October 14, 2007 20 Pentecost (RCL Proper 23C) Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7; Luke 17: 11-19
Some grievances and grudges and battles go back a long time. Generations and centuries. In one sense the war being fought today in Iraq is just the latest chapter in the story of a battle between Egypt and Persia over the control of the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf that has been going on for five thousand years. At least. We’re enmeshed in it today, just as Jeremiah and the people of Jerusalem were caught up in an earlier round 2,500 years ago. And the war between Greece and Turkey has been percolating at least since Homer’s time, so that we can almost see the shades of Achilles and Agamemnon and Paris and Hector hovering over the battlefields of Bosnia and Kosovo. The Celts and the Britons hurl contemporary versions of rocks and arrows at each other across the hills of Ireland, as they did fifteen hundred years ago. Israelis and Palestinians face off on essentially the same ground where young David faced the mighty warrior Goliath of Gath. Really just nothing new under the sun. The Chinese and the Central Asians. Same old, Same old. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Grievances, rivalries, ancient hurts passed down from generation to generation. It’s almost the way national narratives are formed, the source of identity.
And the same thing so often true for us as individuals. The sins of the parents, as it were, passed on to the children. And as we go through our lives, how often it seems that we get into these patterns, often such self destructive patterns. Deeply enmeshed. The hurts of our childhood following us around like our shadow, never far away. We make the same mistakes over and over and over again. “I’ll never fall in love with someone like that again.” “I won’t do to my kids what my parents did to me.” --Well, good luck with that. Past experience generally the best predictor of future results. In our relationships, our work. We slam into these brick walls with surprise, and yet also with this sense of deep familiarity. Why do I always do this? Just when I think I have things beginning to move on the right track. There it is again. There I go again.
It’s a depressing cycle. But what the readings in scripture have to say to us this morning is that this cycle isn’t God’s will for us. He’s not about watching us cycle down, but about seeing us lifted up. And that as we will open ourselves to his continuing presence in our lives, as we will shift our focus and life orientation, we will find the possibility not just of some news of pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye, but of healing and renewal and new life, breaking those destructive patterns that have walled us in and held us down in so many ways. It’s the new pattern found in the way Jesus walked, following him, the pattern that moves through the defeat of Good Friday to the restoration of Easter morning and the empty tomb. A story meant to be not just about something that happened a long time ago and far away, but about a reality and a possibility for us. Here and today.
We’ve followed Jeremiah these past weeks in the encircling catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem, and now we hear this postscript to the story. The message to the survivors. And fascinating, that it’s not a message about grievance and recrimination, about holding on to the memory of hurt, about waiting for retribution. But about moving on with life, about seeing what new God has in mind for us. Not about pay-back, but about renewal. From the ashes of destruction and death and all the calamities of the past, now: get married, have kids, make a home for yourselves, become a part of the community where you are. Don’t live in the past. Let go of that hurt, let go of all the loss, and let God make something new for you today.
The story of the Ten Lepers in Luke. I guess we really don’t know about the other nine. All of them were healed, in the sense that their disease was cured. But only one, this Samaritan, seeks Jesus out. Only one is able to recognize truly what has happened. And what Jesus sees in him is faith, which is to say an openness to God, a sense of availability in this present moment to a deeper relationship with the one who has healed him. And Jesus uses a different word. He tells the Samaritan Leper, just as Jeremiah tells the Jewish exiles, “go your way.” Get on with your life. And then, “your faith has made you well.” There’s a difference we would say, stretch this just a little bit, between being healed and being well. One pointing to a medical fact, the other to a reality that is deeper and more powerful. Somehow now this Leper is not simply not sick anymore, but he has a life ahead of him, a new life. In his own story, a kind of resurrection, the passing from Good Friday to Easter. And he doesn’t now ever need to go back, doesn’t need to play that tape over again. Not to say that he isn’t eventually once again to get sick and die, just like all the rest of us, but that now as he has turned his life in faith to the one who healed him, he has discovered in this new moment what God has intended for him in freedom and peace and healing and love from the beginning of creation. His faith has made him well.
A clue here for us, in the juxtaposition of these two stories, Jeremiah in the first hours of the diaspora that continues to this day in the history of the Chosen People, Jesus and the healing of the Samaritan Leper. Because being cured is like quitting smoking. As someone said, the easiest thing in the world, since so many people do it so often. But what we want isn't just a cure. It's to have a life.
So here a clue about what our potential is, what our lives could be like, when we like that Samaritan would find it in ourselves to see beyond ourselves, and to return to the presence of the one from whom our healing has come. A clue of what it might be if “same old, same old” didn’t have to be the single ruling principle of our lives, if instead we were to turn to him, make that conscious choice and decision, to return to him, like the man who was healed, like the people who opened their eyes on the morning of the last battle to discover they were still alive, that for them at least life could go on. Not just to endure, but to flourish.
An assurance, a promise: if we were to open our hearts and our lives to the one who has preserved us, who has healed us at the Cross, to receive his blessing, and to be sent forth by him to live richly and abundantly all the days of our lives as the people he created us to be in the first morning of the world.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.