Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Feast Day of St. Luke the Evangelist, October 18th, is a day for honoring the gift of faith and healing. According to tradition, St. Luke, the author of both the Gospel of St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, was a Greek-Syrian by birth and a doctor by profession. He was not, however, one of the twelve disciples. He became an early follower of St. Paul and travelled with him on his missionary journeys. Paul himself mentions Luke three different times in his epistles referring to him as the beloved doctor.
Although scripture often portrays Jesus as a miracle worker, St. Luke offers a particular sensitivity to the stories of healing which cannot be found in the other gospels. It is the perspective of a caring doctor who understands sickness, loss, healing and recovery. In this morning’s gospel, we read that Jesus was crossing the frontier between the regions of Samaria and Galilee. It was a “no man’s land” where no Jew nor Samaritan would choose to live. But it was in this abandoned and neglected region, that the unfortunate ten souls had found for themselves a collective shelter. They were victims of a common disease and tragedy, leprosy.
St. Luke must have been struck by their cry for pity. Perhaps that was all they dared to ask for. What more could they expect than a fragment of bread, a discarded robe, or a sympathetic glance as a gesture of mercy? The lepers’ own families had abandoned them to the desolate frontier and their own clergy had declared them unclean with God’s judgment upon them.
But as a physician, Luke wondered why the ten lepers hadn’t asked for more. If they had known Jesus’ power, they could have pleaded for healing. Everyone else in scripture, the other struggling souls in the gospels facing life’s challenges knew what they wanted. They didn’t want Jesus’ pity. They went to Jesus to receive his gift of healing.
Of course, we could pity the ten lepers for not knowing Jesus or what to plead for, but thank goodness, Jesus knew what they needed. For Luke, that is the beauty of the story. Jesus showed the men mercy- even beyond their dreams. He heard their voices, and he told the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests who had sentenced them to the “no man’s land.” And to our delight, they went. Now we could be a bit cynical, and say, “Well, why not?” In times of need, many people turn to God. In anxious times, when we do not know what tomorrow will bring, we turn to God. Yes, even though we may seldom pray or acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, when our lives are tottering for reasons we cannot understand, we turn to God.
Regardless of their doubts, the ten lepers went on their way and they were healed. Interestingly, the lepers were not healed while waiting. They were healed while they were on their journey. They alone were responsible for taking their first steps. St. Luke’s story teaches us that if the first step to healing is through listening and praying to God for what we desire, then the second step, is to do what is asked of us. And that may mean hitting the road.
A friend of mine, Rob Ruff who serves as the director of chaplaincy services at Regions Hospital in St. Paul wrote, “Another possibility is the metaphor (for battling an illness is) of a journey. With this image, having an illness takes us on a trip, a journey that will be marked by twists and turns, ups and downs, unexpected detours, smooth stretches of roadway, seemingly impassable rocky paths, enemies that threaten us as well as loved ones who support us. One is often changed even transformed by a journey. We learn lessons along the way, lessons we may never have learned if we hadn’t been set on this challenging path.” The lepers were healed and transformed along the way. And at the Great Physician’s invitation, they took the first steps.
Surprisingly, as the ten lepers’ lives were healed, they kept right on going. They didn’t turn back, but rather they went on their way to their rabbis, just as Jesus directed them. Yes, as it happens so often in life, once men, and women and children receive what they want, they never turn back. The nine lepers went back to their families. They were restored and welcomed to their communities, and then as the saying goes, “they moved on.” All except for one- and he was a Samaritan.
St. Luke must have delighted in this little detail. Perhaps because he was a foreigner himself. Twice in his gospel, the lone Samaritan plays the truly honorable role. This first instance is in the story of the Good Samaritan who goes out of his way to help his neighbor in need, and now in this story, it is the Samaritan who goes out of his way to give thanks. But I think there’s more to this detail than an interesting social commentary on the life of a foreigner. I think as a doctor, St. Luke understood that in order for true healing and wholeness to occur, we need to return to the place of greatest pain and sorrow. We need to go back to the no man’s land to confront the dark midnight hour, and announce that it does not have power over us- and then we give thanks to God for accompanying us on the journey and for giving us that victory.
Long before there refrigerators were invented, icehouse were used to preserve foods. These icehouses had thick walls, no windows, and a tightly-fitted door. The blocks of ice were harvested in the winter, then covered with sawdust, and could last well into the summer. One day a man lost his valuable watch while working in the icehouse. He and his fellow workers diligently searched for the valued timepiece without success. A small boy heard of the problem and slipped into the icehouse. He soon emerged from the cold with the man’s watch. The men were amazed and asked the boy how he found it. He said, “I closed the door, laid down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.”
My friends, I do not know what healing you are looking for in your life or for those you love. I do know that you need not be afraid that you are a stranger to God, or that you are forgotten soul on the no- man’s land of God’s grace. Be still and listen closely. Hear God’s voice speaking to you . Let me assure, you can come to Jesus for more than pity. Pray to God for his healing.
St. Luke, the good doctor knew that that is where all true healing begins. It is placing life, and care into God’s hands who will one day whisper to you as well, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.