A grateful heart

When I was very very young – just a baby – I had febrile convulsions when my temperature went over 39. I think they gave my parents quite a fright.  In fact I once had convulsions for so long that Mrs Clarke – a very devout Roman Catholic who lived at the bottom of the street was able to recite a whole rosary of Hail Marys over my bed. That might explain why I ended up an instinctive anglo-catholic.

Later on when I was about 5 I had to spend a couple of nights in Leeds Infirmary – I can hardly remember any of it – except I do remember that my mum and dad were not allowed to stay with me and that the ward – a very big old fashioned dormatory was very frightening.

Anyway – every year at Christmas time my dad would take me down to Leeds market to buy a big box of balloons and a large box of quality street.  We would then take them to the Infirmary to decorate the Children’s ward and to put in the nurses staff room  … every year – just to say thank you.

Now leprosy – the disease in today’s Gospel reading – is a horrible disease where bacteria affect the whole nervous system,  and it can end up with people becoming very disabled as they lose the extremeties of their limbs and face after repeated injuries or infection through unnoticed wounds.  They simply cannot feel the pain or the infection any more. 

It is certainly a long way from febrile convulsions or Leeds Infirmary .

But the thing about leprosy in the first century is that it is not only a horrible disease but that people were so frightened of catching it, that the people suffering from leprosy were declared unlcean – and they had to live in colonies outside the city and were not allowed to mix with ordinary people in ordinary places.

Anyone who touched a person with leprosy, or who was touched by them was declared to be  ritually unclean and had to go into what we would call isolation and then go through a purification rite.   And suffering from leprosy probably marked you out as a sinner too – why else would God allow such a terrible thing happen to you.

So when ten people with leprosy approach Jesus they were in a very bad way.  They were not only hoping to be cured, they were also hoping to be able to get back to their families and friends, to be able to walk the streets again – in a way just to be normal again. 

It is the classic case of Jesus helping and befriending the outcast whom other people rejected – of seeing that these ten are real people like you and me, but they are people who happen to suffering from a disease called leprosy – they are not just lepers.

And Jesus cured them.  We don’t know how he did it.  It looks from the Gospel passage as if he didn’t actually do anything.  He just said ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests’ 

and then somehow on the way all ten were miraculously cured.

Why did Jesus send these people to the priests?  Well first because the priests were the ones who had the authority to declare to others that these people did not have leprosy any more, but perhaps also because Jesus wanted to let the priests see and know that he did have the power to heal leprosy –  I think Luke certainly wants us to know that this miracle was real and that even the Jewish priests saw it and vouched for it.

But none of that is the real point of the story.  In many ways the fact that Jesus can cure leprosy is taken for granted in the Gospel… This is just another one of Jesus’s many healings. By Luke chapter 17 we all know that he can do that..   

The strange bit is what happens next : –  only one came back to thank Jesus, and he wasn’t even a Jew – he was a Samaritan.

And then at the end of the passage Jesus says to the one ‘your faith has made you well.

So it’s not about healing –  it’s about thanks and faith and it’s not actually about being made well.  What Jesus actually said is ‘Your faith has saved you.’   We already know that the Samaritan has been made well – all ten of the people with leprosy had been made well – but now the Samaritan has been saved as well. Your faith has saved you ….. something quite different.

So what does that mean to you? What does that mean for us?

What did that mean for a five year old boy in Leeds Infirmary?

The doctors and nurses had already worked their miracles and done their job, and my high temperature and infection had been brought down and I was safe – cured by the wonders of medical science – as we all have been many times through the wonder of modern knowledge and the NHS. 

But there was something else, something terribly simple, and yet very profound – going back to say thank you –  thank you to the staff who had worked and cared and nursed me …  and that going back year by year taught me something else,  it changed me, it helped me to be thankful, and not to take people or healing – or mercy – for granted. 

So each of us still has the Samaritan’s choice today.   We can be thankful to one another, and thankful to God for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life;

 And we can show our thanks by coming back time and time again  …  It is indeed right, it is our duy and our joy, always, here and everywhere to give you thanks, almighty Father

and if we do this, then we will grow and be changed into being thankful people.

we will be healed, and made whole. We will be saved.  

The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington