Sight vs. Seeing
My Mom has gotten really good at Thank You notes after birthdays or Christmas. It seems sometimes the Thank You note will beat us home. We stop and get the mail as we are pulling into the driveway and there is a Thank You note. It is a little annoying. She made me write Thank You notes for my birthdays and Christmas gifts. It is a good habit to have and it demonstrates, in written form your appreciation for that person to think of you during that time. When I was a teenager I thought the quickest way of dealing with these after celebration nuisances would be a form Thank You note. I got on the computer, typed out my message and left a blank for the name and gift. What I didn’t realize is how ungrateful a form Thank Note really was.
We know when people are being honest with their gratitude. You can tell when a child receives something they don’t really want but then their parents force them to say thanks. Say a little boy is walking through a line at a cafeteria and the person behind the counter slaps some broccoli on his plate, the most hated vegetable of all children. The little boy crinkles up his nose and gives his mom a silent ‘yuck’ face. The mom looks down at the little boy and says what every mom says, “What do you say?” The boy looks up at disgust at the server and still with the crinkled nose, says thank you. That is a thank you that is not heartfelt but it was polite.
Now take that same boy and go to Christmas. Everyone is around the tree and then he opens the gift he had been asking for since February of that year. The boy opens it and sees the gift and you all know what he does. He jumps up with excitement runs over to his mom and dad and wraps his arms around him, does four running circles around the living room and drools over this toy that he has always wanted for the next week and a half. Now that was a heartfelt, joyous and uncontrollable thank you.
Ten lepers meet Jesus as he comes into their village, during his trip to Jerusalem. They yell to him to have mercy on us, and Jesus does. That’s it. They yell to Jesus to make them well and he does. Wow, if only we had a pill that would do that! Then Jesus sends them away to go see the priest so they can be made clean again. You see, lepers were the outcasts of the biblical society.
Leprosy is a horrible disease, which in the late stages of it basically rots the body away. You have open sores that go numb. You smell of rotten flesh. This is why you had lepers who lived together in communities. They would be kicked out of their homes and villages and the only place they could find a place to live with others with the same disease. The only way they could be let back into regular life is if the priest found them to be clean. The priest would have to stamp their passport to be able to come back to normal life again. That is why, Jesus says, go and show yourselves to the priests. And on their way to the priests, the lepers were healed.
But then something weird happens, when one of the ten sees that he is healed he turns back and praising God with a loud voice. He comes back and throws himself at Jesus’ feet thanking him for healing him of this horrible disease. The even bigger catch is that this man is a Samaritan. And if you are not aware of the whole Jewish and Samaritan relationship, these two races didn’t get a long AT ALL!!!! These two types of people hated one another. A Samaritan with leprosy was probably the outcast among the outcasts. The fact that Jesus goes on to praise this person for coming back and thanking him really adds to the surprise of this story.
Jesus praises this healed man because out of everyone he was the only one to return. He has an attitude of gratitude and is physically demonstrating that to the Son of God. But what does Jesus say to him? He asks him a rhetorical question, Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? Isn’t it appropriate to give God thanks in this type of moment? Isn’t being healed from a flesh rotting disease worthy enough of a face to face thank you? Where were the 9 other lepers?
It really boils down to the difference between the ability of sight and the seeing. In his book, An Anthropologist on Mars, neurologist Oliver Sacks tells about Virgil, a man who had been blind from early childhood. When he was 50, Virgil underwent surgery and was given the gift of sight. But as he and Dr. Sacks found out, having the physical capacity for sight is not the same as seeing. Virgil's first experiences with sight were confusing. He was able to make out colors and movements, but arranging them into a coherent picture was more difficult. Over time he learned to identify various objects, but his habits--his behaviors--were still those of a blind man. Dr. Sacks asserts, "One must die as a blind person to be born again as a seeing person. It is the interim, the limbo . . . that is so terrible."
