One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice;
and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.
Over the past two days, we’ve been blessed with the visit of Dr Hans Boersma and his wife Linda. He has led our Utrecht Lectures, concerning the notion of our sacramental participation in the life of God, by our creation and through faith. He has spoken about both why this matters for the Christian life and how the modern world makes it difficult for us to treat the world around us and our own souls and bodies – as participating in the life of God. I hope to be able to make more widely available the lectures of Dr Boersma soon – they were so rich and full.
This morning we are continuing in our reflections in Trinity season on our ascent into the life of God. We surely want to experience that life, to participate more fully in the kingdom of heaven now. This is something promised with certainty by Jesus – if we are born of water and of the Spirit, we can enter, we can see, the kingdom of God. [John 3]
And in our readings over the past several weeks we’ve been reminded that Light, Illumination, the Spirit, is being poured out on us through our baptism and faith in Jesus Christ. As we put to death what is vice or sin, we rise up in the new life in Christ, we experience a resurrection, more and more of that inward Illumination.
Paul makes that very clear in all his letters – that a certain dying is necessary before we can rise up in the new life. This morning he contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit [Galatians 5:16-24]. We must die to the one before rising up in the other.
These lists of the works of the flesh we don’t want to even read them out any more, we don’t even want to think on them any more, they are ugly, they are in the past, or being put away by us.
But the fruit of the Spirit, we would rather have them before our minds always, we never get tired of thinking of them – we long for them, and are beginning to know them – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (or temperance).
Paul says we are to be engaged in that work of God, the transformation from being slaves of the flesh, to enjoying the fruit of the Spirit. Paul commands us to walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify [or fulfil] the lusts of the flesh.
Paul is saying that as we engage our will, as follow in these ways of the Spirit, we will find that we have less interest in the lusts of the flesh – we experience a healing, a complete shifting of the focus our attention. The painful dying to the lusts of the flesh that was part of the beginning of our life in Christ, becomes less and less painful, as we are more and more walking in line with these fruit of the Spirit.
e.g. in a similar but trivial way – if you have recognized a problem with eating too much salt, or sugar or coffee and have given it up for a while – at first it is hard, things are tasteless or we don’t get the immediate hit of sugar or caffeine, but then you eventually find that you no longer want too much of those things.
Paul is saying it is the same with all the works of the flesh – that as we try walking in the Spirit, what we really long for – these fruit of the Spirit – begin to be far more present and satisfying to us than the works of the flesh.
But it takes a certain act of faith at the beginning, because we don’t know these better things very well at the start.
In the story of Naaman the Syrian coming to Elijah for healing of his leprosy [2 Kings 5.9-16], Naaman can’t believe at first that some simple act of obedience to the man of God, Elijah, will bring him healing, so he goes away angry. But his humble servants, who are used to submitting to authority, convince him to humble himself and listen, to just follow the advice, and see what happens. When he follows the advice and goes to the waters of the Jordan and dips himself in seven times, his leprosy is cleansed and he is filled with joy and wants to give thanks in some way, though Elijah refuses so that the man is not confused about who healed, it was not Elijah but the God of Israel. And we could see here how the Fathers of the Church would see in this washing in the waters as a figure of baptism, and that the seven times is a kind of figure of the cleansing of the soul of the seven capital vices – all that leads to sin and that makes us spiritually unclean, leprous.
The leprosy doesn’t go away until there is first an act of obedience on his part – the undermining of the pride of Naaman, who thinks he is better than the Israelite – surely the waters of Damascus are better than the waters of Israel. The capital vice of pride which leads to all the others must first be undone by a humble submission to the God of Israel. The healing of his soul begins even before he gets to the river as he begins to trust in the prophetic word.
Likewise for us – if we are to tackle any of the vices in our soul – it begins by submitting ourselves to the God of Israel, who comes to us in pure flesh in Jesus Christ. To Walk in the Spirit, after we’ve submitted ourselves to holy baptism, is to follow the Spirit’s direction in our souls (which corresponds with the Commandments as Jesus reveals them) – and the fruit of that obedience to Christ is that we become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. As we follow this way we are entering and beginning to see the kingdom of heaven. Another way of saying this is that we more fully participate in the life of God.
Ten lepers, who are figures of uncleanness, of sinfulness, come to Jesus begging for mercy. Jesus hears their cry and responds to their plea for mercy – just as he always responds to every cry for mercy, for forgiveness, if we lift up our voices to him – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us!
To these men, he says, Go and show yourselves to the priests. Under the Law of Moses, when a person had leprousy, they were to separate themselves from others, so it would not spread, and to cry out “unclean” whenever anyone drew near so they would not catch the contagion. When they were cleansed of their leprousy, they were to go to the priest and show their skin – it would be examined, and the priest would declare the person cleansed if that was the case, and there would be offerings made by the priest – for sin and for guilt. [Lev 13:2-3; 14;2-32]
The lepers obey the words of Jesus, doing what he told them, trusting that by the time they arrived to see the priests they would be clean. It was just like with Naaman the Syrian, who submitted to the prophet’s counsel to walk into the waters. It is just like Paul’s advice to us, to walk in the Spirit – as we follow in obedience to the Way of the Spirit, we find ourselves being healed on the way. This is how we become holy in time. And when we do this, we act in accord with our purpose in life, and we find ourselves realizing the kingdom of heaven, we realize more fully our participation in the life of God, and much fruit appears.
These three situations are the same…. but then something unexpected happens.
One of these ten men, a Samaritan, when he sees that he is cleansed comes running back to Jesus and falls at his feet, glorifying God, and giving Jesus thanks. And Jesus commends him, but then suggests that it is as if this is something he expected – where are the nine? he asks. Unlike Elijah, who it would have been inappropriate to give thanks to, with Jesus it is totally appropriate as he is the God of Israel. Why didn’t the other nine all come back to give thanks too?
Something has happened in this man – he doesn’t need the priest of the Old Covenant to offer thanks, he himself has been raised in dignity to see himself as a priest of the New Covenant. He offers not animals but himself to Christ, glorifying God with his life, and giving thanks – eucharistwn, in the Greek. The same root of the word we use for the Eucharist that we will soon celebrate. One might also say he is offering thanks to God on behalf of them all.
He is not just healed, but has become what he was made for from the beginning – he is recognizing his participation in the life of God – glorifying him and offering thanks, and proclaiming that telos, that purpose, to the whole world by his life – he is still witnessing to us today wherever this Gospel is read!
We are here this morning, and so, like this Samaritan, to offer our thanks to Christ. We have been experiencing in our walk, healing, transformation, the renewal of desire and the right directing of that desire. The fruit of the Spirit is appearing in our lives.
Our liturgy will enable us this morning to join in with the prayer of this faithful Samaritan. We will soon pray in the Eucharistic prayer –we offer you, through him [Jesus], this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving… and we will pray to God, after receiving communion, through him [Jesus] we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice.
And in so doing we will be fulfilling the purpose for which God has made us – to be priests of the most high, bearing much fruit, glorifying God and offering ourselves in Christ, joining in His sacrifice, on behalf of the Church and the world. [Colossians 1:24]