This dialogical sermon was preached in the CDSP All Saints Chapel on Wednesday, November 15 by Ali Fischer.
“Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Keeping their distance.
Distance was an integral aspect of the leper’s reality because they were separated from society in a leper colony. The Lepers see Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and it seems they were providing respect to Jesus and his group by keeping a distance. Despite their condition, Jesus still shows mercy and heals but only one Samaritan of the group returns to thank and praise Jesus.
I have difficulty writing off the nine who didn’t return as ungrateful. These nine individuals, who were most likely Jewish, had just been healed from a painful and shameful affliction that many considered a curse from God that served retribution for one’s sins.
We don’t know how these nine reacted or praised their healer in their individual experiences. We don’t know the activity of the Holy Spirit within their lives. We just know that they did not return.
In the majority of cases with divine healing, the psychological and physical realities for a person are not healed at the same time. I wonder if these nine newly healed lepers still experienced shame and an understanding that they were not worthy of being in the presence of rest of society and especially Jesus.
I wonder if there was a degree of continued self-perception of uncleanliness and cursedness from these Jewish individuals? And if so, how significantly did these self-imposed boundaries from the societally created stigmas prevent these nine from returning to and praising Jesus.
Jesus said to the Samaritan, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” “Made well” can also be translated to “saved you”. Jesus is saving and humans create obstacles in the praising.
Who are the lepers in our midst?
Issues of societal shame, stigma, and thus, additional obstructions in the way of Jesus, exist in our modern context. 40 years after the AIDS crisis, even here in the Bay area, my compassion remains with my friends who suffer from HIV/AIDS because their struggle for communal support is far more complex than the ones who are navigating cancer or chronic illness. Even with chronic illness, disability, and cancer; these struggles and victories are often diminished in individual’s attempt to be perceived as more able bodied, and a falsely perceived worthiness, within our society.
The layers of shame are present throughout our culture. We witness systemic shame in survivors of sexual assault, poverty and our vast divide of American wealth, legal documentation, physical appearance, drug and alcohol addiction, gender identity, and racial identification and representation.
I wonder how many stories of praise and victory are stifled because of societally induced shame and desperation to be “normal”.
What are our roles as individual Christians and as the Church in breaking down these stigmas and shame?
How are our obstacles diminishing Jesus’ saving?What are our roles in breaking down these barriers that prevent others in sharing their praise of the Glory and healing of our Holy Trinity?