Sunday, October 9, 2016

the clensing of the lepers: gratitude is good for the soul

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our gospel today concerns the healing of the ten lepers. And, as you are aware, while all ten are healed only one returns to thank Jesus. And our Lord says to that leper, who was a Samaritan, something that I have always considered to be rather curious. He tells him his faith has made him well. Why does he say that when all ten have been cured of their leprosy – including the nine who do not return, who give no praise to God for what has been done to them? We shall return to that point again towards the end. But first, some other thoughts.

First, let us consider that well known saying when it comes to biblical interpretation that the miracle stories are parables in action. Miracles are always examples of God's power; and in the Gospels they therefore act to show Jesus' divinity. But the evangelists had many more miracles to choose from than they could include in their writings, otherwise the Gospels would have been impossibly long – remember, this was before the printing press when all documents had to be hand-written, as did all copies of them. So the evangelists had to be selective. And more often than not they chose incidents that worked at many levels: at the literal level of providing the proof that Jesus was indeed who he said he was, the Son of God; and at the didactic or teaching level, providing an opportunity for those present at the time and those present through the proclamation of the Gospel message to learn about how it is that God wishes his children to behave and live their lives.

So, when considered as a parable, what does this passage seek to teach us? The obvious answer is that we should be grateful for what God does for us. And I think we would all be shocked at the level of ingratitude shown by the nine lepers who do not return. They have been cured of a serious disease – not what we would today call leprosy, but serious enough all the same – one that keeps them apart from their fellow man and makes them ritually unclean to take part in the religious observances of their faith; and yet they have not come back to either thank Jesus or give public praise to God for the mercy shown to them.

We of course would never behave in such a manner. We would behave as the single leper who returns did, the Samaritan, who comes back and throws himself at the feet of Christ, thanking him and praising God. Or would we? Are we really grateful for all God does for us; or do we take it for granted, only giving him thanks and praise when something remarkable happens, such as ourselves or a close loved one surviving a close brush with death? And even then, do we give thanks only in the moment … gratitude being left in the past with the danger that has gone by?

And even if we do not forget those great moments when we have felt particularly God's protection, is it right that gratitude should be limited to such as those? What of giving thanks to God for all the day to day blessings in our lives? God has given us the precious gift of life – do we thank him for that? And having given us that, he gives us what we need to sustain that life – food, the air we breathe, the world around us – do we thank him for that? And if we do, how often is that gratitude be expressed and in what way? With a brief moment of thanks at the end of the day, almost an afterthought between our favourite programme on the television in the evening and closing our eyes in sleep as our heads hit the pillows?

And how sincere is that gratitude? It is easy to say the words 'thank you' with our lips; but much more meaningful to show it in the way we lead our lives. Just as St James told us there was no point in telling a brother that you wished him warm and well fed if you would take no action to meet those needs; so there is little point in telling God that you are grateful for his blessings if by your life you show him that you are not. For Christ told us that those who loved God would keep his commandments. Is it possible to be truly grateful to a person even as you act as someone who despises them? I think not.

That makes showing true gratitude to God for all the blessing he bestows a matter of great importance – a matter of our our eternal salvation. Something, I think, that our Lord refers to in our Gospel reading today. You will recall that I said that I would return at the end to Jesus' mysterious reference to how the faith of the Samaritan had made him well – a faith he displayed by returning to thank and praise God – which sounds strange because those who did not return were also cured – and in fact when Jesus said it to the Samaritan he had already been cured of his disease. But we have these words in translation and in the original language of the New Testament the words for 'made well' can have another meaning – it can also mean 'saved' … so what Jesus says here can also be interpreted as saying 'your faith has saved you.' Which in context makes sense; his body has been made well, as has those of all the lepers, by the healing power of Christ; but after that it is his soul that has been saved … his faith in God, as shown in his praise and thanks for his healing, has brought him into God's kingdom … the place I pray that the faith of you all, shown in the love for God you display in your lives, will bring you all. Amen.  

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