What makes us well?
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, October 13, 2013.
11 On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, 13 they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”
14 When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus replied,“Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” 19 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
Luke 17:11-19, Common English Bible
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
As many of you know—from reading the Wesley Waves (and you do read that right?)—over the last four months I have lost about 35 pounds. It’s been a big transition for me. My diet has changed: I eat a lot more vegetables and do not cook with hardly any oils or fats. My activity level has changed: I jog at least three times a week. My waist and chest size have changed: all of my clothes are too big. I literally need a new wardrobe—and, you’d be surprised how hard it is to find pants my size at Goodwill! All I have to do is lose another three pounds and I will be the same weight as I was when I graduated high school! I am, physically, as healthy as I have ever been.
There are a lot of things that claim to make us healthy: do this one exercise, take this pill, eat this not that There’s the high protein no carbohydrate diet and the high carbohydrate no protein diet. There’s the eat meat diet and the vegan diet. There’s a lot of things that claim to make us healthy—most of them contradict. Nevertheless, we Americans like the idea of being healthy. It’s why we spend twice as much on healthcare as any other country in the world. But, let’s face it, at the end of the day, while we like the idea of being healthy, we want to achieve it with as little work as possible. We want to be healthy, but we don’t want to give up our fast food—which isn’t that big of a deal in Culver, but pizza and wings? Generally speaking—and I know that’s dangerous—we like the idea of being healthy, but we don’t like to take the necessary steps to truly be made well. That’s why we’ve become a country addicted to prescription drugs.
According to a study by the Mayo Clinic in June of 2013, seven in ten Americans regularly take prescription drugs. Half of Americans were found to be taking two, and 20% to be taking a total of five or more.
In 2008, just half of Americans were using prescription drugs. At our current rate of growth, by 2018, nearly 90% of Americans could be taking a pill for that.
It’s unfortunate really that we have such a fascination with health but care very little about being made well.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus meets 10 men suffering from a skin disease. We’re not quite sure what their specific ailment was; in the first century,
Skin diseases were grouped under the general category of “leprosy.” It was the duty of the priests to determine whether or not the “leprosy” was contagious. Whenever a person had a skin problem, that person was required to show himself or herself to the priests, who would decide whether the disease was contagious, not contagious, or questionable. If it was questionable, it was treated. During treatment, the person was put in quarantine, re-examined after a week, and either allowed to return to society or banished so that others would not be infected.
It is not clear whether the ten men who met Jesus outside the village between Samaria and Galilee had been banished from society or were just hanging out with one another because they suffered from a common ailment of their skins. One thing, however, is clear: they had heard about Jesus. They had discussed him among themselves, and they had decided that he could help them if he wanted to. So they sought him out, stood at a distance, and called out to him, begging a favor: “Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us!”
As he always did, Jesus responded immediately to their need. He told them to go and let the priests examine them. But by the time they got to the priests, the skins of all ten men had cleared up. However, only one of them came back to thank Jesus. This he did by praising God in a loud voice and throwing himself at Jesus’ feet.
Scripture records (in the Common English Bible translation) that though 10 were cleansed, only one was healed. I happen to prefer the way the New Revised Standard Version recounts the incident. It says that while all 10 were healed, only one was made well.
So what’s the difference? What’s the difference between being cleansed and being healed (Common English Bible)? or the difference between being healed and being made well (New Revised Standard Version)? What did the one thankful man experience that the other nine did not?
Health v. Wellness
Health is the absence of disease. The Gospels tell us that the 10 men who shouted out to Jesus on his way to Jerusalem were sick. And, Jesus immediately takes their sickness away. Jesus offered them all health. Yet,
Jesus offers the grateful leper a wellness that runs beyond the physical. All ten lepers are physically finished with leprosy. Imagine the other nine going ont heir way. Presumably they head to the priests and are restored to a full and happy life, but what are they thinking? Their failure to thank Jesus reveals a sort of utilitarianism at best (“Well, that worked, didn’t it!”) or entitlement at worst (“Well, I certainly deserved that”). It is that same utilitarianism that Jesus discourages in his exchange with the disciples about the mustard seed and that sort of entitlement that he condemns in the parable about the master and the servant.
Once again, then, we hear Jesus telling us not to be concerned with the quantity of faith—whether we have enough, that is, to make our prayers “work,” as if faith were a matter of cause and effect. Rather, Jesus is teaching us about the nature of faith. In short, to “have faith” is to live it, and to live it is to give thanks. It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith—this is the grateful sort of faith that has made this man from Samaria truly and deeply well.
Paul said it this way in his first letter to the Thessalonians (5:18, Common English Bible): “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ”
What are you grateful for?
We mustn’t forget to “thank God from whom all blessings flow.” We sing that every week: it’s called the doxology (derived from the ancient Greek for “word of glory” or “word of honor”). True wellness that goes beyond the immediate to the eternal begins with a recognition of God’s many blessings in every situation. It’s a recognition that we are called to be grateful for the many blessings God has bestowed upon us.
One of my favorite non-Christian, Christian songs says it best. It’s called, “Thank you, Lord” by Bob Marley. The song goes,
Thank you, Lord, for what you’ve done for me.
Thank you, Lord, for what you’re doing now.
Thank you, Lord, for ev’ry little thing.
Thank you, Lord, for you made me sing.
We all need to sing more songs of praise. We all need to learn to be more grateful—to each other and to God–and pursue wellness. Because, that’s what God really wants. He wants to make us well. And, it begins by saying thanks.
“Thank You. No, Thank You: Grateful People Are Happier, Healthier Long After the Leftovers Are Gobbled Up” by Melinda Beck, The Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2010 <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704243904575630541486290052.html#project%3DGRATITUDE101119%26articleTabs%3Darticle> Accessed October 11, 2013.
“Get Happy, and You’ll Live Longer,” by Deborah Kotz, U.S. News & World Report, December 17, 2006 <http://health.usnews.com/usnews/health/articles/061217/25happy.health.htm> Accessed October 11, 2013.
“The Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude,” by Michael Craig Miller, M.D., IntelliHealth, August 27, 2013 <http://intelihealth.com/article/the-mental-health-benefits-of-gratitude?hd=Minding> Accessed October 11, 2013.
“A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day” by John Tierney, The New York Times, November 21, 2011 <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/science/a-serving-of-gratitude-brings-healthy-dividends.html?_r=0> Accessed October 11, 2013.
 “Pills for Everything: The Power of American Pharmacy,” by Jennifer Markert, Curiousmatic <http://curiousmatic.com/pills-for-everything-the-power-of-american-pharmacy/> Accessed October 11, 2013.
 “Lectionary Planning Helps for Sundays: October 13, 2013 (Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost)” by Taylor Burton-Edwards, GBOD.org <http://www.gbod.org/lead-your-church/lectionary-planning-helps/twenty-first-sunday-after-pentecost1> Accessed October 11, 2013.
 “Pastoral Perspective: Luke 17:11-19,” by Kimberly Bracken Long in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 166.