(Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-11; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19)
I learned a new word this week (it is always a good week when I learn a new word!). It was the Hebrew word L’chaim. It is translated ‘to life’.
Luke is quite specific about the location of this particular account. It occurs in an unnamed town somewhere between ‘Samaria and Galilee’. It is an early pointer to the identity of our story’s unlikely hero.
Jesus is heading for ‘Jerusalem’ – the city that famously ‘kills the prophets’. It makes this town merely a place of passing – unmentioned and unremembered. That is, apart from the remarkable event that is about to take place.
And it really is worthy of remark – for here lives are about to change.
Leprosy was a feared and little understood disease in Jesus’ day. These ten lives were bound by law not to ‘approach’ anyone – other than another ‘unclean’ leper. They are – together – social outcasts.
It must have seemed a strange balance to find, but when Jesus arrived, they all ‘call’ and ‘keep’ their distance. Is there an element of planning revealed in their united approach?
Quite possibly. After all this is quite the opportunity. Jesus is passing and – especially for the sick – this is an event not to miss. They get as close as they dare and cry for his attention: ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’
They (collectively) want – they (collectively) demand – his healing touch.
Jesus’ response asks for their faith to find action. They are to search out the religious leaders – those with the power to officially declare them clean – and ‘show themselves’.
However unlike a healing remedy this may have seemed, Luke assures us that each of these men both ‘went’ and ‘were made clean’. A group miracle from a group request.
It must have breathed life and hope back into these people who before their walk could only imagine a miserable – and short – life filled with despair and hopelessness.
But now it has all changed.
From here, however, our account focuses on just one of these men. And he, revealingly, was a Samaritan.
Intriguingly, there is no evidence of that this man ever reached the local Jewish priests. Maybe he thought they would not extend their grace to him; perhaps he just didn’t feel comfortable in such an unfamiliar, foreign setting. But whether he made it or not, it is abundantly clear that the whole team – including this one from Samaria – were healed ‘as they went’ and that this ‘foreigner’ turned back as soon ‘as he saw he was healed’.
It begs the question: Is this one the only one who disobeyed the order to go to the priest?
If so, it is a spontaneous, grateful, and very public disobedience – and one that Jesus seems happy to overlook. Our Samaritan seems to run through the streets, shouting the glory of God. He is alive, restored. He hunts Jesus out, throws himself before him, and prays from his overflowing, abundantly thankful, heart.
In so many ways he is doing exactly what the priests were set aside to lead and teach Israel to do – to sing, dance, and proclaim the magnificent acts of God. As today’s Psalm urges: ‘Make a joyful noise to God…sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds.’ (Psalm 66:1-3).
It would seem Jesus’ miracle has restored his dignity – and he has immediately and voluntarily, abandoned it again!
Jesus is somewhat surprised – but not so much at the extravagant display of affection and thanks. He is surprised at the fact that this man has done it alone.
Once again – in the unique way of Jesus – the least likely has become an example of faith and faith’s most appropriate response – abundant love and gratitude.
Saint Irenaeus is credited with saying: ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive’. His statement has earned its place as a biblically derived call to live abundantly the life God gives each of us.
And of course it is true in all situations. Perhaps it is easier to live so fully in the wake of vanishing leprosy – though it is clearly not always the case. Such moments can be high points where the praise of God may seem nothing short of appropriate.
But, in life, there are also other times.
Our reading from Jeremiah points us of one of these. The original recipients of these words were newly in exile. They were essentially lost – the posession of foreigners.
They, naturally, dreamed of freedom and home.
But they were not there. In fact, Jeremiah’s words to them – inspired by none other than God – were – at least in part – designed to help them live life fully in captivity. They are urged to build homes, create families. They were even expected to ‘seek the welfare of the city’ through prayer and action (you know – the city that captured them and is now their life-long home!).
In short, they are to live fully where they are.
Of course, this is not an easy thing to do. In fact it is downright hard. But it is also an intimate part of our faith tradition.
Even Paul, whom we have just heard, wrote to Timothy, urging him – in the midst of leading a particularly challenging community – to ‘remember Jesus Christ – raised from the dead.’
He writes from prison of his suffering, of Timothy’s suffering, of Christ’s suffering.
And then he proclaims:
‘But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything…’
Paul, it would seem, can live a full and grateful life – even while bound in chains – because of the truth of the ‘saying’ he quotes:
If we died with him, we will also live with him;
If we endure, we will also reign with him…’
Yes, the Jesus who lived, died, and rose again is a firstfruit – a glimpse – of the life God dreams for each of us. And we have a responsibility in this. We are to work and pray towards the life God has given us – as ‘a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth’.
And, of course, we ‘rightly explain’ only as we live now the life we have been given in all fullness, gratefulness, and hope.
L’chaim: ‘to life’. Although it could be, it is not a plea for a good life, or even a prayer for God’s favour. Rather it is used in some Jewish traditions more readily as a salutation, a declaration, a toast, a call to live fully in every situation.
It is to be said with passion and conviction: L’chaim; to life!
May you know this day the peace, joy, and passion of living fully for the author of life.