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I like stories. Stories are the only containers that can hold expansive truth. Data, facts, dogmas and theologies can only hold the small stuff. I think that is why all great spiritual teachers use parables. Story allows us to go beyond what is and see what really is.
One such story is found in Luke 17:11-19. When we are a part of the church delivery system, we interpret scripture within that bias. Now that I have been outside for almost four years, I can finally interpret Jesus words as the outsider that he was. I hope you find this as refreshing as I do.
The story tells of ten samaritan lepers. Samaritans were considered “dogs.” They were not viewed as true Jews because they lacked the genealogy and heritage since they were half-breeds. Thus Samaritans were seen as foreigners, and were always outcasts within the Jewish culture. Jewish prejudice prevented them from even associating with those kinds of people.
On top of being Samaritans, the ten were also lepers. This meant that they were really relegated to the very fringe of society. They lived always outside the security of the city walls and usually in or near the city dump. Scavenging was a way of life for obvious reasons. Our term for Hell (Gehenna) is the name for the city dump. It is where the fringe of the fringe lived. Wild dogs were a part of the scenery as were terrible human conditions as they lived among the smells of burning and rotting waste. This is where we get the ideas and imagery of Hell. This is the context for weeping and gnashing of teeth. Luke 13:28 depicts this reality of how some people dwell outside the city.
Back to the lepers. One day they see Jesus coming into the city and they cry out to him to have mercy on them. Jesus knows they are Samaritans and gives them the command to “Go show yourselves to the Priests.” This was the Jewish law of Leprosy found in Leviticus 13.
Jesus is offering the foreigners the Jewish system for purification. It was a sort of test of their true motives. On their way they see they are healed. Nine continue to the priest and one goes back to Jesus (more on him in a minute). Most bible teachers never say much about the nine beyond the fact that they see them as ungrateful. But I don’t think this is the case.
The nine are grateful. So grateful that they get to go and be a part of the system for once in their lives. If the priests deem them clean, they get to live under the Jewish system and within the safety of the walls. The nine lepers actually depict what most modern churches would call the faithful converts. These are those that happily take all the rules, regulations, dogmas, and exchange their life for the life provided and validated by the institution. They were happy to embrace systemic acceptance, and based on where they were the day before, this was certainly a base form of deliverance. This is a key point that is often missed.
The former leper went back to Jesus and was praising God along the way. He simply fell at Jesus feet. Jesus asked, “Were not ten cleansed?” (key distinction) Jesus tells him that his faith has healed him and to “Go your way.” This is huge because he didn’t say, “Go to the priest.”
Jesus offered all ten lepers his love and mercy and cleansed them all (the priest didn’t do it). All were cleansed, but only one was healed. Remember healing always means liberation. All ten were offered enrollment back into the social status and religion delivery system and for nine of them that was more than enough. The one leper probably remembered what it was like to be outcasted by the elite and wasn’t wanting to do that to others.
What about you? Is the system more than enough for you? For most of my audience, its not. Yet for many in our country, their church has created a distinction for themselves by diminishing those they don’t consider “saved” and as a result it makes them feel superior to others.
One in ten can see the thing beyond the things. One in ten found the contents rather than the container. This leper was not only cleansed, but was healed. He was delivered into his own life and was free to bypass the priest and the system’s appraisal. He was not only free from the oppression and suffering of his disease and from being a social outcast, but now he was free from the burden that the religious system would now require of him. He was free from being stuck on one side or the other, he was liberated to the middle way.
In one sense, he became another outcast again, since he remains a cultural and religious outsider. By recognizing the source, he can now view the system for what it is. It may have value, but it doesn’t really free anyone. His community is now with others who share this higher consciousness.
In my experience, this ratio is about right. Only about one in ten people can see beyond their delivery system. Christians vehemently over-defend their corner church and it preaching. Atheists vehemently diminish story and shrink into fact. All of us lepers are free to live within the safety and protection of the city walls, but now, only a percentage can go back and forth between where we were and where we are. Only one in ten lepers can live freely in heaven or in hell. Only one has the freedom to no longer separate himself from any others. He found The Way.