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Jesus said to them, “Go and show yourself to the priests.”
And as they went they were cleansed.
Last week we looked at the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and we were reminded of how Jesus comes alongside of us, who have been broken by the world, the flesh and the devil, and he has bound up our wounds, pouring wine and oil into them. He has lifted us onto his back, to take us into the Church, where we are being restored inwardly, deeply, that we might become capable of the kind of love that he shows to us, towards our neighbours.
This morning we have come back to the Inn, to the Church, to continue to be fed by His Word written and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. We know Jesus and we love Him, but how will that work of transformation continue? How will we continue our ascent into the life of heaven even now?
In the Epistle today [Galatians 5:16-24], St Paul speaks about our predicament as Christians. We are living at an in-between stage – between the ditch we have been taken out of and living fully in the kingdom of heaven. Each of us still experiences a draw towards the flesh, but also the promptings of the Spirit.
When we’re drawn by the “flesh”, Paul does not mean the body, he’s talking about a carnal way of being – an unspiritual walking – it includes bodily desires out of control but also desires of the soul – such as the desire for greatness, an impulse in our soul given to us by God, but we can try to fulfill that desire in a carnal way and it can lead to pride or envy. So a carnally minded person, fulfills the desires of body and soul in a worldly way.
e.g. There are some Lord of the Rings fans here – if you have read Tolkien’s great work or seen the recent movie adaptation, dwarves can be seen as a figure of more carnally minded people: they love to enjoy meat and beer to excess and they dig deep into the earth searching for valuable treasure. [see Job 28] The elves, by contrast, can be seen as a figure of spiritually minded people (even angels): they live high in the trees, and have more exalted and spiritual hopes, they contemplate, and then they act in powerful and decisive ways. Human beings are somewhere in between.
And this is the reality for us – we are in a state of being where we are satisfying both fleshy and spiritual desires. And as we mature, we’re beginning to see the difference between the two. We are becoming spiritually discerning, learning how to satisfy the longings of our hearts, in a more spiritual way.
In most of the letters of Paul (e.g. Romans 1:29-31, Galatians 5:19-26, Ephesians 4:17-6, Colossians 2:10-3) and in the letters of James (3:13-5:12), of Peter (1 Pet 2:11-4:19; 2 Pet 2-3), of John (1 John 3:10-15; 3 John 9-11) and Jude (Jude 5-19) there are descriptions, like we have this morning, of what a carnal way of being is like and what a spiritual way of being is like. Paul says today, The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
If our minds are oriented towards satisfying the flesh, then we need the Law of God to restrain us. If we keep responding to fleshy desires, to satisfying our longings, we keep finding ourselves breaking the commandments and needing to repent. Our life is one of restraint and chaffing and pain.
But if there is a reorientation towards the spiritual, we are no longer bound by the Law, because we’re not looking in that wrong way. There is no restraint against – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We can run free, headlong, into these things, without restraint. You cannot have too much of this fruit, you can gorge yourselves!
Our call as Christians is to not to be continually restraining our desire but releasing it to spiritual ends, and then there is no need for the Law of God. The energy with which we pursued and then restrained fleshy satisfaction can be released to spiritual ends.
e.g. Coming back to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: The dwarf Gimli, is not in the end destroyed, but rather taken up in a transformation, through the story, by his encounter with Galadriel, the “Lady of Light”, an elf princess, by her virtue, by her beauty. After the encounter he is no longer interested in the mines, but in higher things, spiritual things. There is a reorientation – the carnally minded is made spiritual – grace does not destroy nature but perfects it. He still enjoys his meat and a good pint of beer (like a good Catholic or Lutheran or Anglican!), no denying the goodness of creation, but his ideas of beauty and of truth and of ultimate things has been forever changed.
And it is so with us. When St Paul says that those who follow the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, he is not pronouncing final judgement on the carnally minded person. Elsewhere he describes the Christians in Corinth as once following these ways, but now they are washed [1 Cor 6:9-11]. Paul is saying that so long as one is oriented toward the flesh, one will not know the peace that Christ has come to bring. As soon as anyone carnally minded turns towards the spiritual, towards God, they will inherit, they will begin to taste of all these fruits of the Spirit. For all of us it is a matter of being less carnally minded all the time as we become more spiritually minded.
In the Gospel today [St Luke 17:11-19], 10 lepers are crying out for mercy to Jesus. They are men separated from society because of a disease of the skin which could contaminate others. You could see the disease itself as a kind of parable for those suffering from being carnally minded. They cry out for mercy – and that is a cry that Jesus will always, always, always hear and respond to. Ask and it shall be given to you: the mercy to be forgiven and the mercy to be cleansed from the pollution of sin.
Jesus tells them to go and see the priest. Under the Law of Moses, people who had leprosy and were healed, would need to go first to the priest who would examine them to confirm it and then declare them healed and they could then live in community again. So without seeing themselves healed immediately, these lepers walk towards the Temple in faith to seek the priests, trusting Jesus, and as they follow his command, they are healed.
We could see this as the same call of St Paul to follow the Spirit and not the flesh. The more we follow the spiritual way, the way of love, the way of truth, the less that sin clings to us and draws us back into its dead ends. Following Jesus in faith, in this new way, listening to the promptings of Jesus’ Spirit within us to holiness, leads to holiness, to a cleansing, a purifying of our desire. The new path becomes easier and easier. It is the life of growing holiness.
The mercy that Jesus shows to these men and that he shows to us, if we choose to obey his commandment of love, is to be forgiven and to be given the grace to follow and stay on the new path.
But the Gospel account of this healing doesn’t stop there with their healing. Nine of the men continue on their way to the priest but one returns, a Samaritan, when he sees that he is healed to give thanks and praise to Jesus.
There is some difference between this Samaritan and the other nine. One might suspect that the 9 men who show themselves to the priest will find themselves in some way helped by the Law, but that the Law will continue to be a cause of restraint for them, but not of salvation for them.
But the man who comes back to Jesus with such enthusiasm, has had his spiritedness released, he is experiencing the full force of the new path. The fruit of the Spirit is manifested in him. He is “praising God with a loud voice”! love, joy, peace, he now knows and will continue to know as he stays close to Jesus. He has known not just a temporary relief from sin, but, Jesus says, “your faith has made you whole.”
Is Jesus drawing us away from the Law? Yes, in a way, we need it for our restraint less and less as we “crucify the flesh, with its passions and desires.” He draws us into the life of God. And as we catch glimpses of God on our way, like the Samaritan, like the dwarf Gimli, we are encouraged and inflamed with love of Jesus, the life of holiness becomes something we enjoy more and more.
Our energy is not directed primarily in holding us back from what is wrong. Rather, it is being released to do what is right, to follow the Spirit, to seek the kingdom of God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
This morning we have cried out to Jesus for mercy, and he will respond. Soon we will confess our sins and be assured we are forgiven, we will be washed in the Blood of the Lamb and made clean. Let’s not stop this morning with being restored, but also ask Jesus to make us to really love to Walk in the Spirit.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which you do promise, make us to love that which you do command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Ancient Collect for Trinity 14, Book of Common Prayer]