October 10, 2010


Stand up and go; your faith has saved you. – Luke 17: 19

This Gospel is also used for Thanksgiving Day because it has a lot to say about gratitude. However, there is another way to view it. By biblical law, lepers were excluded, marginalized outcasts: partly out of fear, no doubt, of contagion. We know today that the real disease is not readily caught. Like TB, it requires extended contact before one can contract the disease. Still, there was another reason for this isolation. It was believed that the visible lesions revealed the dark state of one’s soul – sins made visible, as it were.

It is also interesting that a Samaritan was in the group. Perhaps their common fate overrode the usual antipathy the two groups of Jews & Samaritans had for each other: strange bedfellows, as it were. Be that as it may, Jesus astonishes his followers by speaking to the lepers. More than that, He sends them to the priest who had the power to notarize any cure. This would permit them back into normal society. More than being cured, their isolation would be over. Pitiable & disgusting as they were, someone had reached out to them. Once again, Jesus is making a point He has made over & over. No question about it: Jesus constantly calls outsiders inside & ministers to them.

Here is the challenge: How do WE treat those we consider outcasts? Generally we respond in one of two ways: judgmental or permissive. The judgmental response says, “Look, they’re child molesters. Jail them & throw away the key. They got AIDS? Let them pay for their sin.” The permissive response says, “Well, deep down they’re nice people. They had an unhappy childhood or were deprived. Just keep an eye on them. Put them on probation & let them go.”

But like Jesus who told the woman caught in adultery to sin no more, we can’t soft pedal or deny crime or evil, but once it is fully acknowledged, we have to respond to the unspoken cry, :Jesus, master, have mercy on us!” & minister to the outcasts. We hardly would hold them up as model citizens, but as those for whom Christ died. We believers have to bring these outsiders inside, at least inside a faith community that will offer them help, prayer & ministry.

Here is a familiar example: You told your six year old it’s cold outside & looks like rain. Be sure to put on your jacket & raincoat. Of course, when you’re not looking, he runs outside with no sweater or jacket & comes down with a bad cold. Serves him right. That’s what he gets for being disobedient. But what do we do with the little sinner? Throw him out? No, you care for him, sit endless hours by his bed, etc. More then anything else, you want him to get well again so you can kill him!

There’s no fudging that he was wrong & did something bad, but your love leads you bring him inside & minister to him. Let’s escalate to a case that made headlines a while back:

Brian Nichols killed four people in Atlanta , a terrible deed. A fugitive, this murderer accosted a young mother, Ashley Smith, & held her captive in her home for 7 hours. She asked Nichols if she could read. He nodded so she went over & got her copy of Rick Warren’s, The Purpose Driven Life, & began to read aloud these words:

“We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige, & position…. Jesus, however, measured greatness in terms of service, not status. God determines your greatness by how many people you serve, not how many people serve you.”

Nichols listened intently, hearing such words for the first time & asked, “Will you read it again?” She did so & there was silence. Then they talked throughout the night. When morning came, Nichols let her go.

Here was a woman, rightly repulsed by his crime, who nevertheless saw more than a terrible murderer. Here was one who, tutored by her ministry, came to the realization of a different way of life. He is still a horrid murderer & must go to jail, but this outcast had received the attention of one of Jesus’ followers & was invited into conversion.

To harbor only hatred & turn our backs on the ‘enemy,’ we unwittingly defeat the gospel & validate Oscar Wilde’s painful words: “As one looks through the pages of history, one is positively sickened, not by the crimes of the wicked but by the punishments of the just.”

Harsh, judgmental, unforgiving attitudes, having no faith in the Crucified One who offered a last-minute rescue to a despicable man on the cross next to him, feeling no compassion for a fellow sinner, refusing to minister to moral lepers is clearly NOT the way of Jesus. The Church has always been at her best when she is reaching out to touch the untouchables. AMEN!