Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The one leper’s healing is a blessing, in Luke’s tale for today, but it is the man’s sense of gratitude at the grace he has experienced that must be the focus. He must give voice in thanksgiving. In this healed man the word of God is not chained. How can it be so when we are healed, and when we are not (in the way that we desire)? How can the unchained word of God be a source of healing in the world, across terrible and exhausting political and social divides? How can God’s unbound word, which is the Christ, give us the courage to dive back into some of the most challenging issues of our day, like racism? We make progress in our journey with God – if we do at all - because we hope, holding onto the UNchained word of God as one of hope and grace, which is in and of itself…healing.
I spent a couple of glorious days at the Durham Cathedral at the end of my time in England last summer. As I approached the Cathedral, late in my first day in Durham, I crossed the River Cross. And it was beautiful from a bridge high above it: placid, calm, wide, and beautiful in the late afternoon sunlight. When I came to the river the next morning, following a heavy overnight rain, the river was very cross indeed. Later, as I walked on a path along the river, I saw a large tree, not a branch or twig, caught up in the rampaging waters. It had branches out like a cross, leaves still intact, hurtling along with nothing to stop it or slow it down. I imagine that this might be what Paul meant when he wrote to Timothy, “But the word of God is not chained!” I found myself imagining what the unbroken, unencumbered Word of God might do in the world.
Hold that thought. Because in order for us to experience or get to know God’s word, manifested in Jesus Christ, more fully, there is some healing that needs to take place. Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, is approached by 10 lepers, all crying out, “Master, have mercy on us!” Nowhere else in Luke’s Gospel is the word ‘master’ used for Jesus by anyone other than His disciples. And they have come to Him; they actively seek their own healing. They have been made invisible by a society that deemed anyone with a skin disease “unclean” and therefore a threat; an outcast. But, in an act of faith and hope they come out of hiding and seek Jesus out, asking Him for healing, for mercy. They are acting in the world on faith, hoping for (if not expecting) mercy.
And Jesus sends them away. He does not even tell them he will heal them, but sends them on to the priests to be inspected. You see, folks were declared ritually unclean by the priests and only by them could they be called clean again. While they were on their way, the healing and mercy they had sought came to them and they were made well. The other nine went on to the priests, eager to reenter the world. But the 10th man came back and thanked and praised Jesus, and fell at His feet in humility. The response to healing and mercy is always, if we are to channel the unbound word of God, the grace of God, is to praise God with thanksgiving.
Jesus says to the leper, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.” He may be an outcast; he may be a foreigner, though ethnically the same as Jesus (an ethnic Jew) but Jesus sees Him. He is not invisible to Jesus, as we are not invisible to Him. And he says, your faith has made you well. The man comes in thanksgiving and praise and Jesus sends the man away, transformed, blessed, and made whole. The great theologian and wonderful author Frederick Buechner once wrote, “Miracles don’t lead people to faith. Faith leads people to miracles.” Our willingness to come to Jesus, looking for healing, grace, and mercy is what delivers us from the things that might bind us to them and frees us; the word of God is no longer chained in us, but freed and unleashed, in us, out into the world.
The Word of God is unchained. How did Paul come to this understanding? He was a man of profound sinfulness, one who desperately needed God’s grace. He has, through His encounters with the Risen Christ and His understanding of God’s salvation, spent the last 30 years of his life not working off His sin – doing time, as it were – but offering his life in praise to God for his healing and God’s blessing. The word of God is freed in Him, even though he is physically in prison, geographically bound. Because of God’s healing love, nothing can hold his spirit because his spirit belongs to God and that is what he wants to tell the world.
We know that life burdens us in many ways. We are often drowning in the troubles of a life that can seem inescapably difficult. Racial tensions and divides, morally challenged leaders on both sides of the aisle and physical maladies and heartaches seemingly too great and profound to bear. God did not promise to take all challenges away but, he does invite us to ask for healing and to feel blessed by His never-ending offer of mercy. People who are healed – or are in the process of healing, spiritually – are the people who can experience, through faith, the unfettered good news of God in Christ that they might bring to the world of pain. God’s word can become unchained in them.