I like stories. Stories are the only containers that can hold expansive truth. All great spiritual teachers use parables because they allow us to see beyond what is true for us and glimpse what is ultimately True.
Today’s story is found in Luke 17:11-19.
As an online pastor, I don’t fear offending donors or my core base. I’m free to teach the scripture without a filter. By God’s grace, I underwrite this ministry entirely, so like Paul says: “I preach God’s gospel to you free of charge.” I hope you find this model of ministry as refreshing as I do. Modern people are right to be skeptical of preaching that comes from hired clergy. Fear of the herd usually governs the message, and Paul’s “tent making” model eliminates pandering.
I say all this because todays story was never taught to me the way I will tell it to you.
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. Samaritans were second class citizens to the devout. (Luke 10:31-32)
On top of being Samaritans, the ten were also lepers. This meant that they were 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 this burning 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 call them 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 molded by the institution (Romans 12:2). 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. One leper remembered being an outcast a day earlier by the elite system and refused to do that to others. Going back to Jesus meant not enrolling in religion. His gratitude produced mercy.
What about you? Is the system more than enough for you? My last series illuminated for me just how many people settle for the system instead of the liberty offered by Christ. We are often short sighted and can’t see the bigger picture. People hide within religions that distinguish members from everybody else. Insiders are proud to look down on others and keep them outside unless they sign away their life like they did. Meritocracy replaces mercy, and once in, they cannot see that the Messiah they claim to follow is nowhere around.
I know this sounds a bit harsh. The story is so much bigger. The story exposes the unsafe Truth.
One in ten can see that which is beyond everything. One found the contents, nine got 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 identification. 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 religion would now require of him. He was free from the binary of being stuck either an insider or outsider, he was liberated to the middle way.
In one sense, he became another outcast again, since he remains a cultural and religious outsider. This is the exile of liberation. If you don’t need the system to give you an identity, then you are free from it. Institutions may have value, but they can’t liberate anyone. His community is now with those who are free.
In my experience, this ratio is about right. Maybe one in ten people can see beyond their delivery system. Few can even recognize their own impulse to defend it. All of us lepers are free to live within the safety and protection of the city walls, but through healing, a few can go back and forth between where we were and where we are. Only one has the freedom to no longer separate himself from any others. This is what it means to find The Way. Liberty is the hallmark of healing and salvation.