In this sermon I have largely followed the interpretation of the passage offered by Dennis Hamm – The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 1994.
What do you see?
It’s a basic human question.
What do you see?
In any given situation – in any visual landscape – it is possible to see many different things. Or to put it a little differently, any given situation can be seen from a many different perspectives. Let me give a simple example to explain what I mean:
If you are at the grocery store and you see a young child carelessly picking items off the shelf, perhaps dropping a can of tomatoes – and you see his mother react angrily, yelling at the child. What do you see? Do you see a disobedient child who obviously hasn’t been shown how to behave properly – and do you see an impatient mother? Or do you see a child doing what children normally do? And perhaps a mother who is tired and at wits end because she is run off her feet?
What do you see?
In any given situation – in any visual landscape – there are many different ways of seeing things. And we can take this a step further this morning and say that who you are as an individual is determined by what you see. Your identity as a person, your character – who you are – is determined by what you see in the world around you.
What problems to you see?
What opportunities do you see?
What forms of beauty to you see?
What motivations and intentions do you see in others?
When we start to answer these questions about what we see in the world around us – we will be saying something significant about us. What we see tells us what kind of person we are.
If we draw this in to the context of faith, we can say that maturing as a person, growing in faith, and walking more fully in the way of Jesus, means learning to see in a particular way. Being a follower of Jesus just is a matter of seeing in a particular way. It means seeing ourselves, seeing the people around us, and seeing the world in which we live, in a particular way.
So what do you see?
Our New Testament reading for today is a story about seeing – it’s a story about seeing something new. From our Sunday school days we might remember this story about the one leper who came back. And from our Sunday school days we might think that this story is about learning to be grateful. It’s about learning to say thank you when others might forget. But that’s not what the story is about. The story of the one leper who returned to Jesus is not a story about being a good, polite person who remembers to say thank you. No, the story of the one leper who came back is a story about our vision of the world. It’s a story that invites us to see the world in a particular way.
Let’s set the context. In terms of the big picture, Luke has Jesus travelling a long and meandering road to Jerusalem. And along that meandering road to Jerusalem, Jesus goes into the border-land between Galilee and Samaria – a kind of no-mans-land – it is a point of intersection between a Jewish population and a Samaritan population. It is in many ways a place of conflict. Although these groups are in a very real sense cousins, between them there is a long-standing animosity. For one community, the Jews, the God Yahweh is to be worshipped and served at the temple in Jerusalem. For the other community, the Samaritans, the God Yahweh is to be worshipped and served at the temple on Mt. Gerizim.
Now as Jesus travels through this borderland – travels through this in between place, he comes upon a group of lepers. And they call out to him from a distance. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They are outcasts. They are outsiders. They live in this no-man’s land for a reason – they are unclean, diseased, and feared.
Jesus sees them. He hears them. And when they cry out to him for mercy he responds with these words: “Go and show yourselves to the priest.” It may sound odd to us, but this is an entirely appropriate thing for them to do. According to Jewish scriptures, a person with a skin disease should go to the priest either for diagnosis of the disease (Leviticus 13) or to have their quarantine lifted (Leviticus 14). So there’s nothing strange about this. The ten lepers may have wondered why in this particular moment they should go off to see the priests – but they set off nonetheless.
But as they go, the text tells us, “they were made clean.” As they go on foot to present themselves to the priests, each one of them is suddenly healed of their skin disease. One minute covered in open sores, and the next their skin is smooth and normal. The disappearance of their sickness, of their sores and wounds, means their quarantine from society is suddenly gone, also.
Now presumably all ten of the lepers saw that they were healed. How could they not have noticed that their bodies were suddenly whole? So they all knew what had happened to them. They all knew what a difference had been made in their life. We read in the text “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.”
In a sense, all 10 of the lepers saw what happened to their bodies. They all had eyes to see and understand that the health of their bodies was changed. They all saw. And yet at the same time, only one of the 10 saw. He saw something more. He saw something different. They all saw what had happened, but only the one saw – and in his seeing he comes back to glorify God.
You may think we’re making too much of those simple words in the text: “when he saw.” But throughout the volume of Luke-Acts seeing matters. Seeing with the eyes of faith matters.
Luke chapter 2: The shepherds return glorifying God for all they had heard and seen.
Luke chapter 5: After the paralytic was healed, the bystanders glorify God for what they had seen.
Luke chapter 13: When the centurion saw what had taken place at thw crucifixion and death of Jesus, he declared Jesus righteous.
Seeing with the eyes of faith matters.
In her autobiographical writings Helen Keller tells the story of how she learned what language is – what it means to inhabit language. Of course Helen Keller was deaf and blind and she could not speak. But she tells of the process of learning what it meant when letters were spelled out in her hand. And near the beginning of this learning she was having trouble discerning the difference between mug and water – the difference between the thing that held the water and the water itself. And so her teacher brought her to the tap and put her hand under the running faucet. Helen Keller writes: “Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that (spell it out) “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could, in time, be swept away. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought… Every object that I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me.”
