Dear beloved of God, near and far, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ, Amen.
Eventually, doctors came to understand that the disease was transmitted by respiratory droplets. Those little flecks of mucusy water that fly from our mouths and noses when we cough or sneeze. But at first, the illness was a bit of a mystery. Where did it come from? How did you get it? How do we make sure others don’t get it?
Quickly, isolation became important. People believed that separating folks helped to limit the spread of the disease.
Colonies popped around the edges of cities where people with the disease would cluster together, waiting for the inevitable skin lesions, nerve damage, and eventual joint deformities to manifest.
You thought I was talking about COVID-19 at first didn’t you. Yeah, I’m not. This is Hansen’s disease, or as it’s more commonly known, leprosy.
I was curious to learn a bit more about leprosy because it shows up with some regularity in the Bible. I also thought I’d be able to take a little break from the Novel Coronavirus and learn a bit about an ancient disease and how people dealt with it. I did a little digging and it all came full circle with respiratory droplets. A phrase I wish I’d never learned. But there it was again.
The fact that we are now directed to physically distance ourselves from one another has helped me to see some parts of this story with some greater clarity.
As Jesus entered a village, 10 lepers approached him. But they kept their distance. They called to him from a ways off. Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
Due to an illness that no one understood, these 10 were forced to physically and socially distance themselves from others. They, like so many others before them, see in Jesus potential help, maybe even salvation in the sense of healing and wholeness and life. But they can’t get too close. These 10 can’t grab Jesus’ cloak like the hemorrhaging woman. They can’t tear off the roof of the house and lower each other into the house at Jesus’ feet. They can’t wash Jesus’ feet with their hair and their tears. They can’t come close. They can’t draw near to Jesus however much they might want to.
They have to stay away.
They know the rules. Maybe it was six feet. Maybe it was 20. They knew they carried something dangerous, something potent within their bodies even if they didn’t understand how the disease was communicated. They stayed away.
And it’s from that distance that they call out for mercy. They call out for help. Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
And Jesus responds. He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. And they go. Which in of itself is an act of faith. It was the priests that would declare the lepers were clean. It was the priests that would announce that the disease had left them. It was the priests that by their words would restore these 10 into life in the community. So they go. All of them. All of them leave. All of them head off to the temple, to the very place they’re not supposed to go because they’re unclean. But they go, fully expecting that they will be healed, that they will be clean.
And along the way it happens. They’re healed, they’re saved, they’re restored to life in the community.
But one of them takes a detour. One of the people with leprosy, turns from the path that Jesus has set him on and he comes back. He falls down at Jesus’ feet. He thanks Jesus. I gotta believe that this guy broke the six foot bubble.
This man, this Samaritan, who just a short time before could only yell to Jesus from a distance, draws close to the son of God and shared his joy, shared his thanks, shared his life with Jesus.
Jesus asked, “Were not 10 made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
This can be a very troubling verse. Like, why is Jesus so grumpy. The other nine are simply doing what Jesus told them to do. Why is Jesus so harsh?
Because Jesus wants to share this with all of them. Jesus wants to share life with them. The removal of the disease is but a small piece of God’s restorative and reconciling work that is bringing all of creation back into life and relationship with God.
Praising God is not just saying nice things about God because God needs to hear nice things about God’s self.
Praising God points to a new reality that is breaking into this fragile and failing world. Praising God points to hope instead of despair. Praising God points to healing and wholeness instead of fragility. Praising God celebrates life in the face of death.
This is what Jesus desires for the other nine. This is what Jesus calls us to be about too.
We get to lift our voices in thanks and praise of God who is at work right now, even as so much of life in this world feels uncertain.
On Thursday or Friday of last week, I was in the car listening to the radio on my way to the grocery store and I was listening to Governor Walz’s press briefing on the virus. He began in the usual fashion, giving updates on where things were at, what had changed since the last briefing etc. But then he stopped and said, “I want to take this opportunity to share with you stories of how people are helping one another.”
“I want you to hear stories of communities caring for one another. How our medical community is rallying. Stories of how people are delivering groceries to one another. How businesses are stepping up and caring for their employees.”
It was a beautiful moment — dare I say a holy moment. Yes things are hard now. They are frightening and uncertain. But God’s goodness is still on display, if we just have eyes to see and lips to celebrate it and hands to participate in it.
God is here. Christ is among us. The Spirit is giving us the strength and courage we need to meet these difficult days.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed. It can be easy to despair. But stories of healing, hope and wholeness are all around us.
This morning Mary shared with me something that she saw on Twitter, where someone posted:
I’m at Sam’s Club.
There’s an older couple in their 70’s checking out.
Cashier asks if they found everything they needed.
Lady said no — that they needed bread.
A young guy, maybe in his 20s heard this and says, “Ma’am, I have a loaf you can have, and if you see anything in my cart, you’re welcome to it.”
Thanks and praise be to God, this day and always. Amen.