By Rev Gail Smith.
In the name of God, Creator Redeemer and Sustainer:
“Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.
Have you ever stopped to think about your life as a gift? A gift from God? A precious gift, one to be cherished, something to be grateful for, even when things are hard and the world seems to be going crazy. The people in today’s stories from Kings and Luke’s gospel did not see their lives as something to cherish at the beginning of their stories. Gratitude came later.
In today’s story from the Old Testament we hear about Naaman, who is a commander of the army for the King of Aram. Aram was Aram Damascus which is present day central Syria. He has leprosy. His wife’s maid is from Israel. She tells her mistress that there is a prophet in Samaria that can cure him. In the end the news gets to the King of Israel who is afraid that Naaman is trying to pick a quarrel with him. Elisha, “a man of God,” hears of this and offers to cure Naaman. Elisha sends a messenger to Naaman telling him to go wash himself in the Jordan seven times to be made clean. Naaman, who was expecting something a bit more flashy, complains. Why the Jordan when there are other rivers to wash in? But his servants tell him if a prophet tells you to do something as simple as this, then why not do it? So, he washes and his flesh is restored. He is healed. Naaman then goes to Elisha praising God saying: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”
I wonder do we always look for the flashy answer for things and miss the simple one right before us.
In Luke we find Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Somewhere near Samaria. He comes upon ten lepers. Lepers in this story, unlike Naaman, usually kept themselves completely separate from society as they were considered unclean. One commentary on the story tells us that “their leprosy was not necessarily Hanson’s disease, the terrible wasting disease that we think of today as leprosy. Biblical leprosy included a variety of skin diseases such as ringworm or psoriasis. Some were highly contagious others not. Some are curable while others are not. Priests were responsible for the diagnosis and for deciding if someone was “cured,” therefore no longer considered unclean. “A diagnosis of leprosy was treated as a death sentence – in much the same way that a diagnosis of cancer or AIDS was treated a few decades ago. People tended to regard leprosy as a sign of God’s judgment.”
The ten in today’s gospel kept their distance as they called out to Jesus “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They recognized Jesus as a healer one of many traveling around Palestine at the time. Jesus doesn’t come over to touch them or to quiz them about their faith. He merely tells them to go to their priests. As they go they discover they are healed. Only one of the ten upon noticing what has happened stops to return to Jesus rather than continuing on his way to the priests. As he comes back he is shouting loudly, praising God. He throws himself at Jesus feet thanking him. As in the story of the Good Samaritan, the one who returns to give thanks is a Samaritan. Remember Samaritans for Jews are people to be associated with; this leper in a sense was then doubly unclean. Jesus tells him “get up and go on your way your faith has made you well.”
The one who turned back was more than just physically healed. Somehow, he knew that he had been touched by God. A commentator says (NIB*) “The point of the story is not the healing but the response of those who were touched by God’s mercy. The one healed “recognizes that God has acted through Jesus, and offers praise to God.”
Both stories are about how we see things and how we respond. Elisha and Jesus, both saw the need of someone who was a foreigner and they heal them. Both Naaman and the leper respond with joyful praise and thanks. So, what do we see? Do we see the need of others? Do we respond? When we have been helped, how do we respond? Do we give thanks? Do we ever pass others by who are different, who are strangers, whose lives may be a day to day struggle? Meda Stamper writes: The man healed was a Samaritan. Jesus was there for those who were living and existing at the margins of society, those considered unclean.” Who are the people at the margins of our society? And what about those who find themselves suddenly homeless as a refugee. Do we see them? Or do they remain unseen pushed to the margins, the edge by our fear? Do we see Jesus in them? Do we see Jesus with them, at the edge?
We could ask ourselves as one commentator asks (NIB)* “Is healing simply the natural process of nature or a sign of God’s Love?” The commentator goes on to say “Gratitude is maybe the purest measure of one’s character and spiritual condition. The absence of the ability to be grateful reveals self-centeredness; it can reveal an attitude that says “I deserve more than I ever get, so I do not need to be grateful.” Where are we on the gratitude scale? Do we take the time each day to be grateful?
Life itself is a gift. Health is a precious gift. The friendship of others, the love of family and friends are an overwhelming grace to be treasured and grateful for. So, again, what do we see? What do we do?
When we become aware of God’s grace, doors can open for us, our hearts can open and we can be filled with a sense of overwhelming gratitude for all that we have been given. Have there been encounters in your life when you have been given the opportunity to respond with the same spirit of gratitude that filled the leper who found himself healed? When are we like the one leper? When are we openly grateful? When are we like the other nine dutiful yet blind to what we have received?
Mark Nepo, a poet and spiritual writer wrote this in his book “The Book of Awakenings: “There is a deep paradox at work in us. For though we aspire to self-mastery and peace of mind, we are only momentarily whole. As conscious beings living in bodies, we are worn down by life . . . until we are freshly open to everything; there are moments of enlightenment, when clarity and compassion of centuries rise in us, and we are suddenly more than we are, only to trip on the garbage the very next day or to say something hurtful the very next minute to the one we love most.”
The leper had one of those moments of enlightenment when he knew he was healed and then turned to praise God and to thank Jesus with in his next breath. However, we do not know what he did the next day. His moment of revelation was in the present, when for that time he was fully aware of the grace and power of God’s love. I suspect we too know and recognize moments in our lives that are filled with grace. When life feels full and wonderful. It doesn’t mean that such moment last forever. Sadly, we still might do something that is hurtful to someone we love. We are after all fully human as God made us; gifted with life and the free will to do what God would wish us to do and to not to do. We all of us have within us the capacity to love and the capacity to turn away from God and God’s love.
Mark Nepo asks “How will we fully live? How will we live in such a way that the wonder of feeling out fuels the pain of breaking?” He goes on “ Faith seems crucial, the ability to inhabit the breadth and depth of our compassion, to know even in the dark center of our pain, that somewhere out of view there is joy and wonder, that even when we tumble we are a part of something larger than our own design.”
The leper could have gone with the others to return to his loved ones to celebrate his healing with them. Instead he felt compelled to turn and to praise God and to thank God for his new life.
So how do we live our lives? Are we grateful every day for both the small and large things in our life a baby’s grin, a hand held, a smile of joy in the face of pain? May we be open to that grace, and may we find ways to give thanks to God now today and again tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
NIB New Interpreter’s Bible volume on Luke
**(an online commentary)