Do you remember those old ads that went something like, “eight out of ten dentists recommend brushing with Super White toothpaste!”? Or, “Four out of five doctors choose Marlborough cigarettes!”?
Those ads came to mind because “nine out of ten lepers said… nothing at all?” I really puzzled over that one. Why did only one return to give praise and thanks, and a “foreigner” at that?
This encounter is not complicated: Jesus is headed to Jerusalem. He’s in border country when a group of leprous men call out to him. “Master, have compassion on us!” Jesus tells them to go to the priests. As they go, they are made clean. One—a Samaritan—turns back before completing the task that Jesus gave them, praising God. He lies down at Jesus feet, thanking him. Jesus seems irritated that only one returned to praise God: “Where are the other nine? Only this foreigner returned?”. And he says to the fellow, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
It’s a simple encounter that stands on its own just as it is. Jesus’s love and healing, God’s love and healing, extends to all people, and the right response is to draw near with thanksgiving.
And a closer examination brings the story home to us today.
Three themes stand out for me:
- Outside/Inside. Far/near. Foreign/follower. At first the leprous men are at a distance; after the encounter with Jesus, the one who returns is able to be close to Jesus. He is a foreigner—and a member of a hostile/enemy people at that—who nevertheless is treated the same as the others.
- On the way. Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem. The leprous men are healed on the way. Jesus instructs the one who returned to go on his way.
- Returning with praise and thanksgiving. The foreigner’s response to being made well is to praise God and give thanks to Jesus.
A closer look at two words in the original Greek also give added depth to this story:
Be made well. Sozo is here translated as “to be made well.” It also means to save, to make whole, and to heal. It always evokes wholeness and saving as much as physical healing.
Thanksgiving. The Greek word here is eucharisteo. Eucharist.
Here are some of my takeaways:
We meet Jesus, Jesus meets us, while we are on the way. In our everyday lives, on our everyday journeys. Jesus also meets us in border country, when we have left what we know and have not yet arrived where we think we are heading.
Jesus’ healing is generous. All ten are healed; they don’t need to complete the task assigned. All ten are made whole, even though only one returns to acknowledge this. All ten are saved, whether foreign or not. Jesus doesn’t care who you are: his love is wide.
And, it is always right to return and give thanks.
Which we do. We do return and give thanks.
When we gather around this table for eucharist, we give thanks for God’s work in our lives and for God’s presence in creation, in the world around us. We give thanks for God’s never-failing love, despite our own shortcomings. We give thanks, even though our lives and our world are far from perfect. We give thanks because God’s healing, saving, whole-making love is always already there.
Sometimes we are like the one who returned; sometimes we are like the nine who were not conscious that they had been made whole.
We return. We return to our Thanksgiving feast week after week, a feast to which everyone is invited. That’s why St. Mary Magdalene’s uses real bread and why I (hopefully) give out big pieces. That’s why we have this beautiful icon of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, a picture of our ancestors welcoming strangers to their table. It’s a thanksgiving celebration.
In the eucharist we return and give thanks. While we are on the way, we pause for a moment, draw near to Jesus, rest in God’s love, and give thanks.
Thanks be to God.
Questions for reflection
I wonder whether you are more often like the one or like the nine? I wonder what difference that makes in your life?
I wonder what eucharist, what communion, means to you?
I wonder if you have been part of a meal or a feast where you knew the spirit of God was present?