- Got Flamingos?
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. He 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."
he afternoon of Christmas Day had a distinct feeling in my childhood. All the presents had been opened. The adults had all retreated to reclining chairs or bedrooms for a midday nap after the long hours of Christmas Eve. The odors of Christmas Dinner, still to come, were coalescing in the kitchen. My brothers and I were playing with our new toys together. Even as we were playing, I was feeling something that I could not have put into words at that point in my life. It was a feeling of disappointment.
It was not disappointment in the gifts themselves, they were wonderful and generous, and my siblings and I enjoyed them. After weeks and weeks of anticipation, after visits to Santa Claus, after countless discussions with friends at school about what we thought our Christmas gifts might be, and after barely being able to sleep with excitement the night before, after all of that, it was the realization that these gifts had changed nothing in my life, for better or for worse.
The reality was that they were just another toy. They had no power to make tomorrow any different than today or the day before. It was the disappointment that comes with the realization that they were existentially empty objects that had no power to fill the emptiness of existence with meaning.
I’m sure that you have experienced this same sensation. Whether it was a new car, a new piece of furniture, a new computer or phone, or even a new promotion at work, I’m sure you’ve experienced the gnawing realization that the object of so much desire and anticipation fails to actually change your life. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the disappointment that comes when we are not transformed.
Transformation. I wonder if that’s the difference we see in this morning’s gospel reading. I wonder if that is the difference between the leper who returns to give thanks and praise and the other nine who we never hear from again. We first find them on the outskirts of town, in the borderlands of two civilizations. From there they called out their shame. Day in and day out, they called out their shame. Such was the collective fear of leprosy that the law required them to shout at a distance to all who might walk near, “Stay away. Do not come near. We are lepers.”
This morning, though, something was different. This morning they did not call out their shame. This morning they called out their hope. We do not know how they knew Jesus. Perhaps word of him had already spread through the towns and into the borderlands where they lived. Perhaps they simply recognized in him all their longings and all their anticipation. Perhaps they knew Jesus because they could see in him the healing he offered. So they called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.”
Jesus saw them. Jesus healed them. And Jesus sent them away to be declared clean by the priests.
Filled with joy at receiving that for which they had longed after so much time, so much agony, so much shame, they ran off at once to follow Jesus’ instruction. They were healed. Tomorrow would not be the same as today or the day before. They would wake up for the first time in the midst of family, in the midst of community, in the midst of home. Their lives were forever changed.
But one leper, only one leper, upon seeing his sores healed, upon seeing his body healed, upon seeing his life healed, stopped. He stopped, turned his face toward Jesus, and ran back to him. Falling upon the ground, the man began shouting his praise and gratitude to Jesus. Seeing the man before him, Jesus said, “Get up, your faith has made you whole.”
We never find out how the other nine men’s lives were changed by their encounter with Christ. They were changed, of that there is no doubt. None of us is ever healed without being changed. All ten of them left with new lives. But only one of them left a new person. Only one of them was transformed.
Healing is something that happens when God sees us, and the good news of the Gospel is that God does see us. God came to walk among us so that God could see us. In the worst of human condition, the worst of human suffering, God finds us. God sees us. God heals us. And at one level that is sufficient. At one level, it is enough just to be healed.
But transformation happens when we complete the symmetry. Transformation happens when we see what God has done for us and express gratitude to God. Transformation happens when we see God.
For faith is more than believing that God can heal us, that God can change us. Faith is learning to see that God has changed us. Faith is learning to see that God has healed us. The invitation of the gospel story this morning is for us to become attentive. The invitation is for us to learn to listen. The invitation is for us to learn to see where God is at work in our lives. For God is already at work. God is already changing us. God is already healing us.
My friends, we have all faced the existential emptiness in life. We may hide from it. We may drive it far from our minds so that we do not have to think on it. But we all know it is there. No amount of material things can fill it. No amount of anticipation can fill it. Only the transformation that comes with gratitude can fill it. Gratitude begins when we learn to see where God is working in our lives. Transformation begins when we learn to see God.
God is always seeking us, always pursuing us, so that we might have the gift of new life. Come, let us turn around and meet our God, face to face, so that we might also become a new people.
Preached by Adam Yates