“Thanks for the Boundaries”
The Rev. Jim Trimble; St. James Episcopal Church, Pewee Valley KY
Proper 23, Year C: October 13, 2013
Three religious leaders were gathered on the golf course one day discussing about cheerful thanksgiving. Giving to the churches, giving to charities, giving to God. They were trying to decide how much people should devote to doing good in the world, especially in terms of money.
So, they drew a circle on the ground. One said….Ok, we throw all our money up in the air. Whatever’s inside the circle we give to God, whatever’s outside, we keep. The next said….No, we throw all the money up in the air, and whatever’s outside the circle we give to God, what’s inside the circle, we keep.
The third one piped up……No, we throw all our money in the air and whatever God wants God takes, and whatever falls on the ground, we keep.
Of course, we know this is a joke. Religious leaders would know full well that God, who gifted us with all of Creation, deserves all thanks and all EVERYthing, not just a portion.
And religious leaders, or any religious person for that matter, would also know that the boundaries created in that joke can’t be real. As evidenced in the Old Testament reading and the Gospel passage…..those boundary lines have been erased. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, as is often preached by St. Paul. And nothing can separate us from each other.
So, that’s what we’re hearing today…..giving thanks to God and erasing boundaries which separate us from God and one another.
In the Gospel lesson, there are a number of boundary lines that are drawn for us. First, we have the geographical lines between Galilee, home of the Jewish people, God’s people, and Samaria, home of the foreigners and outcasts.
We have the ten lepers, who, because of their skin diseases, have been deemed ritually unclean and had to be separated from the rest of the communities…their families and friends. Lines have been drawn in the sand.
These folks, like others on the Gospels, have asked Jesus for mercy. Jesus, with just words, makes them clean and makes them whole again. Their lives have been gifted back to them, and the lives of their families and friends.
We all learn at a young age the proper manners of ‘Please” and ‘Thank you,’ but we only see evidence of this in one of those lepers who comes back to give thanks.
Now, that’s not to say that the others were not thankful. After all, in order for the Jewish lepers to truly become accepted again, they did have to show themselves to the local priests and go through a cleansing ritual.
So, maybe they were going to come back with a thanksgiving for this itinerant preacher and miracle worker. Or maybe not…we don’t know. What we do know is that one DID come back, and he wasn’t Jewish.
Rev. Anne Vouga, rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Westport Road continues the story:
“And then we come to the tenth leper: the hated foreigner, the Samaritan. He had crossed the border from Samaria to find work in the south. He did menial labor and lived on the margins of society with no safety net, no health insurance, no family support.
He had an ugly accent, and his religion was a mockery of the true worship of the Holy One.
Even the nine other lepers shunned him, giving him the scraps of the scraps that they received, forcing him to huddle furthest from the fire on cold nights. He had no one to talk to, no one to care for him.
When Jesus pronounced him well, it was the first time since childhood that anyone had offered him kindness, the first time that any Jew had spoken to him without a snarl.
It’s no surprise, then, that he was bowled over by this cure, that he came running back to Jesus, and, without taking any of the credit or the blame, fell down at Jesus’ feet, a servant of the Lord who blessed him. Only the tenth leper, the pitiful outcast, was truly healthy; only he was saved.”
Jesus took those boundary lines and obliterated them. From society. From religion. From human hearts. Our country has seen its share of lines in the sand, especially lately. We see it all the time in our lives.
Separating blacks and whites on the bus, in the restaurant, at the water fountain, in the movie theatre. Separating gay and straight. Republican and Democrat. Church and state. Haves and have nots. Rich and poor. U of L and UK. Right and wrong.
What Jesus demonstrates for us is that all of us are fellow creatures of God’s good creation. The man-made boundaries we build, whether in the sand, around a city or neighborhood, or in our hearts, all have chances of being torn down.
What was Jesus’ reason for curing these ten lepers? Did he have an ulterior motive? Was he trying to earn a favor, or count on their votes in the next election? No. He did it to model what God has already done for us. Made us whole and made us good. And for that, we should give thanks!
Naaman, the Old Testament military commander, comes to the prophet seeking a cure for his disease and he will do anything to make this a reality….he’ll swim the widest sea, climb the highest mountain, he’ll eat 100 hot dogs if that’s what it takes.
And all the prophet tells him to do is to wash himself in the river. That’s it. Nothing fancy, nothing extravagant. Just to wash in the river. After he gets over himself, he finally does it, and he gives thanks. His life can now continue in peace and happiness.
The ten lepers can begin their lives anew because of their cure. They can rejoin their families, without begging for food and drink at the gates of the city. Without sleeping on the ground knowing their loved ones are curled up in bed. Their dignity has returned, along with their happiness.
Although we only read of the Samaritan returning to thank Jesus, I often imagine the other nine lepers as they say grace before dinner, or worship in the synagogue, or recite prayers before bedtime.
I imagine their words have changed…giving thanks to God. I imagine their giving has changed…giving money to their temple. I imagine their relationships have changed….giving a firmer handshake to all their neighbors.
Maybe, just maybe, their boundary lines might change. They might go against the status quo of their community, and visit the lepers outside the city walls. Bringing them food, singing songs with them, calling them by name. It would mean they would be punished for erasing those lines in the sand. They might be thrown in jail and thought to be associated with that revolutionary prophet and rabbi named Jesus.
And maybe others will see what they’re doing…..giving thanks to God, loving their neighbor, standing up for what’s right and good. And change their lives, too. And change our lives, too.