Salvation: More than just healing

October 15, 2013

When we look at this morning’s Gospel passage at face value, it seems like a simple story of healing and gratitude. But this is one of those stories that have a lot more going on than it might first appear. Part of the challenge in getting to this deeper level is that this scene is very different from anything that we normally see. We don’t when lepers are part of our regular life, so it’s hard to imagine what this scene would have looked like. Also, there is some hidden wordplay in this passage that is hard for us to discern some of the deeper meaning. But to put it simply, this passage is about a lot more than ten lepers being healed. Our Gospel this morning contains a microcosm of each of our stories of salvation.

Let’s begin by reviewing a little of the background because this story moves quite quickly. Leprosy didn’t always mean leprosy as we understand it. This word referred to all kinds of skin disorders, some serious, and some not so serious. But the regardless, if you had one of these diseases, you were sent away from the community and your family until you got better. This was done to protect the whole community in case you really did have something serious.

The Book of Leviticus gives detailed instructions about how to handle people with these kinds of illnesses. So if you got some sort of nasty thing on your skin, you would have to go live in a tent for a few weeks, and when you got better, you would show one of the priests where the spot was, and they would say – ok, I guess you’re better now. Then you could go home. I’m somewhat glad that this part has been removed from the priest’s job description. But there’s one other important part of understanding how people thought about disease in antiquity. They saw the exterior disease was seen as a sign of some kind of interior sin. Sin and disease were very strongly linked at the time. So whenever we here one of these stories about healing, we need to read it as a story of God’s forgiveness and mercy as well. Now we really don’t think of things this way any more, but we need to keep this in mind as we read the story.

In our story today, we’ve got ten of these leper folks. They shout out to Jesus for healing, and he tells them to go to priest. Even though they are not yet healed, he tells them to have faith that they will be. As they are on their way, they discover that they are healed. I suppose we can assume that they made it to the priest to have their healing recognized. One of them, a Samaritan, returns to give thanks to Jesus. And Jesus tells him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

This is the line where we have to look very carefully the words. What’s another word for ‘Get up’? Here’s a hint, we say it a lot at Easter. The word Jesus uses is closely related the word for resurrection. And the word that Jesus uses for made you well is the word that we use for being saved. So we can read this last line like this ‘Rise up, and continue your journey; your faith has saved you.’

Jesus clearly intends for the Samaritan leper to be the example for how we should behave. The lepers recognize their need. They cry out to Jesus asking to be healed. So we are supposed to recognize our need to mercy and forgiveness and to not be afraid to make a bit of a spectacle of ourselves about it.

This story highlights how most of us actually act. At times in our lives, we can recognize that we need God, that we need his love and mercy. And we ask for it and he generously gives us what we ask. But we often have trouble with this next part. We often fail to run back to give God the glory and thanksgiving. And from Jesus response to the Samaritan, we can see that this thanksgiving is even more important than the healing itself.

Our experience of reaching out to God comes in two parts. The first is repentance and God heals us. The second, more important part is thanksgiving. When we put these two together, we find that the second gift is salvation. Healing restores us to where we were before, but salvation raises us up to a new place. It’s in the act of thanksgiving that we truly enter into God’s life. This is where we are heading as Christians. We are not content with just being healed; we are called to live in joy and thanksgiving and gratitude.

– Michael Tuck+

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