Two things are important as we begin today’s lesson.  The first is the information that Jesus is headed toward the sacred place, Jerusalem.  When I use the term sacred place it is not a compliment.  I contrast the sacred with the gospel which I think are at polar opposites, gospel good, sacred bad.  Jesus is on a long journey and it is his final journey, because in the sacred space of Jerusalem the government and the religious authorities killed God’s Son.

The second important thing is the biblical code word, “seeing.”  In the lesson from Luke 17, in verse 15 it says, “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.”  It says that only one saw.  Whenever the gospels use words related to seeing or vision it is a code word for understanding, so, let us look at what we are here being asked to understand.

When the leper saw his healing he did more than celebrate his good fortune and then resume his life as it was before his leprosy.  He returned to praise God at the feet of Jesus.  He saw his healing as more than being put right, or back together or as a reversal of misfortune.  This led him to gratitude, which might be the purest measure of our character and our spiritual condition.  A lack of ability to be grateful reveals self-centeredness or the attitude that we deserve more than we get or have.  The sense of entitlement is the opposite of being grateful.

The lesson for today is so typical.  It does not really care very much about what is believed by any of the 10, it is not concerned with what we believe but rather what difference does it make in our lives that we believe.  All 10 of the former lepers believed something about their healing.  But we see faith only in the one whose belief made a difference in the way he acted.  I think the other nine thought that they finally got what they deserved and then they resumed their lives.  They went backward, they faded back into their families and into the sacrificial system of the temple.

This leper, because he was a Samaritan was still excluded and unwelcome, he could not go home or to the temple.  He could not go back, he had to go forward.  He was doubly excluded.  Once for being a leper and again for being a Samaritan.  This reminds me of Jesus saying: “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.  Jesus did not belong any place in the Kingdom of Man, he was only at home in the new place, the Kingdom of God.  I believe it to be defective for us to think we belong here.  Despite our looking at Jesus and being told to “seek first the Kingdom of God.”  We really want the best of both kingdoms, we hedge our bets by keeping one foot in each.  This is the same behavior as exhibited by the nine.  The nine as soon as they are healed make a beeline back into the social matrix from which they were excluded, back into the world of social respectability.  They went to the priests who would declare them to be acceptable.  They failed to see that Jesus in cleansing them had accepted all of them not just nine.  Ten were healed but only one saw. 

The now healed Samaritan leper saw that doing his sacred duty of showing himself to his Samaritan priest was just a waste of time because he did not want to go backward but forward.  The Samaritan leper choses Jesus as his priest.  Jesus praises him because he has stepped out of the faulty human based sacred system and he has stepped into the kingdom of God.

Leprosy is a disease that excluded sufferers from being accepted in the temple.  The sacred system of the temple was also a disease in and of itself, it was a disease that prevented its sufferers from seeing that God was in front of them in the person of Jesus.  It hurts me to say this but the church itself often does this too.  It gets in the way of Jesus and like a distorted lens it shows the world not Jesus as he is but something else.  This is inevitable because everyone and every human institution is sick and in need of cleansing.

Only Jesus, the one who would, by his death, expose the disease of the sacred system itself, could make the pronouncement of the Samaritan leper’s second cleansing, a pronouncement that effectively declares his having been rescued from the system itself.  Jesus would let himself be judged unclean, in order that the veil in the Temple would be torn in two, in order to reveal the emptiness of the sacred system.

Jesus did not come into the world to effect a: “cleanup, fix up, paint up.”  He came to expose the faulty human sacred sacrificial system and to offer us, as a replacement for our way of doing things, God’ way.

Having seen God’s way, the Samaritan leper had to return and praise God.  He had to throw himself at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving.  The “had to” part is real.  The experience is so life changing, so joyful, that it must be shared.  Some things, if they are seen, simply have to be told.  Our friend in today’s lesson did something more than use words, he showed to all that what he believed changed the way he lived.

1.  What do you think about my distinction between the gospel (the preaching of Jesus) and the sacred (the established social and religious structures)?

2.  If we were one of the nine lepers do you think that we would have just returned to our old lives accepted now because we were no longer unclean?

3.  What do you think was the difference in the lives of the nine now healed lepers different from the life of the one that returned?