Faith in Our Systems

Proper 23, Year C, RCL, Track 1

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Psalm 66:1-11, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19

Cleansing of the ten lepers, c. 1035-1050 Illumination from Codex Aureus Eptemacensis [public domain]

Ten are made clean but only one comes back. Ten are made clean and only one recognizes Jesus as Lord. All ten are made clean but only one was made well. Luke makes a distinction between being made clean and made well. Cleanliness, in this case, is an act of being disease free by the pronouncement of a rabbi. Being made well is something altogether different.

Having leprosy is a burden. The burden is placed on the afflicted to make sure others would not touch them; making sure they do not spread their disease. By law, lepers must wear tattered clothing, cover their upper lip and yell ‘unclean – unclean’ any time they are near others. Being healed from leprosy was the first step in having a restored life. Once healed, the leper needs to be pronounced clean by a rabbi. Only then could they reenter their old life in the city or village. Only then could the person move back in with relatives, be gainfully employed, and trade at the markets. To be made clean doesn’t take faith. It is strictly a pronouncement of your status. Yet to be made well, according to Luke, takes faith. Actually the Greek word in this passage that we translate as ‘made well’ literally means “saved you.” And I doubt this was lost on Luke or his listeners when Jesus says, ‘rise, go, your faith has saved you.’

Nine of the ten lepers presumably went into town, saw the priest, and are deemed clean. They probably had a celebration with their loved ones, possibly even praising God for the healing miracle. I would have done this and I can only imagine that these faithful people would have done the same. Luke doesn’t tell us this story so we can wonder about the motives of the nine lepers. He is making a point about where we put our faith. Luke asks us, where do the lepers put their faith; in the purity laws and institution or in the Lord?

The nine lepers went on their way, doing exactly what they were told to do by Jesus. They didn’t think twice about what they were doing. Their faith was in the system that has been around for millennia; a system where the priests are the arbitrators of the law.

Through their wisdom and education people came to the priests for all kinds of reasons; disputes of law, religion, and property. You went to the priest to debate philosophical and religious ideas. And you went to the priest to see if you were ritually clean, so you could be included in the wider community.

It was back to this system that the nine lepers went. They went back to the same system that ostracized them. Yet it is the one foreigner, who realizes that there was more going on here. Jesus was not just a religions master, or rabbi, but that Jesus is the Lord; the Lord who healed him from his disease.

This is the recognition Jesus wants; not only from this foreigner or from the other nine but from us. Jesus wants us to recognize that he is with us in our daily lives and that we are to offer praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings we receive. Each day we receive blessings; food on the table, children or grandchildren, a roof over our head, shoes under our feet.

Most of us are used to putting our faith in systems and institutions. We have faith that a diploma from a university means we have a certain level of knowledge. We have faith that if we work hard, we will be paid. We have faith that our justice system will keep us safe from all kinds of troubles. We have faith that if we have a dispute we can go to our courts and receive a hearing that is fair. We have faith that the police are trying to make our city safer for all. And even though we know that these systems are not perfect, and may have biases, we nonetheless maintain our faith in these systems. And here, Jesus might ask us, do we have more faith in these systems than in him? Do we trust that these systems are more fair, more just than the Lord is? Do we give the Lord credit for all that is good in life, or do we give this credit to systems of business, government, or our nation.

There is nothing wrong with being patriotic and I’m not suggesting that we all become anarchists. But I do wonder if we place more faith in these systems than in the Lord? And who do we trust more to keep us safe now and in the future? These systems we created or the Lord our God?

Jesus made all ten men clean, but it is only the one who’s faith made him turn around and praise the Lord who was saved, who was made well.

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