October 9, 2022, Closing the Circuit, Luke 17:11-19 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
Carroll recently told me about an experiment he did in his Middle School science class. It’s a demonstration of how an electrical circuit works. It just takes a few people, a source, like a battery (nothing dangerously powerful) and something that is powered by electricity, like a light bulb. The class stood in a circle, holding hands, and one person touched the power source. And when the last person in the circle touched the light bulb, completing the circuit, it lit up. Science made fun!
And oddly enough, it struck me that something like that happens in the gospel reading today. Jesus is about to go into a village, when he sees ten men, approaching him, but keeping their distance, because they’re lepers. Lepers weren’t allowed to get too close to people. They weren’t even allowed to live within the borders of the village. So these men are standing at a respectful (and legal) distance, and they call out for help. “Jesus, Master,” they shout. “have mercy on us!”
Jesus answers them by giving them a command. “Go to the Temple,” he tells them, “and show yourselves to the priests.” The strange thing is that Jesus doesn’t really do anything. He doesn’t say a prayer. He doesn’t lay hands on them. But clearly, the authority in Jesus’s voice is enough that they all turn and head along the road towards Jerusalem. And it is as they walk along that the healing happens.
I wonder how it happens. Maybe they just walk along in silence, confused or hopeful, or a little of both, and all of a sudden, they look down at their own hands and arms, or they look at each other’s faces, and all of a sudden they see smooth, healthy skin instead of rotting flesh? Or maybe it happens slowly as they walk along, so gradually that they’re afraid to say anything at first, in case it’s just their imagination, until one of them summons up the courage to say what they’re all thinking. “Look! Jesus did it! We’re healed!”
However it happens, there comes a point when they all know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that their leprosy is gone. And now, of course, Jesus’s command suddenly makes sense. Because when a person with leprosy gets well, it was written in the Law of Moses that they had to go and show themselves to the priests at the Temple, so they could to begin the week-long process of ritual cleansing that would restore them to full membership in the community once again.
But one of the men – we can’t call them lepers any more – one of the men is so full of wonder and joy and gratitude that he just can’t go on towards the Temple. Before he does anything else, he has to go back and find Jesus. It’s not a question of obedience or disobedience. The other nine men are doing exactly what Jesus commanded them to do. It’s just that this one man, this Samaritan, feels like his heart will burst if he doesn’t go back and pour out his thanks and praise. He finds Jesus, and he falls on his knees before him, and Jesus says to him, “Your faith has made you well.”
Now, we should stop and be surprised by Jesus’s words here, I think, because isn’t the Samaritan man already well? That’s the reason he comes running back to thank Jesus. And not only the Samaritan man, but the other nine as well – they are all well. They are, all of them, completely cured of their leprosy, ready to be cleansed and restored to their communities, ready to eat and drink and worship with their friends and family and neighbors, to embrace people, to clasp their hands, to kiss their children. They’re all well.
But something more has happened to the tenth man, the man who comes back to give thanks to Jesus. This man has received something more: some kind of wellness and wholeness that is more than mere physical healing. And he is well in that new, different way, because he came back. It’s kind of like the electrical circuit that conducts the power of the battery all the way around to the light bulb and makes it shine. The man’s faith takes hold of the love of Christ, who is the source. And the union of faith and love makes people well and whole, not just bodily, but mind and heart and spirit as well.
Obviously, my science class analogy can’t be pushed too far – it’s just a picture, a rough sketch even, of a much bigger, much deeper reality. Clearly, God is not a battery. And his power is something much, much more complex and wonderful than an electrical current. And healing is nothing like so simple and ordinary as turning on a light bulb. All, obviously true. But I think it’s a good picture for thinking about what happens in the story of the ten lepers. And it might also help us to think about what happens when we pray for healing. Because that’s something we’ve all done. We have all asked for prayer when we were sick or in pain, when we were suffering some bodily affliction. And I am sure we’ve all prayed for friends and family to get well when they were suffering, many times.
In the story of the lepers, everything happens just like we think it’s supposed to happen when we pray for healing. Every one of the ten lepers is healed of his leprosy. But then, there is something more that happens, something different than we might have expected. Certainly something more than the tenth leper was expecting. “Your faith,” Jesus tells him, “has made you well.”
When Jesus says that, the man has already been healed of his illness. His skin is already healthy. He’s free from sores and infection. He already has everything he asked for. He already has everything he dared to hope for. But Jesus tells him that he has something so much better than that. In his gratitude – and in faith – he takes hold of the love of Jesus Christ, whether he understood he was doing that or not. And he’s made well and whole, not only physically, but in mind and spirit, healed of his years of loneliness and discouragement, healed of his feelings of rejection, healed of his fears of never belonging. A bigger healing. By faith, he receives the amazing grace that heals the whole person. He receives a new identity – the identity of one who is loved by God.
Father Nigel, who knows more about healing prayer than pretty much anyone I’ve ever met, frequently says this, “When we pray for healing, the person we’re praying for is not always cured. But, they are always healed.” We know the truth of that first part, all of us, often to our great sorrow. It is incredibly, wonderfully exciting when we pray for healing and we are cured. We pray about the spot on our lungs and it shrinks, or it just disappears. We pray for relief from our aches and pains, and we experience blessed relief. That’s awesome.
But there are so many other times that we pray for healing, and it seems like God just doesn’t answer. Or maybe that he’s just saying “no” to us. No cure happens. We’re still in pain. Or the spot is still there. And we feel all the worse, because it seems like our prayer didn’t “work” – like God wasn’t listening – like the connection failed somehow. But sometimes we fail to see the deeper, bigger, more important work of whole-person healing that always happens if we reach out in faith and take hold of the love of Jesus Christ.
Because, when you take hold of the love of Jesus Christ – you are well, with the spot on your lungs or without the spot on your lungs. You are whole, with those achy joints or without. no matter what. You are well and whole, because you are a beloved child of God, which is something that will never get old, which you can never lose, which no one can ever take away from you. Physical healing is a blessing, we all know that. But all healed bodies grow old and develop other infirmities and weaknesses in time. All healed bodies will die. Real healing happens when you take hold of the love of Jesus Christ – the love that is always there, always available to you. And his love doesn’t die.
And I believe there is an urgent need for that kind of whole-person healing in the world today. There is always illness and pain in the world. We have long prayer lists full of people who need physical healing. But there are so many more people who need desperately to know that they can be well and whole, even with all their human imperfections and afflictions. There are so many people who need the faith to take hold of the love that is already there for them.
Recently in our area, there is a growing community of people speaking out, who were raised in rigid, legalistic churches, with harsh discipline, and sometimes abuse. They’ve grown up feeling they were never acceptable as they were. You might have heard about this movement. Some of those people are finding wellness and wholeness in their faith apart from the toxic culture of their former churches. But others have rejected faith, along with the churches that failed them. Those people need to know that faith can make them well and whole, as they are. They need to know that the love of Jesus Christ has always been there for them, and will always be there for them.
And there are just so many other people in our world – I think of our own children and grandchildren – so many people who are sure that they are irredeemably broken in the eyes of God. So many people in our world, young and old, who have given up all hope of ever being well and whole. We need to let them know that the love of Jesus is there for them to hold onto, in all their human imperfection, as surely as it is for us, as surely as it was for the Samaritan man who came back to give thanks for his cure, and found something so much bigger. +