Sunday, October 10, 2010

“Believing Is Seeing”

Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

A Message from the Pastor
Many, if not most, of us are familiar with the story of Jesus and the ten lepers. It’s a story of Jesus while he is on his way to Jerusalem. He is in the territory that separates Galilee from Samaria. The Galileans are associated with the people of God who worship in the temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans’ religion is different, symbolized by their worshipping on Mt. Gerazin. Several hundred years before this, the Assyrians had defeated the Northern nation of Israel. They dispersed the people and replaced them with people from other conquered nations. The ones that came to the territory brought their own gods and perspectives. The Assyrians purposely did this to destroy the national identity. So, the Samaritans were the result. They believed differently and thought differently than the Jewish people. The Samaritans detested the Galileans and the Galileans detested the Samaritans. However, this was the territory in between the two peoples. Boundaries weren’t as clear. It would not be surprising to find a Samaritan with the Galileans, especially since they had a common problem of leprosy.

Jesus entered a village there, and the lepers, off at a distance, must have known who Jesus was. They called him by name. The called, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Besides our understanding of mercy, the word could have indicated they were asking for money since they couldn’t fend for themselves.” With their calling out, Jesus saw them.

I wonder what he saw. I’m sure he saw ten pathetic human beings huddled together, suffering from leprosy. Jesus probably saw ten ragtag humans covered with cloth to hide the erosion of their skin. Yet, as the Son of God, Jesus certainly believed. And, in his belief, I wonder what he saw. I think he saw ten children of God suffering. Ten people created by God out of love who were experiencing the brokenness of this world. He saw ten human beings who were helpless and hopeless with their disease.

Jesus had a simple answer, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Jesus didn’t say, “You’re cured.” He didn’t say, “I heal you.” He simply said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And, the lepers obeyed. The story does not indicate that they asked any questions. And on the way to the priests, they were healed.

It is then that the one leper, the Samaritan, the foreigner, saw that he was healed. What did he really see? I’m sure he saw that his skin was back to normal. All the leprous skin was gone. But what did he really see? What did he believe and in his believing, what did he see? I wonder if, in his belief, he realized the power of God, and, through that power, the love and mercy of God. I wonder if he saw Jesus as the incarnation of God and realized that through Jesus the reign of God was breaking through.

And through that belief all he could do was thank and praise God. He did not quietly do so. He shouted out his praise and thanks. And he came before Jesus and prostrated himself on the ground. He fell before Jesus with his stomach on the ground, feet extended outward, and his arms stretched out before him. This was not even close to an ideal way of worshipping. He didn’t wait until he could find a comfortable place. He didn’t just praise him with acceptable words with an appropriate setting. This leper was eating dust and had his nose at the feet of Jesus who had been walking a long distance. It didn’t matter, he had to worship God and thank Jesus because in believing he saw.

Then Jesus asked where the other nine were. I wonder about this comment. Humorously, I can see the Samaritan looking up to Jesus and saying, “Well, Jesus, they’re just doing what you said for them to do. They’re showing themselves to the priests.”

Jesus acknowledged that the Samaritan, in his believing, realized the presence of God, and because of this believing, this faith, he had been made whole. (The word in the original language could mean “saved,” “healed,” “cured,” or “made whole.” Because of the context, I believe the last translation fits the situation best.)

In our belief, we are able to see. In our belief, we are able to see the power and love of God as we recognize that God sent his son, out of love, to die on the cross so that we may be one with God and in that oneness, we are healed, we are made whole.

That’s the first priority of worship. That’s the most significant meaning of worship. Yes, we are nourished and fed by the means of grace, word and sacrament. However, first and foremost, we believe and, in our believing, we come to a holy place to praise and thank God for his power, his mercy, and his love. It is in our believing that we can recognize the reign of God breaking through. It is in our faith – the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen – that we are made whole.

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