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For Such A Time As This – Showing Up

Date: 09/10/2022/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

For Such A Time As This – Showing Up
Rev Miak Siew
9 October 2022

Before I start reading the lectionary passage today, I want to highlight one point. Instead of reading from the NRSV version as I usually do, I am reading from the NIV version today. This is one occasion that the NIV version does a better job than the NRSV.

How? The NRSV – says “ten lepers,” while the NIV says “ten men who had leprosy.” In the original Greek, the words are “aner lepros” – which is man with leprosy. The NIV doesn’t name these men based on their disease. The translators and editors of the NIV Bible made an active choice of words not to dehumanise these men – because calling them lepers reduce them to their disease, and becomes a barrier to relating to them as fellow human beings.

You could say that it is a feature of the English language – putting the suffix -er after a word – quickly tells us this is a person who is associated with the word.  

I have just finished reading Speaking and Being by Kübra Gümüsay – and I come to recognise how problematic language can be. And I want to be more mindful of how I use words, how I name others, and how speak. I will try my best not to dehumanise anyone – because once we forget that this is a person we are talking about, and focus on just that one thing that defines them – especially something negative – it becomes the first step of disassociating with them, and becomes easier not to love them as our neighbours.

Will you join me in prayer – May the words from my mouth, continue to change, evolve, so that they become more and more pleasing to you, and may the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our salvation.

Luke 17:11-19

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[b] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

<M> I wonder when you hear this account, what questions come to mind?

Luke 17:11-19

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[b] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

What questions come to mind?

**Read menti responses

What did they want from Jesus when they called out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” We usually assume that they were asking Jesus to heal them, but it could also be them begging for money.

Jesus asked them to show themselves to the priests – and it is only “as they went” they were healed.

Why was the one who came back the foreigner? Why didn’t the rest come back?

What is the difference between made well, and made clean?

Let us start from the beginning – and learn a little background from Leviticus.

Lev 13:45-46 The person who has the leprous[o] disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

People suffering from these skin ailments were marked – marked physically by how they were dressed – torn clothes and bare head, marked by how they behaved – crying “Unclean! Unclean!” To people who came near to them. They were isolated and separated from the community. This is social distancing in Biblical times.

At some level they must also be marked inside – how they saw themselves, how they felt about themselves, and how they think God saw them.

<M> How do you think these people with leprosy saw themselves?

Unworthy. Unclean. Undeserving of community. Outcasts. Dirty. Condemned.

They didn’t belong. They were told they didn’t belong.

In some way, the disease they were suffering from became their identity, became who they are. Unclean.

<M> How did Jesus see them?

Did Jesus see them as unworthy? Unclean? Undeserving of community? Outcasts? Dirty? Condemned?

**Read responses

How did you know Jesus saw them as beloved, child of God, etc? The text doesn’t say anything. The text only says that he told them to “show yourselves to the priests.” That’s one of the questions I had. Isn’t that an odd thing? No, it wasn’t “you are healed!” or “be cleansed!” but “show yourselves to the priests!”

Jesus instructed them to show themselves to the ones who determined that they were unclean in the first place (that’s what Leviticus 13 instructed!)

Why?

Jesus told them to show themselves to the ones who dehumanised them – the ones who, because of their disease, labelled them as unclean. It may not be what they intended to do – they were just going by law – but they were the part of the system that marked them and dehumanised them.

In today’s world, they would be like unsympathetic people who “go by law,” and perpetuate the things that dehumanise others. One example comes to mind – I know many transgender people struggle with trying to get people use the correct gender pronouns as part of the process of transitioning. There are people who insist on misgendering them because “that’s what is says on your identity card.” Here is someone presenting as a woman in front of them, and they continue to address this person as “he,” as “Mr.” What has one got to lose by being understanding and compassionate by addressing someone as how they want to be addressed? And those who say that this is a small matter, how would we feel if someone keep using the wrong pronoun on us, or keep calling us the wrong name?

Yes, the Levitical laws do instruct people with these skin diseases to do this. Some of you may think that this is about public health – so these people don’t infect others –

But Leviticus 13:12-13 says

“And if leprosy breaks out all over the skin, and the leprosy covers all the skin of the one who has the sore, from his head to his foot, wherever the priest looks, 13 then the priest shall consider; and indeed if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean who has the sore.”

So if someone has this skin disease all over the body from head to toe, then they are considered clean. It isn’t so much about public health but about something else.

And yes, yes, yes. Leviticus 13 verse 1 says “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron,” meaning that Leviticus claims that these rules and instructions came from God. 

But is that really so? Or was it what people thought were instructions from God?

What if Jesus was telling these people suffering from leprosy to show themselves to the priest as a way to reclaim their humanity? They were made clean as they went. What if they were never unclean in God’s eyes in the first place? What if the problem isn’t their disease, but how society at that time viewed their disease? What if as they went to confront those who labelled them unclean, this baggage of being “unclean” was taken from them?

Jesus told them to show up. Show up and not accept things as they are – show up to resist being labelled unclean. Show up and recognise you are God’s beloved.

Jesus wasn’t just healing their physical ailments – Jesus was restoring their identities as children of God. He was restoring their humanity. Jesus didn’t see them as unclean or as the disease they were suffering from – he saw them as how God saw them, and to shed off the labels the priests have put on them.

But this restoration doesn’t happen like a sudden transformation – it requires them to do show up, to experience the reality of how God saw them, how this label, this baggage, this disease isn’t and shouldn’t be what defines them.

