2 Kings 5:1-19; Luke 17:11-19
I wish you grace and peace from God the Creator, Redeemer and the One who sustains us.
The above lessons are replete with lepers. Naaman who is in the beginning stages of his leprosy is advised of a cure, when told what he must do to be healed, he becomes indignant, insulted because the prophet Elisha did not come out to see him but simply sent words and commands to go wash. He didn’t understand that the prophet had seen this before, Naaman position, his status, his command of the king’s army had no relevance, he needed a cure and Elisha knew exactly what he should do.
Naaman doesn't see how the polluted waters of the Jordon were any different, any better than the waters that he was able to wash in at home. So he cannot see why he should do anything that the prophet Elisha says. He simply cannot see the benefit in it. Naaman’s servants seem to see and know the benefits of their master doing exactly what the prophet Elisha tells him to do and so they convince Naaman to go wash himself in the waters and following the prophets command Naaman is indeed made clean.
He comes back seeing and knowing: “that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”
I didn't see much of South Korea, last week. I went briefly to the National Museum of Korea, to a buddist monastery; I had sushi in the airport in Japan. Unfortunately the day I was traveling my sister Dawn had to take her 20 year old daughter Vanessa to the hospital. She has since been diagnosed with type one diabetes and remains in the hospital. Because of this my trip wasn’t quite what I expected. I was disappointed and was attempted to be a little indignant. I was indignant, until I remembered the main focus of my trip was seeing my sister Dawn who I hadn't seen in 5 years, and her husband John.
I went to Korea to see my sister and to get to know my neice Vanessa. While I had to visit her in a hospital, we did get to have a least one meaningful conversation. The real treat of the trip was to see and get to know Vanessa’s beautiful six month old baby boy, Ramel.
Ramel and I instantly formed an attachment and developed our own little game. He was a good baby, but as all six month olds can he would sometimes get a little fussy. Every time I saw him going down the rode to fussiness, I would pull out my best playing with a baby voice and say: "I see you." Those words would bring a big grin to Ramel's face.
Whether he was fussy because he needed changing, missed his mommy, was fighting sleep, or just being fussy for fussy sake an "I see you," would cause his face to expand into a big smile and sometimes he would explode with giggles. It was a joy to behold; who knew being seen could cause such a reaction? For Ramel, it certainly did.
In the lesson from Luke's gospel, seeing and being seen does indeed have power. As Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, as he makes his way to his death and eventual resurrection, he is seen by ten lepers. These ten men have been isolated, outcast, set apart from their communities by a dreaded disease, that many in the 1st century thought was extremely contagious. As you hear in the text they kept their distance because it was the law that they warn others when they were near.
But on this day, they see Jesus--not getting too close. They at first yell out “unclean, unclean because a close encounter with lepers would defile and pollute, would render the one previously clean, unclean. Yet they see Jesus and call out to him from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Perhaps they had seen Jesus some other place doing some other thing, or someone they knew had seen him and told them about this man who could heal. Perhaps someone had told them about this man who told the most amazing stories and proclaimed that the kingdom of God was near----perhaps.
But what we know from the text is that Jesus saw them. It was as if he said to them in his best talking to lepers voice, “I See You!” He saw them and he knew them:
their isolation from community,
their estrangement from family, friends and loved ones,
their desperate hope that he---Jesus could do something.
Jesus acknowledged them and they probably had not been acknowledged for a very long time. “When he saw them,”without any explanation from them, or any additional request.“He said to them, Go show yourself to the priests.”
And that is exactly what nine of them did. Now these nine usually get a bad rap. The nine saw Jesus, asked him for help and did what he told them to do. “And as they went, they were made clean.” I am sure their hearts expanded with joy at having been seen, having been known and healed by Jesus!
Yet, in many sermons they are called ungrateful, forgetful. Were they really? They were told to go to the priest because they needed to prove that they were indeed healed from their previous infirmity; they needed this proof...before they could go back to their family and friends, before they could re-enter the community. So the nine did exactly what they were supposed to do.
Nine cured lepers run to the Temple of Jerusalem, the place they believed God dwelled. One turns back to Jesus. One commentary puts it like this: "he, saw, noticed, let what happened sink in . . . And it made all the difference. Because he sees what has happened, the leper recognizes Jesus---[who he is ]his reign and his power. Because he sees what has happened, the leper has something for which to be thankful, praising good with a loud voice. Because he sees what has happened, the leper changes direction, veering from his course toward a priest to first return to Jesus.’
What has happened is that this one leper has heard in Jesus’ “I see you,” something more and understands that he has been seen by God. This leper is able to see something beyond all the others. He sees that Jesus is the very presence, the very embodiment, the very incarnation of God. Thus this leper knows that he has been seen and known by God and for this he turns and falls on his face to worship and praise.
To be seen and known by God, isn’t this what we all want? Isn’t what we all long for--- to be seen, known and loved? Not simply the outside of us--not simply our nice clothes and well put together selves, but we want to be seen spots and all. We want to be seen in all our slefishnes, sinfulness and need. We want our hurts, our pains, our joys, our sorrows, our truimphs, our disappointments and even our failures to be seen and acknowledged. We want them to be seen by someone who can speak a word, who can perhaps give us a direction and who we desperately hope can facilitate our wellness.
Jesus does indeed facilitate the wellness of all ten of the lepers, but only the one realizes it. He returns to Jesus and Jesus seeing him chuckles and says: “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” Perhaps Jesus is not upset as we assume in our reading. Perhaps he is simply amazed that someone finally gets that there is no need to show yourself to the priest because they have already been see by God.
Jesus chuckles: “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Perhaps he chuckles because this foreigner who may not have understood the Torah law, this law that would have him go to the priests--this one who may not have been accepted by the Jewish priests anyway--returns to the one who heals in the first place.
Yes, Jesus chuckles because of the response his “I See You!” has garnered. This one leper sees Jesus, knows who he is and responds to the gift he has been given---heart expanding with gratitude. And Jesus declares: “Your faith has made you well!”
We long to hear the voice of Jesus call out to us, “I see you.” So our hearts may also expand with joy and gratefulness and we may return with worship and praise!
So, people of God, listen to the voice of Jesus made known to us in water and word --at the table in body and blood, as voice that even through the community of faith, calls out in the best I love you voice ------- “I SEE YOU!”