Fr. David’s homily October 9, 2016.
This week’s gospel story is about saying “thank you.” There is something about the practice of saying “thank you” that enlarges, blesses, and restores a person. The one man who returned to thank Jesus points to the fact that we were created to recognize life as a gift and to find our hope in life at the feet of the giver. But this passage also speaks to questions of identity—questions of exclusion and inclusion, exile and return. This is a story about the Kingdom of God—who is welcome? Who belongs? Who stays? These are not intellectual or abstract questions; they’re emotional and urgent. They’re not tied to one age or one country. They’re contemporary.
The call to help settle refugees makes that clear for us today. There are those who claim one belongs based upon birth right or religion, or ethnicity, or wealth, or education. But what about one’s humanity itself? Recently, I was watching the news and there was a story about a Baptist church in Marietta, Georgia that has adopted six Syrian refugee families. After these families were thoroughly screened by the U.N., the FBI, and Homeland Security they were welcomed by this faith community with housing, furniture, food, employment, schools, translators and everything else they need to help start a new life where they are safe and free from the violence of civil war and wrenching poverty. That led me to “Google” refugee families and churches, and I found dozens of churches, of all denominations, across the United States doing the same thing.
This reminded me of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s after World War II as the Soviet Union was taking over eastern Europe. Many churches in this country sponsored refugee families. I remember my own family sponsoring a family from Hungary. It also made me wonder if our parish of St. Francis of Assisi is being called to pray and discern if God is asking us to respond to today’s refugee crisis? I do not know where this discernment will lead us, but I do know that our Holy Father, Pope Francis’ challenge to confront the great disease of our time, the “paganism of indifference,” moves me. What can I do? What can we do?
The lepers in the gospel story lived in the shadows—in a no-man’s-land, “a region between.” They were required to live in seclusion, keep their distance from passersby and announce their own contagion with loud, humiliating cries: “unclean!” So when Jesus heals their leprosy he does not merely cure their bodies; he restores their identities. He enables their return to all that makes us fully human—family, community, society, intimacy. In healing their withered skin and numbed limbs, he releases them to feel again—to embrace and be embraced, to worship in community, to reclaim all the social and spiritual ties their disease stole from them. Jesus enters a no-man’s-land—a land of no belonging—and hands out ten unblemished passports. He invites ten refugees home. Seen from this angle, the tenth leper’s response to Jesus is indeed an expression of gratitude. But it’s also the expression of a deeper and truer belonging. The tenth leper is a Samaritan, a “double other” marginalized by both illness and foreignness. By the first century, the enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans was entrenched. The two groups disagreed about everything that mattered to them: how to honor God, how to interpret the scriptures, where to worship. They avoided social contact. It’s quite possible that the Samaritan’s social ostracism continues even after the local priests declare him clean. So what does he do? What does his otherness enable him to see what his nine companions do not? He sees that his identity—his truest place of belonging—lies at Jesus’ feet. He sees that Jesus’ arms are wide enough to embrace all of who he is—leper, foreigner, exile, refugee. The tenth leper finds friendship. He discovers that he’s loved despite the fact that he’s an outcast. Don’t you want a refugee from Syria or Afghanistan or Turkey or Ethiopia discover that because of you?
What for you? What for me? Most of us are not physicians or therapists. But we are healers nonetheless.
And closer to home. Lepers are not always the other guy. I need healing; so do you. “You see Jesus, I have this spot of leprosy. I have this broken relationship. I have this terrible temper. I pop off at the slightest provocation. I have this lustful impulse. I’m hooked on the internet. I have this particular addiction. I live in a bubble. I write people off. I’ve got enough to worry about. Don’t confuse my life with other people’s needs. I’ve got all I can do to make it on my own.” But we all need healing. Not only does our skin need to be dipped in the pool and become like a baby’s skin again, so do our souls. I know mine does. And there’s a relationship between healing and gratitude.
How often this past week did you thank your spouse? If you’re a teenager, how often did you thank your parents? You and I both know that family life is not always wine and roses. We are who we are because of those who love us. They make us who we are. Situations often arise which cause friction and distance.
Healing begins with “thank you.”
Isn’t this our experience as a faith community here at St. Francis as we gather together in worship each week? We’re not floating ions bumping in to one another. We have responsibility for one another. That’s what the Eucharist, this meal of thanks, means at its deepest.
Lord bind us as together. Make us always grateful – to you, to one another. Let us know that there is no other God but you.
David J McBriar, O.F.M.
Gospel LK 17:11-19
As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”