In our Gospel today, Jesus encounters ten lepers.
Ten human beings living with pain and estrangement, living without hope and care, tired, friendless, rejected, feared, cast out. They have grouped together for ‘company’, mutually miserable, counting that strength in numbers would give them some semblance of safety from the taunts and tricks of the cruel. And part of their group is a Samaritan.
Double-trouble, doubly burdened, this man is not only a leper. As a Samaritan he is an outsider anyway: a stranger, a foreigner, he is different, a non-Jew, he is impure, he worships in the wrong way, in the wrong places, he does not belong, he is not acceptable into normal society, hated, looked down upon, pushed around, pushed away.
‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,’ the ten lepers cried. And when he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
And as they turned and walked away, they saw that they were made clean. Healed. Nothing to keep them from taking up their old lives again. All they had to do was to go back and present themselves to the priests.
Except for one. One leper who was healed on the road, could not turn to the accepted religious institution to present himself. Because whoever he was, and wherever he was on his journey, he was not welcome, he was a Samaritan, he was a foreigner.
He was on his own, healed from leprosy but not from the effects of prejudice.
Where would he go? And without the other nine, to whom could he turn?
We read on, ‘Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.’
Something, some instinct caused this man to turn back, because he knew that there at the feet of this man, this Jesus, he was in the presence of Light and Life and Love.
Here he returned, and gave thanks.
And Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was there no-one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’
Well, the others were on their way back home, just as Jesus told them to be. They were on the way re-joining their communities, their families, their friends and the centre of society – their faith tradition.
The Samaritan though, this foreigner, who turned back, who gave thanks, found himself renewed, made whole, transformed, acknowledged and recognised as Jesus said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you whole.’
‘Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’
The experience of the ‘foreigner’ is not an enviable one. Familiarity is often hard won, even for the most adaptable, the most integrated.
And many ‘foreigners’ will dream of returning to the land of their birth one day. Though their new home is their true home, it may never quite feel that way.
We need to mark this well, my friends, the ‘foreigner’ understands the sting of prejudice and oppression. The ‘foreigner’ understands the rootlessness that characterises the stranger’s life. And these are all experiences that shaped the story of Israel and its Messiah. Without them and their stories, the narratives of God’s intercessions in this world are incomplete, even nonsensical.
And ‘foreigners’ are not just over there. They are our neighbours, we are your neighbours, we are colleagues, we are family, we are friends, we are part of this church congregation and the people with whom we share life.
But…but in Christ there is no ‘foreigner.’ In Christ, all of us are kin. And yet we know too well our human tendency—even sinfulness—to isolate one group, to exclude those people, to make an other of our sisters and brothers.
Not so, sisters and brothers, amongst us it is to be ‘not so’. The ‘foreigner’ is a reminder that God’s promises know no boundaries or borders, that God’s grace will not abide by the lines we draw between one another, that God consistently uses the most unlikely proclaimers of the good news to be the best choice of all to announce God’s will.
Like the Samaritan in our story. He it was, the stranger, the ‘foreigner’, he it was, who gave thanks, who returned, who praised God, who showed gratitude.
Living faithfully is to live thankful lives, living with a thankful heart is an expression of our faith. Of the faith in the one who is Light so we would never have to walk in darkness, who is the Way which will lead us into all truth, who is the living Bread in whom all our hungers are satisfied, who is Love incarnate, Life in a its fullness.
With my love and prayers: Mo. Andi