“Turn Back in Thanksgiving”
Luke 17:11-19 (17:15) – October 9, 2022
People in need of healing are often seen in the Gospels. Can you imagine a sudden, spontaneous healing happening right in front of you? How about ten people being healed, all at once? That is exactly what happens here, in today’s Scripture reading from Dr. Luke.
The Rabbi Jesus is on His way towards Jerusalem, traveling with His disciples along the way. He comes upon not only one or two people in need of healing, but instead ten people. What would you do when faced with a group of people your society says are “untouchables?” Who cannot even come close, or come into the town, near other “healthy” people? Who have strained relationships, even no relationships with larger society?
Since Luke was a doctor, he must have had some experience with people with various types of skin conditions. What we now know today as simple eczema, or hives, or allergy-related skin issues must have been sources of great dismay. Much less actual leprosy, known as Hansen’s disease, where extremities get diseased as a part of this disfiguring wasting illness. Imagine your fingers or toes or ears just getting diseased and falling off. Horrible.
Let’s look at the verses from Leviticus 13, giving instructions to the people of Israel. “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp” This is what all people with serious skin conditions were required to do. Imagine yourself, a relative, or a good friend forced to put their hands out in a stay-away gesture. A very sad state of affairs, indeed!
We start to understand how very much alone these lepers are. Not being able to come near their families or friends? “It wasn’t uncommon for lepers to group together. They can’t have much social contact with the “clean” members of society, so they form their own society of the “unclean,” the “untouchables.” Being just outside a village would be common, since they probably obtain food from family members or those in the village who have pity on them. Since they have no land to till, no livestock to look after, they are dependent upon others.” 
These ten lepers asked Jesus “Have mercy upon us!” Notice, not the Greek verb for “heal us!” but instead the verb eleeo,“have mercy!” This Greek word means “to be greatly concerned about someone in need, have compassion/mercy/pity for someone.”
What was it Jesus said to the group of lepers? Not, “Go, be healed!” but instead, “‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.” (17:14)
As interested observers, we see that much that happens in this brief interaction is fairly typical, looking at all the healing miracles of Jesus from the Gospels. “Neither the pattern of healing — a plea followed by an eminently observable command [from Jesus] — nor the response of worship from the one who returns — to praise, prostrate, and thank — is unique. Both are reliable elements in healing stories. God acts in and through the ordinary.” 
I used to attend church with a missionary who now is retired. I haven’t been in touch with Kathleen for a number of years, but she was in Africa for quite a while doing work for a Christian organization. As she did this relationship-building work with mostly moms and their children, and sometimes the elderly, Kathleen observed miraculous healings going on. These healings were sudden, and happened either with the help of fellow missionaries or pastors. Overwhelmingly, the healings took place in very ordinary, everyday circumstances. In people’s homes, in the marketplace, on the side of the road. God acted in and through ordinary things, and places, and actions. God miraculously built bridges, to draw many to God in relationship, in radical welcome.
It started out as an ordinary day. The ten lepers all were cleansed and healed as they went to show themselves to the priests. However, only one leper out of ten came back to say “thank You” to Jesus. What a bridge to build a relationship!
“By the end of the story, all ten are made well. But one has something more. He has seen Jesus, recognized his blessing and rejoiced in it, and changed his course of action and behavior. And because he sees what has happened, the leper is not just healed, but is made whole, restored, drawn back into relationship with God and humanity. In all these ways he has been, if we must choose a single word, saved.” 
Can you see God building relationship in your ordinary life? Helping you along your ordinary comings and goings? That is what God does. It was an ordinary day when these ten lepers suddenly met the Rabbi Jesus – at a distance. Nothing particularly unusual until they had their interaction with Jesus. Can God act in and through our ordinary life? Most important, can we say “thank You” to God for kindness, provision, even miracles that happen in our lives?
It does not matter whether we have any illness or infirmity: physical, mental, relational, psychological. We all have the possibility to be made whole, restored, drawn back into intimate relationship with God and with humanity. Even though we are all at a distance through sin and separation from God, thank God that our Lord Jesus is so willing to draw each one of us into an embrace, a radical welcome, and a close relationship. Thank God each of us can be made whole. Alleluia, amen!