Dispatch One Hundred Sixteen

Posted: December 4, 2014 in Twenty-Ninth Bundle
Tags: , , , , , , ,

LUKE 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

What’s the difference between being made “clean” and being made “well”? We know from psychotherapy that alleviating the symptoms of mental disorder is not at all the same as building the strengths that promote mental order and happiness. Western medicine early on got oriented around the problems (dysfunction, impairment, injury, illness and disease) that compromise health, but only recently has attention been turning to the question of what supports higher well-being.

The ten lepers who approached Jesus for mercy were suffering from a terrible flesh-rotting disease that is still a problem in some parts of the world. Not knowing much about the physical causes and conditions of the disease, social morality back then ostracized lepers to their own colonies and regarded them as “unclean,” which carried religious connotations as a punishment for sin. Good people of society were careful to steer around lepers, reducing thereby the contagion of leprosy but also reinforcing the prejudice against lepers as accursed by God.

The question of whether this miracle story reaches back to an actual event in history misses the point, as reading the Bible literally will almost always do. Its real purpose in Luke’s Gospel is to reveal more of what the author believes Jesus was all about, where his true uniqueness and “power to save” were centered. As in other miracle stories of the Gospels, this episode presents Jesus as addressing those that society had dismissed or ignored as worthless.

But more than that, Jesus not only addressed them (i.e., acknowledged their presence), he also esteemed and honored the down-and-outs as children of God. Certainly he had compassion for their suffering, but he didn’t limit his outreach (as many of us do these days) to the effort of merely improving their living conditions. More often than not he touched them, had conversations with them, shared what he had with them, and invited them into his itinerant community of friends.

Without a doubt, many times these needy ones just took what Jesus had to give and moved on (or stayed where they were as he moved on). Their lives were changed by his love and its radiant power. Whatever their ailment, limitation, or disorder, Jesus effectively mediated and made possible their return to society. He “made them clean” by his regard for them as equals, as sons and daughters of God.

Only a small few of these, however, returned to Jesus out of gratitude for the way his love had set them free. Like this Samaritan – an ethnic identifier that compounded his stereotype as a degenerate – who turned back to offer his thanks for what Jesus had done, these grateful few not only enjoyed a new lease on life by virtue of being set free from their problem. They “reinvested” their freedom by choosing to live a more grateful life.

In making this choice, they were made well. This is what it means to be saved.

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