2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Tm 2:8-13; Lk 17:11-19.

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

The particular angles that have struck me as preachable this weekend are the following:

Jesus is unafraid to venture into places where he is unwelcomed -- that is, in Samaritan territory -- where there is hostility toward him, and where he would not be expected to travel. Samaritans were accused by the Jewish people of that day of contaminating their worship by combining it with other forms of cultic worship. Although they had much in common with the Jews, they were despised as foreigners. The Samaritans also worshipped in a different location. Rather than worshiping in Jerusalem, the Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim. In short, Samaritans did not like Jews, and the Jews did not like the Samaritans. Still, Jesus is unafraid to travel into places where there may be hostility, uneasiness, or darkness. Likewise, Jesus enters into our lives in places where we are shamed to meet him -- where we are surprised to find him; for he is unafraid to engage us wherever we are. We should never think that Jesus will only meet us in sterile, lovely, sin-free places. Over and over Jesus enters into situations where there is sickness, death, pain, sadness, despair, and even hatred.

We should also be unafraid to call out to Jesus no matter how distant we feel from him because of where we may find ourselves morally or spiritually. The lepers had many reasons to be alienated from those deemed clean; yet they have the courage to call out to Jesus.

A bit about leprosy: Today leprosy is separated into a few different categories: Tubercular Leprosy, Anesthetic Leprosy, or a combination of both. With as long as a nine year span of deterioration,Tubercular Leprosy produces a mass of ulcerated growths over the entire body ending in mental degeneration, coma and ultimately death. Anesthetic Leprosy causes the loss of neurological sensation, muscular atrophy, ulcerations of the hands and feet, and widespread infection resulting in the progressive loss of fingers, toes and even limbs. Anesthetic Leprosy may spread steadily over a period of twenty to thirty years. One can only imagine the fate of an individual who contracted the combination of these types of leprosy. However, regardless of type, lepers were ejected from all social interaction in the world of the clean. They were despised by some, feared by many, and pitied by the compassionate.

Over 3000 words comment on the disease in the Book of Leviticus (chapters 13 & 14) and it is there where we read that lepers shall cry out -- Unclean! unclean! -- and dwell apart, making their abode outside the camp. In short, they are the outcasts of all outcasts in society. After contracting leprosy one must leave family, friends, livelihood, and way of life. It was, in a sense, the death of all familiar bonds and intimacy.

Jesus knows that the journey back into society requires a declaration of cleanliness by the priest and so he orders the man to waste no time in beginning this process.

Although we do not suffer from a physical leprosy on the outside, we may suffer a spiritual or a sinful leprosy on the inside. Is there something in our lives that we are carrying around with us that keeps us unclean and made to feel unworthy to be full and active members in our community? Is there something so hideous to look at or touch that we can not fathom letting Jesus touch it? After all, Jesus is the Messiah, the Holy One of God, the Savior and the unblemished Lamb of God. However, our Jesus is also the Jesus in this parable who wills to heal. If Jesus is unafraid to touch our deepest, darkest hurts and impurities, then let us not hide them. Just as the lepers yell out to Jesus for healing; let us also approach Jesus for our healing.

Another preachable point here is that many of the people of the day thought that leprosy was a result of personal sin. It was punishment for something that a person did in his or her life. Today we may know a number of people in our lives who suffer from various mental, physical and emotional disorders. Sometimes we may feel that they are responsible for their problems. Perhaps they suffer from an addiction or from an emotional disorder brought on by a series of bad choices they made. Our job is not to judge, but to love. Our job is not to condemn, but to bring hope and healing. Our job is to bring them back into the love of their families: biological, the parish family, the neighborhood family, and the family of mankind.

Finally, a beautiful preaching point can be made about healing and curing. All the lepers were cured; but perhaps only one was healed. Oftentimes curing is equated to biomedical betterment and healing is equated to restoring meaning, hope, and wholesomeness. The leper who returns to thank Jesus is both cured and healed. He exhibits both a physical cure and an emotional healing that prompts him to express gratitude. This is what we long for -- both curing and healing. Still, sometimes in life we see loved ones experience sickness and although we pray for a physical cure, the mystery of suffering dumbfounds us when they do not get better. Yet, I have known many people who were never physically cured, but they were certainly healed before they went home to God. There was a certain peace and hope that could be untouched by physical sickness. We pray for this kind of healing always.

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