But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation,
a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…
(1 St. Peter 2. 9)
You might be wondering this morning how exactly I plan to weave the words just quoted from St. Peter’s first Epistle into this morning’s lections. St. Peter seems to be speaking of something rather grand, elevated, and regal, or of a reality that is radically disjointed from the usual flow of human life. He talks of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. He speaks, in other words, of a world that seems light-years away from the one described in this morning’s Gospel. For there we are reading about a leper colony, a place and space of deathly sickness, a sign and symbol of sin and death, a reality, on the face of it, far removed from the true, the beautiful, and the good. On the one hand we think of reconciliation with the kingdom of God, while on the other we are reminded of a pain or suffering that precludes its possibility. But Jesus is the master artisan who can buttress the gap, unite the two, and so enable us to move from the one to the other. Jesus has a funny way of showing us that what we thought were mutually exclusive and radically opposed conditions of existence, end up being essentially interdependent and united in the journey to the kingdom. Jesus will show us this morning, that the chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, peculiar people –in other words the Church, had better become a leper colony.
So Jesus is on his way to founding or establishing the Church. We read that it came to pass, as Jesus went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. (St. Luke xvii. 11) Jesus is passing through the middle divide of two cities or two earthly communities. The one is full of Samaritans and the other full of Jews. In neither place will he find the conditions suitable to his spiritual work. Neither those on the left nor those on the right can offer much by way of healing and salvation. Earthly people are taken up with worldly idols and false gods; it doesn’t matter much what their philosophies are. Jesus knows that the road to the kingdom must cut between and lead above both. And that road is peopled by those who need and desire what he has come down to bring.
And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. (St. Luke xvii. 12, 13) Leprosy in the ancient world was viewed as a spiritual malady earning its carriers exile from the city of man. The physical manifestations were deemed so hideous by healthy men, that it was judged a sign of punishment for sins, both by the God of the Jews and the deities of the Gentiles. In any case, the leprous were unwelcome in both communities, and so lived on the borders of both as aliens to all. And it is one such group that we encounter this morning. We meet them because Jesus chose not to take the common and safer route for Jews making pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, but to go through the midst of this dangerous border between them and the Samaritans. Jesus chooses, in other words, a mostly no man’s land, from which to teach us about the nature of his kingdom and the Church that leads to it. So these alienated and shunned lepers stand on the outskirts of the village, and they cry out for help from one whom they trust will hear their plea. These men are in a ditch of a predicament and do not merely need help but want it. There is no diabolical if thou be the Son of God, prove it here. They are not tempting Christ, but desperately seeking what they believe he alone can offer. Their friendship together is a companionship in misery; they seek the power of one whose mercy can heal their pain. Knowing most acutely a common disease, they urgently seek a common cure. So, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, they do have hope that a healer is at hand, and so in earnest they seek to extort the benefit. (Comm.Par. 262) And so they cry, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. (St. Luke xvii 13)
And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. (Lev. 14.1-32) And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) Note that the infant leprous Church must move on faith that flowers into obedience. These are not men who seek a physical cure by earthly medicines. They do not question Jesus’ authority or qualifications. Rather they believe, and so follow his command. They do not ask when and where they will be healed. Neither do they ask how? They do not so much as ask if they will be healed. In fact, they question none of it at all! What they do, is obey, and then follow. For in trusting Jesus’ command, they are led by the spirit, at least, that is, for a time. An outward and visible spiritual disease has led these men to an inward and spiritual pain and suffering. Their plea emerges from within and so is verbalized. And so, only words here- Jesus words, are needed. The implications of Jesus’ words Go shew yourselves unto the priests are trusted inwardly and so operative outwardly. As they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) Notice that nothing more was needed for one kind of healing in this case. The men were physically healed and so they continue on. But is this the end of the matter? Is this miracle about healing the physical disease of leprosy only? Does this miracle teach us that faith and obedience, going to the temple to show ourselves to the priest, moving externally and visibly to receive a blessing, are all that are needed?
No. What is clear from the miracle that we read about this morning is that this process of healing that Jesus inaugurates is indeed about spiritual transformation. We read of one man who alone turns back to lead us into the truth. He is the one whose cure has startled his conscience. Far from experiencing only the effects of a new lease on physical living, this man senses a kind of health and power that invades his innermost consciousness. For it was there that he felt most deeply the pain of alienation and separation from other men, and thus from that place and space that this new contact, this Jesus, had touched him. There in his soul he had felt the pain, from the depths of his spirit he had longed for a friend, and so it is from that space that he knows the power. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. (St. Luke xvii 15,16) This outsider, this alien to Israel’s promises alone turns back. No doubt he knew that the Jewish priests would offer him no blessing at Jerusalem. But more importantly he turns back to the source of all healing and health. He not only turns back, but he glorifies God; he not only praises God, but he falls down at the feet of God’s presence and power. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. (St. Luke xvii 17,18) This Samaritan is a stranger to God and his promises. But it is this stranger who perceives and knows Jesus most truly. His faith has grown into spiritual thanksgiving. He heart is enlarged, his soul expands as he discovers the spiritual gift of this unknown Giver. His knowledge is startling and profound. His healing will run deeper that any physical cure to the disease of leprosy. Jesus says to him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Luke xvii 19) This man alone, amongst the ten, has been healed inwardly and spiritually.
The question that we ask ourselves this morning, is, where do I find myself in this morning’s Gospel miracle? Have I begun to sense that I am one of the ten lepers? Am I a part of a community that is marked by a debilitating disease that that desperately requires the cure that God alone can give? Is the leprosy in this morning’s Gospel an image of the sin that, I know, has oppressed my life? And is the community of lepers a picture of the church that comes together outwardly and visibly to acknowledge a common disease and to seek a common cure? Having received the promise of Jesus, and trusting in his word, does our community then image the response of the nine who proceed to move on, or does it rather imitate the turning of the one who returns to give thanks? In other words, having taken Jesus at his word, what effect do his promises have upon our lives? Are we here to be healed outwardly and visibly only- in word alone? Or are we here to be healed also in deed and in truth? And if the latter is the case, are we turning and thanking God for the good work that he has begun in us already as a community, desiring from our hearts its completion, individually, in the inner man? For if we desire more than group therapy and communal healing, we had better turn and return to the source of our wellbeing. In so doing, with the Samaritan in this morning’s Gospel, we shall have allowed the Lord to touch us where we were most in need of healing. And there, beginning to feel and know the power of God, we shall love and thank him all the more. Then and there, with the alien and outcast, the Samaritan, and with St. Peter – a leprous sinner also, we shall begin to become a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people;…showing forth the praises of God who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light…Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons