Friday, November 28, 2014

MERCY SEEKERS AND THANKS GIVERS

In the healing of ten lepers, Jesus asks where the other nine are. All ten men cried out to Jesus for mercy, but only one returned to give thanks. 


It would seem that there are more mercy seekers in the world than thanks givers.

In the deplorable state of the human condition, we have every reason to cry out to God for mercy. It is in this cry for help that God’s ears turn toward us. The Scriptures paint a clear picture of God’s desire to save us from destruction.

And so, we cry ‘Lord have mercy’.

Leprosy is a metaphor for our sins. These lepers were "afar off", not only because they had to stay away from the Jews, because of their uncleanness, but also because we cannot approach God, being full of sins. A man who has sins is certainly afar off from God.[i]

Jesus discovers in the Samaritan, a man who understands that faith and gratitude are companions. If you trust, you are grateful. The other nine lepers were likely Jews. Jesus did not call them strangers or foreigners, just this one man.

Not everyone that calls on Jesus is thankful.  Some are just desperate.  90% of that group showed more concerned for their health and place in society than about thanking the One who helped restore them. So, how is it that the stranger is the only One who demonstrates real faith?

The Samaritan had no chance of being declared clean by the Jewish priests. They might acknowledge that he was free of the symptoms of leprosy, but they would still find him unclean simply for being a Samaritan. This man had no hope of human acceptance and finds perfect acceptance in Jesus’ touch.

Samaritans were despised by the Jews, and were considered to be a heretical sect, "strangers", as it were. The simplest description of the Samaritans is that they were people who followed some of the divinely revealed Jewish religion, and added to it various kinds of false teachings. They were considered to be an unclean people by the Jews, partly because of the history between the Jews and Samaritans, and partly because the Samaritans were not pure in the faith.[ii]

So there it is… you might be able to meet some of the requirements, but we will never accept you because of your wrong beliefs.

What does Jesus do? He acknowledges the faith and wellness of the man that others despised and avoided. Is it possible that we have missed something really important about God’s love?

Jesus is moved by the emotionally charged gratitude of the Samaritan. His own tribe members gave him no such thanks.

Gratitude is the love language of God. He hears that loud and clear. Perhaps he may hear the gratitude of heretics and misfits more than he hears our praise.

How grateful are you? I suspect that the Samaritan man still had to find his place in the land, but he did so with the assurance of God’s acceptance. If no one else would be there for him, God would be.

Once you are grateful to God, it is difficult to not be grateful to those around you. Those who give thanks gain intimacy. While the other nine could say ‘Jesus healed me’, this one could say ‘I was face to face with Jesus’. Is that not better?

So what about you? Are you a just a ‘mercy seeker’ like the rest of us? Or have you turned to God and become a ‘thanks giver’?

John Pattison retells a great story about gratitude from Kathleen Norris’s book ‘Acedia & Me’.


In addition to being an exploration of acedia—meaning “absence of care”—this moving book recalls Norris’ marriage to the poet David Dwyer, his struggles with mental illness and his untimely death.
Norris remembers walking to visit her husband in a psychiatric ward on a day when it was so frigid that it hurt to breathe. As she cursed the cold and icy pavement under her feet, she recalled some words from that Sunday’s liturgy.

Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat …
 Bless the Lord, dews and falling snow … 
Bless the Lord, nights and days …
 Bless the Lord, light and darkness …
 Bless the Lord, ice and cold …
 Bless the Lord, frosts and snows; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.

Norris wrote, “The words were now a part of me, and when I most needed them, the rhythms of my walking had stirred them up, to erode my anxiety and self-pity and remind me that blessings may be found in all things.”[iii]


All things… are you grateful in every circumstance?


1 Thessalonians 5:
16 Rejoice always, 
17 pray continually, 
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

THE HEALING JOURNEY AND COMMUNITY


It was not enough that Jesus could heal the bodies of the ten lepers. He recognized that some experiences are worse than physical discomfort. These men were exiled from living in community. They had no way to be restored to their families, friends and place in the world.

Jesus sent them to be examined by the priests. Jesus knew that the inner restoration of the men could not happen until they were returned to human acceptance. Without that piece of the equation, they could enjoy perfect health but never be recognized as cured. They would still be exiled and discarded.

When we pray for healing and get medical help for people that are sick, we must recognize that God is interested in each person belonging in community. We may find fault with the ancients for exiling their own to leper colonies, but the path back still requires protocols to be met. The people with Jesus’ heart understand that human empathy and acceptance are a great part of the healing journey.

The ten lepers were not immediately healed in Jesus’ presence, but were quickly made right when they were on the path to home. Seeing the priests would ensure that they had the right and freedom to return to who they really were. These were the same priests who preached that they were unclean.

Before anyone is restored to right relationship, they need a priest or mediator to declare them safe and sound. Who are the priests in your life? …Doctors, parents, pastors, parole officers… Someone needs to vouch for you if you are going to be accepted.

When the Samaritan leper returns to thank Jesus, it is the High Priestly function of Jesus to declare him well. Jesus the High Priest does not examine the man’s body for signs of disease, but declares that the man’s faith has made him acceptable. The man was healed in body and also in spirit. God’s acceptance of a Samaritan had been declared.

At the end of our healing journey it is not the absence of symptoms that proves our wellness, but faith in Jesus that makes us well. ‘Rise and go. Your faith has made you well.’



Saturday, November 22, 2014

DEFINED BY DISEASE


There have always been diseases and conditions that become the defining feature of a person’s existence. No longer a man or woman, you have become something else—a leper. 




What other ways have we taken symptoms and characteristics and used them to define people as something less than what we are?


Luke 17:
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.
12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance
13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.
16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?
18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."


Jesus often travels along borders of human division. If you want to see where Jesus is at work, look for human borders that separate people from one another. The separation between Samaria and Galilee was marked by a huge gulf in understanding and respect.

The ten men on the outskirts of town were all given the same name—Leper. Any other defining characteristic was lost or losing ground. It may be that 9 of them were Jewish and 1 was Samaritan. The religious distinctions were buried by the disease identity. Their names, family connections and occupations were quickly becoming memories.

In suffering, they become each other’s companions. Former distinctions were less important to them now that they were truly alone. There are some labels that supersede everything else that you are or were. Is it any wonder that they cry to Jesus for mercy? Who else was there to listen to them? The gatekeepers of society ensured that they were kept away in the name of public safety.

In the absence of a healthy community connection, the exiles formed community among the sick. Sometimes the sick take care of the sick, better than the healthy do. Other times, they lack the strength and resource to make any difference for their companions and misery is met with misery.


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