Monday, 21 October 2013

The Ten Lepers

Today's story is partly 
about taboos and boundaries broken. 
By law, Jewish biblical Law, 
the lepers are supposed to be outside the village and stay there, 
but they come in to see Jesus. 
They are supposed to go about in rags 
ringing bells 
and shouting unclean, 
to announce their presence 
so that the clean can get out of their way, 
but they come to speak to Jesus. 

But they're too scared to break the taboos completely. 
They are still imprisoned by the law, 
all but one of them. 
They stand "some way off," 
a respectable, lawful distance from the clean folk. 
And when they are healed, 
they won't come to Jesus, 
because lepers had to go to the priests to be proclaimed clean 
before they could mix with the rest of us again. 
Of course, you know, lepers never actually get clean, 
so whatever they had was probably not leprosy as we know it, 
but something else, 
because it was something that was curable: 
when you were cured, 
you had to go by law to the priests 
to be pronounced healed. 
And to be fair, this is what Jesus tells them to do. 
They couldn't go back to Jesus, 
the Law forbade it, 
until they had been pronounced clean, 
so it's no surprise 
they didn't come back to Him. 
Except one. 

Today's story is partly 
about thankfulness. 
The thankfulness of the one who would even break God's Law 
to give a God thanks. 
The one to whom God's Law, the Jewish Law, 
did not even really apply. 
And Jesus, the Son of God, 
does He chastise this foreigner, 
this Samaritan, 
this lawbreaker 
for crossing the boundary - 
for coming to Him even while, 
to the world, 
he was still a leper, 
still ritually unclean? 
No: he praises him. 
He praises him 
above the good Jewish lepers 
who have kept the Law 
and gone to be called clean in the Temple. 
Jesus praises the foreigner, 
the infidel, 
the lawbreaker 
above these - 
because that man is the only one who is truly thankful to God, 
the only one who is free to be thankful to God, 
free from the lethal letter of the Law.

Today's story is partly 
about courage. 
The foreigner's courage 
to break ranks with the native law-abiding majority 
and do what he knows is right. 
For it is, says Jesus, the Samaritan's faith 
in God 
that saved him from his curse, 
his faith in God, 
not adherence to the laws and ritual of the Temple. 
Taboos are broken, 
boundaries crossed, 
God is given the thanks He is due 
by the Samaritan 
in his courage. 

So why did Jesus send the lepers to the priests anyway? 
To give them assurance and protection, perhaps, 
to spare them from rejection by the crowds. 
But what impresses Him 
is the man who cares little about such things, 
or less than he cares about giving thanks and praise to God. 
The man who is unconcerned about respectability 
as long as his life honours its maker. 
And Jesus salutes this, 
even though to do so makes Jesus Himself complicit, 
makes Jesus Himself a lawbreaker,  
for which He will pay the greatest price. 

Who are the lepers among us? 
Who are the Samaritans? 
It is too easy to point to the obviously dispossessed. 
We know who they are.
It's too easy to list all those who have some claim to feel rejected. 
So many groups have claimed a leper status of their own, 
sometimes justly and other times less so. 
But the truth is, at some time, 
every one of us at some time 
is outcast and excluded from something, 
every one of us at some time 
has something to give thanks for like the Samaritan, 
every one of us at some time 
has the chance to look, 
like Jesus, 
for laws that must be broken, 
and not just the chance, 
but the Gospel duty. 

The Eucharist means thanksgiving 
and is thanksgiving. 
It is also taboo, double taboo: 
the symbolic eating and drinking of the flesh and blood 
not just of a man, but even of our God, 
and the fruit of ancient deicide, 
the meat of a God hooked up on a Cross. 
One of the most persistent grounds for persecution 
of early Christians 
was the accusation of cannibalism, 
and indeed ritual cannibalism is what we engage in here, 
distasteful though it may sound. 
Which it should. 
If it becomes tasteful genteel, respectable, heaven forfend, nice (!), 
how can it give us the courage we need, 
the courage Jesus demands, 
to overthrow the Prince of this world - 
with all his precious rules? 
The rule that might is right, 
the rule of survival of the fittest, 
the rules of know your place and stick to your own kind? 
Like the lepers. 

Brothers and sisters, our king is the living law, 
the double law 
of love The Lord your God 
and love your neighbour as yourself. 
Let us take courage and eat of this living Law 
that He may dwell in our hearts and we may dwell in Him 
Let the supernatural God 
breaks the laws of nature and convention that bind us in sin. 
Let us take courage to stand against division and exclusion 
that all things may be one in Christ Jesus Our Lord. 

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