have. This week, the Lectionary has been kind to us. For those of you who maybe missed one or both of the last two weeks, or perhaps don’t remember those two pretty great sermons, we have a lesson this morning that is all about both seeing and thankfulness!
Parable season takes a break so that we can jump into some narrative action to keep the story of Jesus moving forward. Since late June, we’ve been following Jesus on a long and winding journey toward Jerusalem. Rather than taking the easy way that might have taken a few days, Jesus made it a point to stop at every city, town, and village between here and there. Today, we find Jesus and his disciples on the edge of civilization; somewhere in the no man’s land between Galilee and Samaria. Galilee was a Jewish district that bordered the Sea of Galilee to the east, and it included towns like Capernaum, Nazareth, and Nain. Unless you went out of your way to travel right down the banks of the Jordan River, in order to get to Jerusalem from Galilee, you had to go through the dreaded district of Samaria. Samaria was, as you might guess, the home of the Samaritans. During the Babylonian Exile, most of Israel’s brightest and best were taken as slaves to Babylon. Those who were left behind had to make due as best they could. The Temple and the entire city of Jerusalem lay in ruins, so they began to worship God at a new Temple on the top of Mount Gerizim. Rather than marry within their own family, they married people from other groups that the Babylonians had moved in to Israel. When the Exile was over and the Israelites returned to rebuild Jerusalem, they found the Samaritans to be contemptuous and for hundreds of years the animosity between the two groups grew as small skirmishes over land took place between the tribes. By the time of Jesus, a Jew wouldn’t even dare talk to a Samaritan, and would go out of his way to avoid traveling through Samaria.
It is right there, at the disputed divide between these two ethnic groups that we find Jesus. Not yet in the safety of the walls of the next village on his journey, Jesus is approached by ten lepers. This was about as far out of bounds as a good Jew could get: on a small road between two villages, near the border with Samaria, and in the presence of a colony of lepers. The lepers knew their place. They were unclean: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. For fear of spreading their awful disease, Levitical law ordered that lepers be kept removed from society, forced to live on the edge of town. They had to wear tattered clothing, keep their hair uncombed, and walk around shouting “unclean, unclean!” These ten men were actually quite lucky to have found each other; otherwise, they would have been forced to live lives of total isolation. Still, they keep their distance.
They must have already heard about Jesus because rather than cry out “Unclean, unclean!” they shouted “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus didn’t simply hear their cry, but Luke tells us that Jesus “saw them.” Perhaps for the first time since their diagnosis, someone saw them as something more than unclean lepers. Instead, Jesus saw them as beloved children of God. He had compassion on them, and sent them to find a priest to be declared clean again. As they made the journey to the local synagogue, their skin was miraculously made clean. Nine of them continued to follow Jesus’ instructions and headed off to see the priest, but one saw things differently.
As the tenth leper looked at his newly restored skin, he saw his blessing and was compelled to give thanks. He turned and ran back to find Jesus, giving praise to God all along the way. When he found Jesus again, the man fell on his face, in a posture of worship, and gave thanks. The word Luke uses there is eucharisto, which might sound familiar to you. Eucharist is the name we Episcopalians give the Lord’s Supper because it too is an act of thanksgiving. Each week, when we come to this table, we do so not just in remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins upon the cross, but like the tenth leper, we come here fully aware of the many ways in which God has healed us and restored us to right relationship. Maybe you come to give thanks for being healed of a lifetime of isolating anxiety. Maybe you come to give thanks for being healed of anger that has ruined relationships. Maybe you come to give thanks for being healed of addiction that had pushed everyone away. Or maybe, you aren’t quite there yet. Maybe you approach this altar rail like the ten lepers, keeping a safe distance, and crying out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me.” Jesus sees you, no matter how alone you may feel.
Jesus saw all ten lepers totally isolated even within their little community. He had mercy on them and healed them. By the end of this story all ten were healed of their disease, but it was only the tenth leper who saw the blessing in his healing and gave thanks. In returning to give thanks, this man was doubly blessed. No longer a leper, we find out that this man is a Samaritan. Maybe that’s why he didn’t run off to the synagogue. He knew he wouldn’t be welcome there anyway. Instead, he returned to the source of his healing, praised God, and gave thanks, and Jesus said to him, “Get up and go, your faith has saved you.” Ten lepers were healed by Jesus. Nine were restored to their communities when a priest declared them “clean.” Only one was saved, rescued, made whole.
By the grace of God, through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have all been set free from our bondage to sin. That could easily be enough. We could, like the nine, rest comfortably on that gift for the rest of lives, but we are invited to experience something more. We are invited to see, to really see the gift that God has given us. To feel what it means to be set free. To live abundant lives. To find our place in the kingdom. When we see that gift, the only logical response is eucharisto, to bow down in worship and praise, and to give thanks to God for all that he has done for us. It is in that place of thanksgiving that we find ourselves saved, rescued, and made whole. It turns out that Keith and I have been on the right track for the past two weeks. The life of faith really is all about seeing and giving thanks. It is about how we see others, yes, but the life of faith is also about how we see ourselves: with thanksgiving for being set free from the isolation of sin and restored to right relationship with God and one another. Open our eyes Lord, help us to see the gifts that you have given us, and give thanks. Amen.