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World AIDS Day Service 2014

Date: 07/12/2014/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Walk with Me:
“Get Up, and go on your way, your faith has made you whole.” ~ Luke 17:19

I am grateful that the two of you have stepped forward to share their journey with us – thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable, to take the risk, to share with people here – some who have known you for some time, and some who are meeting you here today for the first time. Thank you for being the voices in the wilderness – just like many other voices in the wilderness that prepared the way of the Lord – like John the Baptist, and even Lady Gaga.
I would like to invite you to walk with me. Walk with me on the Way, the Way of Christ.
Today, I would like to preach from the passage from the Gospel according to Luke

Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered the village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

We often read this passage as a healing story and stop there. Sometimes we confuse the stories – memory of other healing stories blend and bleed and blur into one another. Before you get confused with another story with another leper, Jesus did not touch the lepers in this passage.
When I was in seminary, my mentor Rev Jim Mitulski preached on this passage in connection with HIV/AIDS and it revealed to me the different layers this passage has. Since then, I have new insights, deeper understanding of the nuances and richness this passage holds every time I revisited it.
What came into your mind when I read the passage? A healing story? What jumped out? Did you know previously that it was the Samaritan who returned to give thanks? It was the marginalised of the marginalised who was grateful, who came back to give thanks.

This passage is about many things – about healing, about wholeness, about thanksgiving and gratitude, about privilege, about plight the marginalised of the marginalised.
The word here translated as “healed”is ἰάομαι (iaomai) – which can mean cured or healed. It could also mean to be made whole – free from errors and sins, to bring about one’s salvation.
I read to you the passage from the New Revised Standard Version – I think that sometimes the King James Version translates the meaning of the text better. Here, the verse 19 in KJV is, I think, a much better translation – “And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”
These ten men kept a distance, even as they approached Jesus. They kept a distance because that was what they were told to do. That was what society demanded –
Lev 13:45-46 “The person who has the leprous 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. 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.”
It was the priests who gave the final verdict whether someone is tsara’at / leprous – not as a healer or a physician, but as an authority on ritual, purity and holiness.

These men were marked – marked by the priests – as unclean, outcasts, for fear that they would make the rest of the community unclean as well.
I wonder who are the priests of today; I wonder who are the people marking people as unclean. Is it the religious leaders – the pastors, the church leaders? Or could we be also the people marking others as unclean?

All of us are imperfect people – we are broken in some way. Our brokenness can be visible like the “lepers,” or it can be invisible.
Some of these marks are inscribed onto us when we internalise the shame, the fear, the hate, the ignorance people place on us. We are told we are not worthy, not good enough, unclean, abominations – and then we internalise them, and we start believing that what they say is true about us.

Some of us hide our illness, our addictions, our fears, our disappointments, our depression because we think that this will mark us unclean, and we will be cast out of our communities, we would be rejected by the people – even by those we care and love, those closest to us.

But hiding these marks only reinforces our separation – we are afraid that one day we may be found out. By denying and hiding our issues, we are not able to deal with them properly – we are not able to allow others around us to walk with us on our journey. Without them holding us accountable to work towards wholeness, without emotional support, we often fall deeper into the chasm and get separated even further from others.

People often only see Jesus as a miracle healer. I think we lose a great deal of wisdom and insight when we do that. I often see Jesus as a psychotherapist. Remember when he met the man who has sitting on his mat for 38 years at Bethesda? I don’t think that was a healing story as we understand healing. Jesus asked him a simple question – “Do you want to get well?” It is a simple yes or no question. But this guy gives all sorts of excuses – when the water is stirred, someone gets there before me, or there is nobody to help me into the water. He is blaming everyone else for his situation. And Jesus tells him simply – “Stand up, get up your mat, and walk.” I don’t think he was healed miraculously – I think in this situation, Jesus understood that this man isn’t physically unwell, but rather his attitude of blaming and not taking responsibility for his own healing that kept him from his wholeness. His healing can only begin when he stands up on his own – even if he was physically healed, he was whole inside himself.

Likewise, when Jesus told the ten lepers, “Show yourselves to the priests,” the ten lepers were only healed when they were on their way to show themselves to the priests. Why? It is when we come out and face those who mark us, when we confront all the fear, the hate, the shame that we have internalised that we are liberated from them. I think that is why Jesus did not say “I have healed you” but “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.”
Sometimes even when we are healed of what physically afflicts us, we may still suffer from emotional and psychological effects. Wholeness isn’t just about the physical, but about the entirety of our selves – the physical, the emotional, the psychological, the spiritual. One aspect of us is interconnected to another aspect of us – they cannot be separated. We know that – we often fall sick when we are down, and we feel aches when we are emotionally affected.
There is another aspect – a political aspect – to this story. Jesus told the ten lepers to show themselves to the authority. My mentor Rev Mitulski compared this to the STOP THE CHURCH protest 25 years ago on December 10, 1989 where protestors showed up at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to protest Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s public stand against safe sex education in New York City Public Schools, condom distribution, and the Cardinal’s public views on homosexuality. Some protestors attended the mass, and staged a “die-in” in the cathedral to demonstrate the fact that people were dying from HIV/AIDS because of the Catholic Archdiocese’s stand.

While there were those who were like the priests who “marked” others as unclean, there were others, like Jesus, who walked with those who were suffering with HIV/AIDS. In a time where nobody understood the disease, when even their loved ones and their families were fearful of them, there were nuns and priests who ministered to, walked with, and held people dying from AIDS and showed them love.

We are all marked in some way by society. Not good enough, not smart enough, not earning enough money, not man enough, not feminine enough, not gay enough. We may not have a degree, or a diploma, or do not fit into what is desirable in society. We may suffer from some illness, have some addictions, or wrestling with something we are ashamed of. But the good news – the gospel of Love that Christ proclaimed is this – you are God’s beloved. That is a given – nothing can change that, nothing can take that away.

Now, you have to “Show yourselves” – Be authentic, be honest and start dealing with our issues we keep running away from. Be courageous to confront the powers that tell you otherwise – Get up! – and go on your WAY, and in doing so, you will be made whole.

Let’s walk with each other. Let’s “show ourselves” as acts of resistance, vulnerability, honesty, authenticity, courage and love – and in so doing find our wholeness – for as Jesus said to the Samaritan who returned in gratitude, “your faith has made you whole.”