You know, I have read this story many times. I can tell you the general gist of the story. But when I read it this time, I thought of something different. I usually focus on the whole ten-were-healed-but-only-one-was-grateful-enough-to-come-back aspect of the story. That take on the story has served me well for the past three cycles of the lectionary. But when I read it this time, something totally different jumped out at me.
What jumped out at me this time was what Jesus said to the one leper that came back; Jesus said that the faith of this leper had made him well. This really made me stop and think. I thought all ten were made well. Isn’t that what we would say? They were all made clean, they were all sent to the priests to be inspected, they all had their disease removed, so, we would assume, they were all made well! Or at lest that is the way I have read it for MANY years. But this does not seem to be the case. This is NOT what Jesus says. Jesus makes the distinction. We are told by the writer of the Gospel that all ten were made clean, but Jesus tells us that only one was made well.
So I had to wonder: What was the difference between being made clean and being made well?
I always assumed that being made clean was the equivalent of being well. It seemed like a logical assumption. Being made clean returned you to the community. The lepers were outcasts from those around them. They were banished from being among others and had to keep to themselves. By being made clean, they were returned to society and were able to get back to their normal lives. Wouldn’t you think that being back in the good graces of society the equivalent of being well? I guess I have thought that for years. But then it struck me: Why would there be a need to tell this one specific person that he was well?
It all has to do with that one particular leper coming back and thanking Jesus. There was something in coming back and thanking Jesus that resulted in this man being proclaimed “well.”
Now there was also something that was thrown in that often just slips past us. We are told that this man was a Samaritan. Hearing this, we should start thinking all kinds of things. Samaritans were the most disgusting people of Biblical time. The Samaritans were the grossest of the gross. Good Jews would not EVER associate with a Samaritan. So it should come as quite a shock that out of all the lepers, it was the Samaritan who was proclaimed well.
So, what is it about being a Samaritan and coming back and throwing yourself at Jesus’ feet that makes a person move beyond clean to actually being well?
I think it has something to do with awareness. The Samaritan was aware that he had been made clean and that he had nothing to do with it. The Samaritan knew the immensity of being outside of the community and then what it meant to be brought back into the community. If we think about it, the Samaritan was doubly outcast; he was outcast because he was a Samaritan and then outcast from the Samaritans because he was a Leper!
We can probably assume that for this guy, life has been pretty hard. He could not take a whole lot of things for granted. I would be willing to bet that in the group of ten lepers, he was probably the lowest man on the totem pole. So he was grateful for anything he got! And since he received so very little, what he did receive he realized was a gift and did not just assume that is was his due. There was not a whole lot of entitlement in him.
It would seem that one of our biggest problems is that we have grown up with a sense of entitlement. We feel we are entitled to our world, we are entitled to our comforts, we are entitled to worship when, where, and how we want. This sense of entitlement creates within us a sense of complacency. And with that complacency, we really cannot be said to be well.
We have been given the gift of life and forgiveness through Christ. That gift was made manifest in our baptism and continues to be strengthened when we gather at the table. We have been made Clean by Christ but are we really well? Do we see the gift of life and forgiveness we receive to be truly a gift or do we see it as our just reward for being good people?
I believe that God gives us all gifts. I believe those gifts are given freely. I believe that God gives us gifts to do with as we please and to use as our freewill dictates. And like the nine lepers that did not return, I believe that God will not take our gifts from us, even if we are not thankful for them. I can use my gifts for the glory of God or I can use them to serve myself. You can use your gifts in the service of God or in the service of yourself. Either way, God gave you gifts and talents and will not take them away. However, I do believe that God asks more of us than to just take the gifts that we have been given and to run with them. I believe that God wishes us to acknowledge what has been given and to place ourselves at his feet in worship and thanksgiving. And when we place ourselves before Christ, it is then that we are truly made well. It is then that we are brought into more than just a right relationship with society, but are brought back into relationship with our Lord and maker. It is when we are truly thankful and humble before God that we find our place in the world.
Christ has made us clean, but are we well? Do we have the faith to acknowledge the gifts we have been given and to place ourselves before God? Do we have the faith, the courage, and the humility to be sincerely thankful for the gifts we have been given? This is the challenge that is placed before us. This is the challenge that is placed before our society. This is the challenge that can make us more than clean, but can actually make us well.