Proper 23C; Luke 17:11-19
On his determined journey to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters a variety of people. He is also collecting people who develop a parade or convoy of sorts. Today this band of people enters a village where they meet ten lepers begging Jesus for mercy. He tells them to go and show themselves to the priest (pointing out that Jesus fulfills the law) and they were all made clean as they went.
We know the rest of the story. One sees he has been healed and goes back to thank Jesus, who then asks the crowd, “Was it only this foreigner who returned to give thanks?”
There are a few things not in today's gospel I want to touch on briefly. First, this gospel is often paired with the story of Naaman the Syrian being healed of leprosy by Elisha. The two passages taken together underscore God's love of the foreigner, which can certainly speak to us today.
Second, you might get the idea that the other nine lepers did something wrong. They didn't. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priest and they followed instructions. They did exactly what Jesus told them to do.
That said, while there were ten lepers healed as they made their way to see the priest, only one was made well. Only one turned himself around to give thanks, and in that second encounter of giving thanks he was made well. What is the difference between being healed and being made well? In my experience, being healed is the first step to wholeness, while being made well indicates a more complete state, a more whole state.
For instance, in 1994 I tore up my left knee which required major surgery. Surgery healed me; but it took a long time for me to be well, for me to reach a state where I wasn't constantly guarding and protecting that knee. It took time for me to reach a state of being well.
Or, thinking about my back, I would say that after three surgeries I am (finally) healed. But I am not yet well, as I still have residual soreness that can hurt quite a bit. Healing, or being healed, therefore, is a precursor to being made well.
Being made well, though, has a (pardon the pun) deeper aspect to it. Looking ahead to chapter 19 and his meeting with Zaccheaus the tax collector, Jesus uses this word “well” which gets translated as save; as in, “the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost” (to seek out and make well the lost). Today's story is a story of being made well, a story of salvation, and a story of recognizing and practicing gratitude.
Anytime I think about being well I can't help but think about Julian of Norwich. Julian was an anchoress, that is, a nun who lived cloistered in a one room cell attached to a church. The 100-years war encompassed her lifetime, as did wartime suffering and famine. She lived through three outbreaks of bubonic plague. Then, like now, there were people who declared these disasters were the result of God's judgment on a sinful world.
In the midst of that death and destruction, Julian prayed: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” This wasn't a Pollyanna saying or an ostrich response to difficult times. This was a prayer acknowledging the omnipotent love of God.
Julian is often portrayed or associated with a hazelnut. That's because in this small thing Julian heard the voice of God saying, “It is all that is made.” She goes on to say that when she further contemplated the hazelnut, she saw three properties: God made it. God loves it. God keeps it. In a world of war and plague and famine Julian saw God's love and that all would be well. Julian saw what shall be.
God made us. All shall be well.
God loves us. And all shall be well.
God keeps us. And all manner of things shall be well.
These three statements reflect the all-encompassing love of God. Julian's prayer does not reflect the here and now; for if we spend any amount of time contemplating the state of the world right now, there is no way it is well. Julian's prayer doesn't reflect the here and now, but it does reflect a hope and faith in God's purpose and what shall be. It is in that hope and faith where salvation lies.
Ten lepers hoped for what shall be – a healing of disease and restoration of their lives. Ten lepers were healed. One recognized that all things shall be well. One recognized that in his healing there was salvation, there was wellness. One became aware that all manner of things shall be well and returned to Jesus knowing that God made him, God loved him, and God will keep him.
As we think about this story of the ten lepers let us keep in mind the difference between being healed and being made well. Being healed is the first step to wholeness. Being made well brings us into a fuller state of wholeness. Being made well allows us to live into what shall be.
I said last week that discipleship was and is hard work. As we travel this difficult road of discipleship may we find places of healing. May we also recognize and be thankful for those times we have been made well. And may we see God's grace and love in a difficult world where we have the strength and courage to give thanks for what we have received in the knowledge that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.