(Photo by Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)
Tonight it feels important to offer you one of my stories instead of a short reflection. Most of us attended church this morning. Many of us heard reflection on the familiar scripture about Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers. (Luke 17: 1-19). Sometimes when a scripture is familiar, we think we have heard all that God has to say to us through it.
Undergirding this story is a basic prejudice against the Samaritans. They were a remnant of the Hebrew people, who were left behind when the conquering Assyrians carried almost all the Hebrew people back to Syria as slaves. Having no connection with other Jews, this remnant developed different ways of worship and belief. When the Hebrew people were freed and returned to Israel, they believed the Samaritans had gone astray and rejected them. Both the Samaritans and the original Hebrew people came to hate each other.
Just in case you don’t have a bible to read the original story, here it is.
Luke 17: 11-14 (New International Version)
11-14 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15-19 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
I wrote the following story with hopes that it will bring a new perspective to such a familiar story. You can find it, and many more in my book “Breakthrough Moments”. It’s told from the point of view of James, Jesus’ friend and follower. Like many of us today, James was tired. He needed a rest.
WORN OUT! UNAPPRECIATED! WHY BOTHER?
I remember it all so well. Jesus and I and the rest of the disciples were headed to Jerusalem when we met those lepers along the road. We’d had such a long week. We’d watched Jesus heal people, hordes of people. We’d listened to him tell his stories – about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost brother.
And, it was hot, very hot. Heat is not scarce in our country. Every day, huge crowds had gathered around Jesus. My job was crowd control – a miserable job. The crowds had been particularly unruly the day before. I’d had enough. I just wanted to go home and rest.
Travelling early before the heat descended helped, so we were up early that morning. Our path took us along the border of Samaria. I wasn’t happy about that either. I knew we’d run into Samaritans. They hated us and we hated them. The hostility had gone on so long, most of us didn’t really understand its origin. They were sort of Jews, yet they were different from us. I knew I didn’t have the energy to deal with them. And I felt guilty. Jesus teaches acceptance and love. I didn’t feel accepting and definitely not loving.
On that hot day, there was just enough wind to blow the dust into our eyes and down our throats. Like the rest of us, Jesus was tired. We could see a town ahead, perched up on a hill. All I could think of was water, food, a bed for the night. I remember hoping that this town hadn’t heard of us. I couldn’t face any more crowds.
I blurted out, “I’m tired, Jesus. You talked yesterday about our being servants. Of course, I don’t mind serving. I want to follow you. But I’m tired, just plain tired. I need a break. We all need a break.”
Jesus stopped and put his arm around my shoulders.
It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t stop myself. “I don’t want anything to do with these Samaritans. They hate us. They’ve hated us forever. When we get to this next village, please don’t gather another crowd. Let’s just rest. Rest for several days. Then we’ll be ready for more servanthood.”
Jesus dropped his arm. He looked right into my eyes and smiled. He turned his head and beamed that smile over our whole exhausted little band of followers.
He said, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
I shook my head. “That mustard seed isn’t giving me any energy right now. I’m tired.”
Jesus said, “James, my friend, of course, you’re tired. We’re all tired. Let’s look for some goodness.” As we walked along, he pointed out the beauty that surrounded us. He talked of the things we had accomplished. So many people had heard his message. He thanked us for all that we had done.
I smelled them before I actually saw or heard them. Lepers, that’s what they were, all of them. They rose up from the dust as one clump of filth, rot, misery – their hands outstretched and pleading. “Jesus, master, have mercy on us,” they shouted.
Oh God, I thought, why now? Do we have to deal with them?
They were just close enough to see their ghastly faces – huge gaping sores, half their noses or cheeks missing, their hands wrapped in rags. Some still had fingers to point at us as they chanted, over and over, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
We stopped. They kept up the chant. At least they had the good sense to keep a safe distance from us. But not Jesus. He walked right up to them. We stood there, terrified of that awful disease.
The clamouring stopped. I lifted my head.
“Go show yourselves to the priests,” Jesus said.
Why would they do that, I thought. They wouldn’t be welcome. Besides, the soldiers would stop them as soon as they got close to town.
Jesus repeated his command. Finally, one and then another turned and started walking away from us. I guess they had given up hope.
As they walked, I saw it happen. They began staring at their hands, their legs. One reached out and touched another’s face. “We’re healing!” they shouted. “We’re healing. The disease is leaving us.” They hugged each other, slapped each other’s backs. They jumped for joy and ran over the hill.
“Well, aren’t they a grateful lot?” I thought. “They didn’t even yell a thank you. Just went dancing off as if they deserved their healing.”
I tapped Jesus on the shoulder, prepared to complain to him. Before I could say anything, one of them came running back.
He fell at Jesus’ feet. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said, over and over again. “My parents will be so happy. I’ll be able to see my wife and children. Thank you, Jesus.”
Jesus bent over and lifted him onto his feet. They hugged.
We had seen Jesus heal people many times before, yet this time felt different. The man’s joy filled us with light and energy.
That’s why we continue to be servants, I thought. That’s why following Jesus isn’t just a duty. The joy, it‘s the joy that gives us energy, keeps us going.
On that day, Jesus’ words to the man who was grateful, hit us like a tub of ice water. “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” He turned to me and continued, “Was none of them willing to return and give praise to God, except this Samaritan?” Then, turning to the healed man, “Go on your way, your faith has made you well.”
Yes, Jesus revelled in this man’s joy, just as we did, but he, too, would have liked more. He wondered about the gratitude of the other nine.
It made it easier for me to know that Jesus sometimes had expectations. Jesus, who was such a willing, giving servant, could feel like I do, taken for granted, not appreciated. Gratefulness was missing for Jesus, too. Jesus understood.
Yet even when he’s tired, he continues to love and heal and forgive and serve. Following Jesus takes strength, determination, courage and patience, endless patience. It’s good that all I need is a mustard seed faith, since that’s all I have.
Prayer: Thank you merciful God for loving me, even when I’m tired and ready to quit serving you. I need your strength, your energy. I want to experience your joy as I care for your beloved people. Amen
Questions for Discussion:
- What reasons might the other nine give for not returning?
- When have you felt like James: exhausted, unappreciated?
- Describe the times when you have received someone’s gratitude.
- When have you forgotten to give thanks to God, some individual or group
- What role does prejudice play in the story?
- What role does prejudice play in your life story?