They were cleansed as they went on their way to show themselves to the priest because it is not only a physical cleansing but also an internal cleansing – that they also stopped seeing themselves as unclean, unworthy. Imagine when they show themselves to the priests, instead of seeing themselves as unclean, they saw themselves as equals?

Which is more reflective of God’s kin-dom of love – a place where people who fit into some criteria of perfection are accepted, or a place where people are accepted in spite of their flaws and imperfections? Which is more reflective of God’s grace?

Today, how are we reflective of this kin-dom? Who are those who are seen as unclean? Who are those who are not welcome? Are there times when we think someone is less deserving of being welcome than another?

Today, who are those we label unclean? People who work in jobs that are “unclean”? People living with HIV? People who come from other countries? People who are different from us? People who are less than us?

And you know what we are doing when we think someone is less deserving? We are judging. That’s God’s job. Not ours. Ours is simply (and it’s not simple) to love our neighbours as ourselves. And to start on that process, is to see them as people equally beloved by God. First. Realise. Everyone’s. Equal.

Have you been labelled unclean? Have you been labelled the Other, or less deserving?

Last Sunday – one of the worship songs was  “I hear your voice.”

I hear your voice calling me to rise from the dead. I hear your voice to trust you instead. I hear your voice to move out in faith. I hear your voice. I hear voice. I have been healed. I am whole again.

I wonder if this is the song in the hearts of these ten people who were cleansed.

There is another thing – sometimes the ones who think we are unworthy, unclean, undeserving of love, the ones who judge us, is ourselves. And we need to be freed from that, too.

There was a person who felt that they sinned greatly. They felt that they let everyone who loved them down, and they fell into depression, and they didn’t allow people to care for them, to love them either. I visited that person. And I told them – there is one person, and only one person in the universe who hasn’t forgiven you. It isn’t the person you harmed. And it certainly isn’t God. The only person who hasn’t forgiven you, is you.

Sometimes you have internalised the voice that tells you that you are unworthy, unclean, undeserving of love.

And how does Jesus see you? (Go back to the menti question)

The story doesn’t end there – Ten of them were made clean. And one returned. The one who was different. The foreigner.

<M> Why is it the Samaritan who returns?

What makes the Samaritan special?

Or to ask the question another way – why doesn’t the other 9 return?

I think it’s because the Samaritan recognises the depth of the grace he received. Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, healed him, a Samaritan man. They were enemies! The other 9 may have felt entitled – because they were Jewish, and a Jewish rabbi healing them – of course that’s what he would do. Our own people what!

It is the one who does not take anything for granted who returns to give thanks and praise.

Aren’t we like that? We often takes things for granted. We feel entitled.

It is at this point that Jesus tells the Samaritan man “your faith has made you well.” Not just cleansed, but well.

Richard Rohr writes: After trying to teach the Gospel for over 40 years, trying to build communities, and attempting to raise up elders and leaders, I am convinced that one of my failures was that I did not ask more of people from the very beginning.

If they did not turn outward early, they tended not to turn outward, and their dominant concern became personal self-development, spiritual consumerism, church as “more attendance” at things, or to use the common phrase used among Christians “deepening my relationship with Jesus” (most of which demands little accountability for what you say that relationship is).

Jesus was not talking about forming a new in-group, but transmitting a message that actually made a difference for people and for human society…. Although Jesus spent all of his ministry moving between preaching and healing, with the healing validating the preaching, most of church history has done loads of preaching and very little healing.

What does it mean to not just be made clean, but also made well? How do we get made well?

How did the ten afflicted with leprosy get made clean? By being on the way to show themselves to the priests. How do we get made clean? By being on the way to work on recognising our own belovedness.

Then how do we get made well? Well, how did the one who returned get made well? Jesus said “your faith has made you well”

Then how do we get made well?

“Deepening my relationship with Jesus,” as Richard Rohr points out, doesn’t cut it. It is not that we are not supposed to deepen our relationship with Jesus, but this phrase is so vague that we get to define what deepening my relationship with Jesus means. It doesn’t hold us accountable. We get to avoid the things we don’t want to do, or don’t like to do, or unwilling to do. We get to excuse ourselves from really living out of faith, to be truly born again, to be transformed so we are more and more in the likeness of Christ.

And what does becoming more and more Christ like mean? Being the one who turn our focus outwards – showing up, and being involved in the changes so others too may dignity, respect, love, justice.

I shared last week my memory of Rev Yap’s answer to June – when she asked him “a pastor said I will go to hell, what do you say?” and his answer “Where you go, I go” – it may just be words, but these words are laden with meaning, and filled with love, and truly, Christ like. He lifted up a transgender person and saw her as an equal – a beloved child of God.

Rev Charles D Reeb shared:

At the service of communion, Archbishop Demond Tutu said something which I will never forget. He remarked that it is truly awesome that people can come to the foot of the cross and be overcome and saved by the love and suffering of Christ — a love that truly died for our sins. Then Archbishop Tutu continued, “Some Christians stay at the foot of the cross and never climb up on the cross to see what Jesus sees.”3 This is where being a wounded healer begins — climbing up on the cross to see what Jesus sees and to feel what Jesus feels.

Will you show up, when you find that you were cleansed, healed, and return to Jesus, not only to praise and give thanks, but also move from the foot of the cross and climb up that cross to see what Jesus sees, and participate in the work of healing the church is called to do?

And as we show up, as we become wounded healers, our faith will make us well.