Talking to lepers was taboo in biblical times. By Jewish Law, lepers had to stay outside the village in their rags and bells to make their coming. But in today’s Gospel they break the boundary and cross over to speak to Our Lord.
The lepers were too scared to break the taboo completely: they kept their distance from all the respectable folk. But when they called, Our Lord doubled the taboo and went to talk to them. He made them clean but they couldn’t go back to him or to mainstream society until the priests had given them the all clear. That was the Law.
One of the lepers clearly didn’t know this, so he went back to Jesus anyway, to thank him. He was double the outcast, because he was also a foreigner, a Samaritan, which might explain why he didn’t know the rules. The taboo is broken a third time now: but Our Lord does not tell the foreign leper off. He praises him. And so Jesus himself becomes a lawbreaker and outsider, compounds the evidence that he should be crucified.
Who are the lepers today? The answer depends on which village you’re standing in. In the village of mainstream society, in these ungenerous days, people with no money are seen as the lepers. In the village of Little England, the foreigner, the immigrant, the asylum-seeker is the leper. In the village of the Church, sad to say, it still seems that gay people are treated like lepers. All these taboos. All these boundaries. All quite wrong.
That is why our church here has to reflect and pray and work hard to reach out beyond the walls and boundaries and taboos to the people that others want to cast out or ignore. It is why we need to keep the church open every day, to run the free legal drop-in service, to put on a new homeless advice drop-in, to keep the AA meetings going, to get a “Living Room” café for people with mental health problems going, to make our garden a place of welcome, to put on gigs that will help the young alt-music fans cross our threshold, to offer masses in foreign languages and support expat communities, to affirm the love in same-sex relationships explicitly in our publicity, to have clergy and volunteers on hand for pastoral work to those in need: all these plans which have come out of the Vision Day. None of this is going to work haphazardly, with volunteers not knowing who does what and people treading on each others’ toes, which is why Martin and the wardens and I will soon be unveiling the organisational structure and role descriptions we have been working on. All of this has one goal: to fulfil the mission of this church in breaking down the barriers that separate people from one another and from God.
But all this brings us to another taboo: the English taboo of talking about money. All of this costs, and on this Stewardship Sunday, we need to think about how much we are giving if we want to fulfil our mission as a church. We have to use what God has given us to break those barriers against the godly, loving and generous vision of society which the Church is called to make real: a reality of which we should be especially mindful as we approach the altar today. For in the Eucharist, God shows us what creation is for. He shows us how ordinary things, the wheat, salt, water, oil and grapes that go to make up bread and wine hide within them the mystery of the purpose of all God has made: how he has given us all things, our money included, not just for own our physical needs but for the final spiritual union of all things with him. And so we break one final taboo, as we eat the very flesh and drink the very blood of Christ Our Lord, by which God breaches the final barrier between himself and his Creation.