The 9 other lepers did see what was happening. They did not have the ability to see God in their midst, during their joyous transformation. The truth is we are the same way. When God removes our stumbling blocks, answers our long await prayers, and gives us great joy we tend to not return too. We are like the 9 other lepers in this story who didn’t come back because of many possible reasons. One might have wanted to see if the cure was real and another wanted to wait to see if it would last. Another thought he would see Jesus later and another decided that he never really had leprosy to begin with. One gave his glory to the priest and though that Jesus would get the memo. One said, “well Jesus really didn’t DO anything” and another though “any rabbi could have done this.” While yet one may have been thinking, “I was feeling better anyway.” No matter what the reason is, it is only excuses not to thank God for the miracle they received. Yet this also could have been because they did not see God in this gift either.
Then Jesus says to the foreigner, Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.
That is the part that stuck with me as I read over this passage. That is what I couldn’t get out of my head. Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well. What? Huh? What is the deal with this idea of faith making you well? What does faith have to do with feeling better? As I thought more about this I got a little nervous because this is usually the text that Christian Scientist head to when they point out that there is no need for medical attention. They believe that their faith heals them and that a person who is sick just needs to have more faith. That is a scary road to walk down and truly all of us can point to people in our lives and in this congregation who get sick and who have a strong faith. Plus we know that illness doesn’t pick people out, the flu will infect anyone no matter their religious beliefs and whether they showed up for church on Sunday. I knew there had to be something else to this statement, there had to be something else to this story.
What I found out is that the verb in the Greek that gets translated, made well, could also be translated, to be saved. So the last verse of this scripture could read, Get up and go on your way; your faith has saved you. Well that sounds different. Now I can connect those dots, I can see how faith can save you. This is key because all ten of the lepers were healed but only one was saved. Only one turns back and sees God in his midst and sings his praise.
See if you can follow me here. “The Lord be with you.” (And also with you) “Lift up your hearts.” (We lift them up to the Lord) “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” (It is right to give our thanks and praise). It is right to give our thanks and praise. It is right. It is the right thing to give thanks to God who gives us everything in our lives. This is something we profess every time we get ready to have Communion because we understand that in this act, we should be faithful. Yet this is the attitude we should have throughout life. We should always thank God in everything we do.
This is harder to do than you think though. Not every moment in life seems appropriate to give thanks to God. We see professional athletes give a shout out to God when they make a play. When a baseball player hits a home run, he could hit is chest and then point to the sky. When a defensive lineman breaks through the offensive line and sacks a quarterback, he gets up and points up to the sky. When we are in the doctor’s office and we receive good news instead of bad, it is easy to say, “Thank you God.” But there are times when we don’t thank God and we probably should.
Imagine you are surrounded by your friends last, sipping a beer, enjoying the warm air and sun, smiling and laughing. What would that feel like? What would it be like if then someone looks around and says, “Thank you God for this moment of fellowship and friends.” That person would probably get some looks like he was crazy but it is the perfect time to thank God for the gift you are enjoying. Imagine you are laying in the hospital room frustrated because the surgery didn’t go as well as you hoped. You are mad that the doctors couldn’t do what they promised. What would that feel like? What would it be like to thank God in that moment? What would it be like to sit there and say “Thank you God for being in my midst during this hard time, for carrying me because I don’t feel like doing the walking right now,”? That is the perfect time to say thank you to God.
That is the difference between having sight and seeing. We can go through life and see what life gives us, or we can go through life and through our faith see God in our midst everywhere we go and in everything we experience. It changes our perception on life. It changes our attitude when bad and good things happen to us. The centurion at the cross witnessed Jesus’ whole crucifixion. He was the only one recorded to look up at that moment and praise God. The disciples didn’t. The ladies there at the foot of the cross didn’t. It was a Roman soldier who did it. If we learn to take time and see God in our midst we will usually run over and say thank you.
Kimberly Bracken Long wrote, “in giving thanks in all things, we find that God, indeed, is in all things.” We have to move from sight to seeing. We have to move beyond ourselves, that disease of self-centeredness and self-righteousness, and see ALL the work God does in our lives. The good news is that God is always with us. In every moment of elation, of desperation, of tragedy, and of great joy, God is there. Even if we think we think we have to stand away from him and call out to God, have mercy on me, God is still there. We have to learn not to be like the other 9 lepers and who run off past God excited about what he did for us. Only one’s faith saved him and that is the one who was able share his heartfelt gratitude in the moment. It was the one who realized that God is in all things and so he gave thanks in all things.
And all God’s people said…Amen.