A Samaritan’s Faith

By Amy C. Schifrin

In every life there comes a time of desperation, a time when we’ll try almost anything to make life better. Sometimes the pain comes from a lingering illness, when day by day you feel your strength leaving your body. Sometimes it comes when a heart has been broken one time too many. Sometimes it comes when your son is deployed, and you see two uniformed soldiers with their heads bowed at your front door.

Sometimes it comes when the baby you’d been so hoping for was lost before 12 weeks and now months later your arms are aching because you still want to hold her. In the deepest places of our sorrow, in the heaviest places of our fears, in the coldest winter of our nights when no matter what we do we can’t get warm, we know a desperation that just wants the pain to end.

The ten lepers knew it all: the loss of family, of work, of home, of human touch, of laughter, of rest. Body, mind, and spirit were being eaten way by a disease that would reduce them to nothing. There wouldn’t even be a place for them in the graveyard. They were in physical pain as their skin and muscles, joints and bones, deteriorated. They were hungry all the time, for who would give these beggars a full meal?

Without food, their strength diminished day by day, and with no place to lay their heads, all they could do was walk around the edges of a community until they would collapse. And underneath all that physical and emotional distress was a torrent of spiritual agony that was far worse, for as they looked at one another’s mutilated bodies and then at their own, they could no longer recognize themselves as human beings, as men made in the image of God.

They see Jesus in their no man’s land between Samaria and Galilee, and like shackled prisoners awaiting transport from the county courthouse to the state penitentiary, they cry out for mercy, and they’ll take it any way they can get it. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Even though these lepers have long been chased out of the Temple, the echoes of the psalmist still cling to them: “Have mercy on me, O Lord according to your loving kindness.” Have mercy on me. “In your great compassion blot out all my offenses.” Have mercy on me. “Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin.” Have mercy on me. … They want an end to their sickness. They want an end to their pain. They want an end to their isolation. And Jesus, who walks into the borderlands of all our lives, speaks his eternal mercy into them.

“Go and show yourselves to the priests,” he commands, to the ones who can pronounce you clean. Hoping against hope, they listen to him. Eager to have their lives restored, they follow his orders and set out on their way, but his word was already cleansing them before they traveled very far. Long before they got near to the priest, they were made clean. As the scales fell from Paul’s eyes, they could see a new future beyond anything they had imagined.

All 10 of them were cured by his word, cleansed as if they had come through a mountain stream sparkling in the midday sun. Flowing water over them and around them, pure and clear; everything old and decaying washed away; able to start anew; a second chance at life.

All ten of them were cured, but only one of them turns toward Jesus. All ten of them were cured, but only one comes and falls at Jesus’ feet. All ten of them were cured, but only one gives thanks to God. All ten of then were cured, but only one was healed. For only one, this one, a Samaritan, an outsider among outsiders, sees that the kingdom of God, and the King himself, has come near.

In this world it’s easy for us to think that the cure of a disease is the be all and end all, the greatest thing that could ever happen. And make no mistake, the curing of every disease is a cause for rejoicing. I don’t know of a person who hasn’t prayed, who hasn’t begged for such a miracle on behalf a loved one who is suffering. But on this day Jesus is showing us that there is even something more than a cure, something greater, and that is faith, for without faith, we won’t know how to live even when we are made well.

When the Samaritan saw what was happening to him, and who the source of this incredible goodness was, he turned to Jesus. The direction of his life — its purpose, its meaning, its value — has changed. He falls at Jesus’ feet. He worships him. He worships him with all his heart, soul, mind, and at last his strength. He worships him with his whole body. He praises God by thanking Jesus, and the implication is as clear as day: Lord, have mercy, the faithful have always cried, and now, the Lord, the King of all creation, has come among us with healing in his wings.

Ten have been equally cured. They will be restored to the love of their families and the dignity of their labors, but the one who receives this healing in faith is receiving so much more. For when all the diseases and heartbreaks of this life have taken their toll on us, when there is more scar tissue on our limbs than there is youthful flesh, when the respirator is breathing for us and the patter of the nurses’ feet around our bed is all we hear, when all earthly hope is gone, we know that this One, this Jesus, will make us new again.

The Samaritan, as with all who live in faith, will live his life thanking and praising God continuously, witnessing to all the world that God’s great love is for every human being. By living such a life of thanksgiving, the faithful will be ordering the gift of every day according to God’s holy will. And gift it is, for when lives are lived with faith in Jesus Christ, our hearts will have already been drawn to eternity, where his healing flows without ceasing.

May you, like the Samaritan, rise and go into the world on this day, trusting in faith, that he will make all things well.

The Rev. Dr. Amy C. Schifrin is associate professor of liturgy and homiletics at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

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