Standing in the old section of the Burwood Cemetery we were surrounded by the graves of young children, many of whom were under the age of 12. The two teenagers with us were intrigued as to why this was the case. We explained that 3 or more generations ago people died young of diseases we no longer see as fatal – measles, chicken pox, colds, appendicitis and more. Also those who lived didn’t enjoy the same preferred position in families as they do to day. Education above primary school was rare and the idea of a career of their choice simply not on the agenda.
For these two young men, this story was both foreign and outside of their experience. What they took for granted simply wasn’t available to those young people whose headstones dotted the immediate surrounds. It was for them, and possibly is for some of us, almost impossible to imagine a world different to theirs/our experience. As a result we can fall into the trap of taking what we have now as always being the way it was.
We take life, our life for granted and when something happens contrary we become anxious and angry that our expectations are not met. Our life has become narcissistic to the point that we cannot imagine it being any other way than it is now. If it is out of balance we seek to regain the life we are used to without being grateful when we do.
This little pericope of Jesus is not so much about gratitude but about the expectation of entitlement, taking life for granted. 10 people encounter Jesus. All 10 are sick and have an illness described here as leprosy. It may not have been leprosy in the strict definition, but because of a skin ailment their lives were out of balance. The normal life function of relationships, work and religious practice was not available to them. They were outcasts, marginalised by their illnesses and seeking to find a way to become participants, once again, in the normal activities of life.
They meet Jesus, and are healed. Jesus sends them on their way, 9 keep going, only one stops, turns around and says thanks. It is here that Jesus pronounces, ““Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Now this raises some interesting questions. We are told that all are healed, but only this one is made well, what does that mean? Is gratitude evidence of something more than healng the physical illness? Is wellness different or deeper than the physical cleansing? Is faith more than simply wanting something good to happen, is it about depth, deep speaking unto deep, where we glean the truth that something more is at work here than physical healing?
Many years ago, when I attended AA, I used to notice that there were at least two groups of people at meetings, those for whom the joy of life had returned in soberiety and those who, while sober, still moaned about how difficult it was each day. The latter would stand at every meeting they attended and go on and on about how hard it was to be sober, the temptations, the difficulties and then lapse into a protracted sense of martyrdom for continuing to remain sober. Somehow we were to applaud their stoicism in the face of great strife.
An old AA man would say, “Any one can get sober, only a few master sobriety.” A very wise statement reflected in our story today. Any one can get healed, only a few master the art of living well. The Samaritan begins the journey by stopping, turning around and recognising the hope he has received.
The other 9 took it all for granted. Life went on with their ego self at the centre of all things; the only difference was they no longer had the skin disease. Had anything really changed for them? Were they convinced that this was their right and finally all had returned to the way it always was before they got sick?
The Samaritan’s faith made him well. Jesus distinguishes between the 9 and the 1 by recognising the 1’s faith, a faith that was only activated when he stopped, took stock, turned around and recognised the source of his healing. Faith here refers to a conviction that results in reflection and metanoia, a complete about face or change in direction. The 9 were healed by God’s grace; the 1 was made well by his awareness of the mystery lying at the centre of his experience of Jesus.
Wellness is more than healing, and sometimes, is present when there is no healing. People are well when they recognise the joy and hope of life in the midst of illness, tragedy and loss. People are well when they retain their balance and embrace challenges, opportunities and possibilities despite the lack of healing or closure. People are well when they are able to grasp the mystery of creation in all things they encounter.
This is a story about great hope hidden in the everyday we take for granted. Like the 9, we are so busy going on, we miss the gems staring us in the face. As my father would say if we couldn’t see or find something; “If it had been a snake it would have bitten you”. In other words we miss the bleeding obvious in search of the more we not ready to receive. The 9 were excited to be normal that they forget to receive fully what they had been given.
How easy it is for us to do this in our lives. Materially we live in a world full of extraordinary experiences we take for granted. We have possessions, experiences, opportunities people of past generations could never have imagined, yet we act as if that is the way it has always been. We expect the stuff we have without a thought of gratitude. We take for granted stuff people in 2/3’rds of the world have never had – fresh water, accommodation, regular meals, work and access to health services. We get upset when the Internet is down, winds blow over power poles and the freeway is blocked because we take it for granted we can get our way with life. We become one of the 9 and fail to recognise just how blessed we are.
Spiritually human beings have made themselves the centre of the Good News, more so, we as individuals have made ourselves the unique project of the incarnation and the resurrection. Somehow that story is all about us and we take it for granted that we have God on speed dial, that God only has eyes for us. Modern individualism makes us sure of our place in God’s plan that we get upset when things don’t go our way. Why has this happened? Why me? What have I done? We walk away with the 9 unaware that there is more at work here than meets the cursory glance. Spiritually we are challenged to stop, reflect and turn around, embracing the unknown just below the surface.
Until we do we will continue to walk in the footsteps of the 9. Amen.