Healing, Being Healed
Updated: Oct 10
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."
I have got to admit that I do not love the Respectability Ethic that could be read into this passage-- that it is not simply enough for the leper to be relieved of their suffering, but they must also perform their gratitude for it, they must in addition to being healed, be humbled, in addition to being relieved they also must respond in the way that we expected them to.
And if we're honest, we too sometimes love to exact this tariff on folks in church --
- it is not enough that the teenager got up before noon on a weekend, they must also be wearing the polo shirt, they must also stand up straight, they must also sing along with the hymns.
- it is not enough that this person brought their child to church and is contained by these uncomfortable box pews for one whole hour but they must also not squirm! they must also not make noise! they also must take only one cookie at coffee hour!
We love to exact this tariff of respectability from others in church all the time,
- it is not enough that somebody comes to the Episcopal church for the first time from a tradition that is nothing like our own, they must already know how to juggle two different books and a pamphlet and they had better not put their hands up in the air during a hymn or raise their voice above the volume of the rest of us while we recite the creed.
We love to exact this tariff on others all the time, it is not just enough that the lepers were healed, but they also must show their gratitude for it.
I do not love the respectability politick that could be read into this gospel reading, and so my hackles go up immediately with a reading like this. Is a gift freely given not given freely? Can gratitude be coerced out of a gift, or is it right for it to be expected? Well gosh, what great questions.
Before I jump into these questions, I want to situate myself in how I answer them because the perspective with which we approach passages like this matters for how we read and interpret them.
For the last seven or eight years, I have been in the position of working with people who are not "very" "good" "Episcopalians" -- teenagers, young adults, college students, summer campers, queer people have been hurt by the church or have been left behind by the church are, people who are suspicious of the church or who have never been part of the church; people for whom just walking in the door is a big, big effort for them and a big, big win for us. And in my experience, people like this who find themselves freshly in our spaces are sometimes greeted immediately with how they should show up better. "Why are you wearing sandals?" "Why are you wearing a tank top?" "Don't those piercings hurt?" "Why are you drawing on your iPad during the service." "You're in my pew" or "Yes, actually, you are asking too many questions." So for me, it's really worth figuring out what we think when we read passages like this gospel passage that could so easily lend themselves to those criticisms that frankly don't have any place in the life of a church community.
And for me, again, as this kind of priest among this kind of people, it is also worthwhile thinking about how a passage like this fits into the whole story of scripture, and how our conclusions fit into the entire life of faith that we are trying to build here, because in my experience people who are new to the church or who are new to this kind of church are asking very small questions at the same time as they are asking very large questions and the very small questions and the very big questions are the same question.
So let me answer our specific question about this one gospel passage by answering it as a very big question. I tell my students and my young adults all the time that what we are doing here at Church is we are building a community of people who take care of each other, and we are always trying to learn how to do that in better and bigger and braver and more expansive ways. And it's reflective of course of the ministry of Jesus -- picture him going from town to town, asking people what's wrong and meeting their needs, healing and reconciling and feeding. Jesus ropes the apostles into that work and he sends the 12 out and he sends the 72 out to do that work too, and he's telling people to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the sick. And he instructs his disciples (who are sent out like sheep among wolves) to receive hospitality and care in turn from the people with whom they minister.
This aspect of mutuality is important to me as a priest and its important to our ministries -- it's why the metaphor of church as hospital for sinners falls flat for me, because typically you come to the hospital when you're unwell and when you've been made well, you leave, which is not the case here, because if the church is a hospital then you come when you are unwell and when you're made well, you join the staff. If the church is a hospital then we ought to talk more about how we are at all times both doctor and patient, caregiver and care receiver, and we take shifts in the white coat and behind the lunch line and behind the front desk and in the bed. If the church is a hospital then we are not sent a bill, but rather we give to keep the hospital running and we rejoice in the care it gives others, because we sometimes have need of that care too.
And so I have to imagine that as understandable as a simple irkedness would be for Jesus not being thanked for his miracle by nine lepers, his reaction may have even moreso been about the unrealized mutuality of this encounter. We can rejoice because 10 were healed, but Jesus is not running a hospital where interactions like this are reduced to services rendered and accounts billable. He is not running a non-profit, he is building a movement --
it is in the same breath come be healed,
and because you were healed come help us heal.
it is in the same breath, the table is set for you,
and come help us set the table for others
because you were welcomed, come help us welcome,
It's why all of my college students and young adults and affiliated faculty and staff and board members are ministers with me, because this is a ministry where we all take care of each other. It's also true for all of you who are also ministers with me to college students and young adults (if it is a mission you choose to accept!) and you are also ministers of this community St. George's because this is not a very interesting place if what we are doing is receiving wisdom from somebody like me in a pulpit like this but if what we are doing here is slowly growing a community of people who all take care of one another then well, that,,, that has legs.
This value of mutuality in the gospel is why we frame our generosity campaign as a generosity campaign rather than billing your insurance for services rendered because that kind of exacting is not the foundation of a community,, rather we hope that somebody beautiful and good and true has happened to you here and among these people, and we hope that you would feel motivated to help us welcome others to help us serve others help us set the table for others to help something beautiful and good and true happen for someone else who needs it.
This gospel movement is not built by exacting gratitude or recompense but by inviting participation in our work, and by naming that what you are able to give of yourselves to help us give to other will be received with gladness and gratitude. It's built by doing our best to be in one another's corners.
St. George's, I'm glad to be in your corner, and I'm glad to be in Fredericksburg's corner with you.