October 13, 2019
Dear Believers in Christ Jesus,
In Luke 17: 11-19, we listen to the leper who was healed and who came back to Jesus in gratitude. This is a powerful story. Sometimes we overlook its importance and its challenge to us today. Jesus poses this story because as we peal away its layers, it has rich and profound meaning for our lives of faith.
First of all, the leper was pulled out of his community. He was literally cut off from relationships. Everything that had been familiar to the person who had this disease was cut off, changed and the future was eventual death. To add to such isolation, the cultural difference of the Samaritan was another barrier. The leper was isolated. The leper was far from any human touch or concern. Leprosy was also considered to be the fault of the person. Disease was considered to be the result of sin and separateness from God.
So Jesus crosses many lines in this story. In our time, it is very difficult to articulate and realize the significance of such a posture and how countercultural Jesus’ presence was at the time. He overstepped his boundaries. He reached out to break down cultural barriers that were extremely high and mighty. Jesus wanted to bring to the lepers a new hope for their lives. He desired to not only heal them physically, but to repair all the cultural isolations that the lepers were facing. He wanted them to be in community once again, not the community of being sick, but in the family relationships that had been destroyed.
Jesus breaks the cultural norms among Samaritans and Galileans as well. His presence is incredibly counter-cultural. He breaks down perceptions and walls. He hustles over people’s long-term associations with disease and power. Jesus reveals a new relationship.
So it is important to recognize that only one former leper came back to thank him for the healing. The person who came back was a Samaritan. So it is the outsider who recognizes who Jesus is and what he did for the entire group. The outsider knows healing and understands who Jesus is for his future and for his family as well. This is so often the case in the gospels. The outsider is seen in so many different stories as the person who leaps off the page to tell us who Jesus is for our own lives. The outsider becomes the insider. The outcast becomes the herald of hope. The one on the margins proclaimed the gift of salvation here on earth to those who believe they already were the insiders.
“Thank you” is a profound gift of faith. Gratitude changes us. This is the gift of change and healing. It is gratefulness that can restore us to not only faith but to the people we love. We may not identify with the leper, but we can identify being on the margins of relationships when we face a divorce, job loss or ill health. Our loneliness can become leprosy when we don’t know how to change such a reality.
Today’s story challenges us to leap over obstacles that get in our way to knowing fully who Jesus is for us. Nothing shall stand in the way if we believe in Jesus and what he can do to change our lives. Jesus heals us. Jesus restores relationships. Jesus brings to us the message of the Kingdom. So we thank him. We, too, are grateful.