Helen Keller began to see – the world opened up before her – she became a new person in the world.
The 10th leper began to see. He discovered. He discerned. He saw. The world opened up before him. He became a new person in the world.
What did he see? What did he see that the others didn’t see? Did he suddenly see that polite little children always say thank you? No. Did he suddenly discover that after someone gives you a gift it’s important to send a thank you card? No.
To understand what he saw it may help us to go back to that grand context with which we began. We remember that with this story we are on the border between Jewish Galilee and Samaria – we are between holy Mount Zion on the one hand and holy Mount Gerizim on the other hand. The question of where you worship Yahweh is a contested question in this place – do you worship God on Mount Zion or do you worship God on Mount Gerizim.
What the leper discovers and reveals is that there is an alternative answer to the question. Or to put it a little differently, the leper saw that the same old question couldn’t be answered any more in same old way. Something is happening. The ground is shifting under our feet. God is doing something. And the same old question cannot be answered in the same old way any more.
“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 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.”
It may be difficult for us to see just how significant these words of Jesus are. But Luke wants us to see something dramatic here.
Where is the place to worship God?
Where do you prostrate yourself in giving thanks to God?
Where do you discover the place of God’s encounter with broken humanity?
Where is the appropriate place to sing praises to God?
Is it on Mount Gerizim? Or is it on Mount Zion? Or is it at the feet of Jesus?
He turned back praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus feet and thanked him. At the feet of Jesus, praise is given to God. This story isn’t a fully developed theology of the incarnation – not a fully developed theology of God’s presence in the person of Jesus. But in this text the association between Jesus and God becomes so apparent. In seeing that he was healed – in seeing the restoration in his own life – in seeing grace and power of Jesus – the leper discovers and reveals that the praise of God may and must be offered at the feet of Jesus.
Immediately after this story in Luke’s gospel, we read the following words of Jesus: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is’. For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
The kingdom of God is among you. The kingdom of God is present where Jesus is present. The kingdom of God is not past or future. The kingdom of God is not revealed in cosmic heavenly signs. The kingdom of God is not revealed in the rise and fall of nations. The kingdom of God is among you in the simple and humble and compassionate and risen Jesus. Do you see it? Are your eyes open for the kingdom? Are your eyes open for Jesus and his way in the world?
This story is particularly interesting because we find Jesus saying to the leper, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Not only was this man healed. Not only was his physical ailment removed. The narrative suggests that in addition to being healed, the leper was saved.
Not only was he healed of his disease. But through his encounter with Jesus – through his seeing – he was saved, or made well, or rescued. The 10th leper discovered. He discerned. He saw. The world opened up before him. He became a new person in the world.
When we see with the eyes of faith.
When we see the kingdom of God is in our midst.
When we see the Spirit of Jesus at work around us.
When we see the love of God outpoured in every visual landscape.
When we see, we are saved.
When we see, we are fully alive.
In our days and weeks and lives, we are invited to see with the eyes of faith. It’s true that in our particular society it sometimes takes courage – it is often counter-cultural to see in this way. We may be one in ten, or fewer. But to be a follower of Jesus means putting in the sometimes-hard work of opening our eyes to see what God is doing, where Jesus is working. To be a community of God’s people is to help one another to see with the eyes of faith.
There are so many different visual landscapes in our world, I can’t possibly speak to even a miniscule number of them this morning. But let me just give two simple examples of what it might mean for us to see with the eyes of faith in our daily lives.
The image on our screen this morning is of a piece of art by the American artist Dale Chihuly – it is a piece in Musée des Beaux Arts right now – part of an exhibit that ends on October 27. When we look at this piece of art, what do we see? We may see the talent of the artist to form such perfect objects out of glass. We may marvel at the capacity of our eyes to capture this panoply of colou.. But do we see more? Do we see the creative and gracious genius of the God who gives our beautiful world and bodies as gift? Do we see these creative works as a challenge to use our own gifts in to create beauty and goodness in the world given and redeemed in Christ? What do you see?
And finally this morning, perhaps an example more in line with what we have been speaking about:
In our world there are still “lepers” – the identity of these “lepers” will be different for each of us – they are those we’d rather keep at a safe distance – people we’d rather not encounter in daily life. Perhaps those with significant mental illness; or those who live on the streets; or those with physical or mental disabilities. We see them as people we’d rather not have in our lives, even if we perhaps see them as worthy of our charity. But living in the way of Jesus means seeing each one as created in the image of God – it means seeing these so-called leer as women and men embraced in the kingdom of Jesus – as those who have the capacity to love us and be loved by us – as those who have something to teach as much as they have something to learn.
When you go about daily life, what do you see?
May we see with the eyes of faith…
May we see with the eyes of hope and compassion…
May the world open up before us…
May we become new people in the world…
As we see, may we give glory to God…