I’d like to read another Scripture to compliment our story today of the 10 Lepers. It is the story of Naaman, the army commander of the king in Aram. The reading come from 2 Kings 5: 1 – 17.
1Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.3She said to her mistress, “If only the king were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”4So Naaman went in and told his king just what the girl from the land of Israel had said.5And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.6He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”7When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”8But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”
9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house.10Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”11But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!12Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.13But his servants approached and said to him, “Sir, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”14So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
15Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”16But he said, “As the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” Naaman urged Elisha to accept, but he refused.17Then Naaman said, “If not, please give me two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the LORD.
Naaman was a foreigner who turned to the Lord our God for healing. Through a peculiar act, Naaman received healing and his leprosy was cured. Though a foreigner, Naaman recognized that his healing came from the God of Israel and vowed to worship God alone. The God of Israel was believed to only be in Israel so Naaman asked for two mule loads of dirt to take with him back to Aram so he could worship God on the soil from Israel.
Naaman asked God for healing just as the 10 lepers as Christ for healing, who we know is God made flesh. The 10 lepers were in a foreign land. Samaria was not Israel. They were not Jews but worshiped the one true living God, just differently than the Jews. Jesus often travels through the margins, places along the borders of Israel, like Samaria.
It was there he encountered lepers to be healed. Beggars would have been in town in full sight of those who had the means to help them financially. Lepers, however, were cast out of town to live in leper colonies. People were afraid of getting too close that they too might get leprosy. Jesus traveled the outskirts of town to find those in need. Especially in Luke, Jesus cares for the marginalized, like the lepers.
The stories of Naaman’s cleasing and the 10 lepers are quite similar; all were foreigners and all were made clean. Elisha didn’t have the power to save, but could broker God’s power to heal. All had leprosy and all were given easy instructions. Naaman only needed to wash in the river and the 10 lepers needed only to leave Jesus walking toward the Temple to see the priests.
It was a bold move for Samaritans to go to the Temple to see the priests. It wasn’t enough for the lepers to be cured. Someone healed needed to go to the Temple to be confirmed clean by the priests. It was one thing to be healed, but that was only the first step in the process. Only the priests could deem someone clean and be restored to community. Once deemed clean, that person could then live with the community and no longer need to be outcast to the leper colonies. The lepers had received healing along the way, but the Temple confirmed their healing.
The one leper turned away from the others to thank Jesus and praise God. He was healed just as the 9 other lepers. The 9 lepers who went to the Temple were simply following Jesus’ orders. He had told them to go to the Temple and they did as they were told. The 9 lepers who left did nothing wrong. But, only the one turned back to praise God.
Reading the story of the lepers and Naaman, I thought about how we ask to be healed. We may ask for healing of an illness or disease, either for ourselves or for a loved one. We seek physical healing. We also petition Jesus for emotional and mental healing. We may be stuck on a bad problem worried out of our mind about how something will play out. We are only able to see the bad possibilities, unable to see the potential good blessing around the corner. Worry may be the leprosy of our mind leaving sores so bad we aren’t able to see the opportunity.
The resurrection reminds us that no matter how bleak things seem we can trust that blessing is ahead. Marianne Williamson wrote this: The resurrection of Jesus is not the story of one man two thousand years ago; it’s the story of any human consciousness when risen above limitations of the mortal world. Fear and anger [and worry] deaden our spirits; love and forgiveness bring us back to life.” And, there only one proper response to our life-affirming healing, it is praise and thanksgiving.
In the Gospels, there are few places where Jesus is thanked and God is praised for healing. This is the only one in the Gospel of Luke. The people in Luke have a variety of responses. In Luke 5, when Jesus cleanses a leper, the people’s response is to crowd Him wanting their own healing. In Luke 6, when Jesus heals a man with a withered hand, His opponents are filled with fury and plot to kill Him. In Luke 7, when Jesus raises a widow’s son, the crowd is filled with fear. In Luke 8, when Jesus casts out a legion of demons from a tormented man, the people ask Him to leave because they were afraid. In Luke 9, when Jesus heals a boy with a demon, they were astonished but didn’t give thanks or praise.
But, this lone leper responded like others had not. He stopped and praised God and thanked Jesus. All 10 lepers and Naaman were cleansed, but only 1 leper returned to give thanks and for that he was blessed. Jesus said, “Go. Your faith has saved you.” The proper response to healing is thanksgiving and praise and for that we are blessed.
I often ask the question about why we go to church. I want to hear people’s answers about their reasons for carving time out of their busy lives to come to church. Often I hear that coming to church gives us an opportunity to get our mind and heart focused as a good beginning to what lay ahead in the week. I think that is true.
It is an opportunity for us to do what the one leper did. Church is an opportunity to turn to Jesus giving thanksgiving for our blessings. Our time of praise and prayer are a blessing to us. The blessing is that we start our week focused on God alone and his saving grace and healing power. In this time, our blessing is that of humility. It takes a humble heart to turn to God and thank Him for our blessings. That was what the blessing of the leper was. He had a humble heart and I think that is what Jesus told him would save him.
I imagine that people who don’t come to church are burdened with a heart that is not humble. There is no outlet for thanksgiving for their blessings. They may pray for healing promising to go to church if their prayers are answered. But, if they do come, it’s short lived because that attendance is out of duty to answered prayers and not one of a humble heart. It is easy for people who don’t attend church to believe they are masters of their own universe thinking one thing or another are the source of all that is good in their lives.
But, we know who is the source of all things. We know it is God. We come to offer Him praise and thanksgiving for our blessings. Our hearts are humbled and we are blessed to be free as we recognize that our blessings cannot be bared as burdens. Our blessings are not carried but set us free as we give thanks to Jesus and praise God. We are humbled in this time and that is our blessing. Your humility has saved you.