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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 23/Year C: October 9, 2022
Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
Chances are high that each one of us gathered here, has had an experience of feeling exiled. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of exile that would happen when a political leader is banished from their home and forced to live in a foreign land. When someone says, for example, that they are the “black sheep” of the family, they are identifying their experience of rejection and exile while still being a part of the family. Such feelings feed an ever-present separation within the family, whether or not the division is ever spoken. Unless intentional ways to repair that which is broken are sought, the broken relationship will remain in an unreconciled state.
Reflect on those times in your life, perhaps in school or your workplace, when you experienced being cut off, or feeling distanced from other human beings because of things you had done, things you had not done, or simply because of who you are—how you physically show up in the world in the skin that you are in. The 10 lepers, whom Jesus healed in our gospel passage in the 17th chapter of Luke, are the perfect examples of societal and religious exile.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem through a non-descript region between Samaria and Jerusalem. When Jesus came upon a village, he was approached by the afflicted men, who maintained their distance from him, as they asked for Jesus’ mercy. So, what’s going on here? First, the geographical placement of the healing encounter is important. The Samaritans were Israelites who intermarried with foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion. Although Jews and Samaritans practiced similar religions, Samaritans were universally despised by the Jews, and were considered ritually unclean. The text explicitly identifies only one of the 10 lepers as a Samaritan. The others most likely were, but we do not know.
Second, according to Levitical law, the leprous person would be isolated from society, living alone outside of the camp, until they were no longer afflicted by the condition. Sounds a lot like quarantine, and it was. And yet, this band of lepers were together, having formed their own community by their shared affliction.
The men were ritually unclean, twice over, by who they were—one being a Samaritan, and the others by association—and ritually unclean by their condition of leprosy. Coming into contact with Jesus would have rendered Jesus ritually unclean, requiring him to cleanse himself of impurity before being able to return to his community. The men had shown up in the world, in the skin that they were in, and self-imposed their distance from Jesus, but Jesus had not commanded them to do so.
Jesus’ act of mercy, in the form of healing, was bestowed upon all 10 lepers. Jesus told the newly-restored men to return to the very people, the priests, who had expelled them from the community, “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” said Jesus. As they went from that region back to Samaria, they were made clean. We can only assume that others witnessed their healed, transformed bodies as they made their way to the priests for examination.
Jesus’ healing action made possible, for the once-exiled lepers to be restored to their community, in the renewed skin that they were in, as walking billboards for God—the source of all healing. The nine men who received healing, presumably did what they were told, and went to show themselves to the priests.
But, one man, the Samaritan, having noticed his own healing, returned to Jesus, loudly praised God, and in an act of reverence and submission, prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.
When this foreigner backtracked all the way to the feet of Jesus, the previously self-imposed physical distancing from Jesus had been removed. And, because of the physical healing, the man was able to share intimate space with Jesus who healed his soul.
“Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well,” said Jesus. The Greek word for “made well” is the word Sozo, which means “to save.” When Jesus told the grateful man, “…Your faith has made you well,” Jesus declared him saved not only from his physical condition, which had caused social rejection from the community, but from the despair that kept him spiritually distant from God, who, in the person of Jesus, was already standing in his presence.
This healing narrative today reminds us that, no human being is immune from the human condition of suffering in its many physical, mental and spiritual forms. Do we have eyes to see the visibly suffering amongst us? Do we have the curiosity to recognize the invisibly suffering amongst us?
Do we have the compassion to feel with those who have been rejected, and pushed to the margins of society because of race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or anything else that would be used to separate human beings from one another? As those who view the world through the lens of Jesus Christ, we must challenge ourselves to show up in this world, in the skin we are in—as embodied Christ in the world, to love one another as Christ loves us.
I may be stating the obvious, but it is critical for us to hear—when Jesus was in the midst of the lepers, healing took place. By faith, we know that Jesus is always in our midst, and that in Christ, all people are being healed and restored to unity with God and one another.
In the Holy Eucharist, we offer to God our thanks and praise, as the Samaritan did. And just as the Samaritan shared intimate space at Jesus’ feet, so, too, do we intimately meet Jesus, and he meets us, in and through the sacraments of wine and bread at the altar—and soul healing takes place. By faith, we believe that God’s saving power, which healed the 10 lepers and raised Jesus from the dead, can raise you and me from the sufferings of this life which threaten to assault our souls.
Though you may find yourself, at times, separated from other human beings, be assured that nothing can separate the Children of God from the love of God. Let us go forth into this world, in the Christ skin that we are in, as walking billboards, for all who do not yet know Christ, and who do not know that Jesus died on the cross to save them. And as we go, may we be at peace, trusting that in times of gladness, and in times of trial, our faith—your faith—has made you well. Amen.