between-our-steps-10-11-17-doubleAround the turn of the era, ten lepers lived on the threshold between Galilee and Samaria near the road to Jerusalem. Because this road was travelled by pilgrims going to the temple, it was a good place to beg. People seeking God tended to be charitable even if they were not usually compassionate.

Although the disease called leprosy in that time was not the same as the one we call by that name, it was dreaded because it made the person "unclean". They were driven from their family, kept out of the community, isolated from all.

A man we know as Luke tells us that near the end of his life, Jesus travelled this road to Jerusalem. The ten learned that he was coming. They had heard that he was a powerful healer. They wondered to each other if he could cure them of their disease, restore their lives.

They went near, though not too near. Keeping away from the crowd around him they called, "Lord, Master, have mercy on us."

Hearing them, seeing their need, Jesus stopped. "Go show yourselves to the priests," he said.

In that time, when a person was healed from this disease, they had to be certified as clean by a priest before they could return to their home and their life.

These ten must have hesitated to make this trip, however. When they looked at their hands, they still saw signs of disease. When they looked at each other, they saw lepers. And they knew that if they tried to go to the temple they might be stoned to death because they would make the other temple-goers and the holy place unclean. If they even tried to enter the city, they risked stoning. Anywhere along the road, people would drive them away in fear of their disease.

But they heard command in Jesus' voice. Perhaps they heard promise. They decide to go down the road to the city ahead of him.

Somewhere along the way, one of them looked at their hand and saw that it was whole. They looked at their companions and saw no sign of the disease on their faces. They hugged each other and celebrated. They danced on feet made well, with bodies whole. Now they hurried on the road to the city eager to be certified clean and to return to their homes and their lives.

One of them stopped. This one was a Samaritan. At this time, the Hebrew and Samaritan communities had become divided. They kept apart from each other with bitterness and distain. While the ten had been lepers, that trumped the other division. The disease drove them together. Now that they were healed, the nine drifted away from the one they knew was pariah, unwelcome, despite the healing from this disease.

Suddenly alone, the one knew that they were not welcome at the temple. Priests of the Hebrew people would not want to certify them healed. This one went back to the one who made them well.

This one went to Jesus, fell at his feet, and gave thanks for the miracle of healing.

Jesus asked where the other nine are. A bit unfair as he sent them to the temple. But he highlighted the fact that it was a Samaritan, one who was divided from his people, who returned to give thanks to him and to God.

This story comes up at Thanksgiving. It is read as an admonition to remember to say thank you. But really it is about acknowledging where the gift of healing came from. It is a reminder not to claim what is given to us but to recognize the Giver.

Our society advertises that we can go and buy what we want. If we can't--because we don't have enough money, through no fault of our own--we don't fit in.

Our culture says that if we have title to a piece of land, it is ours to do with as we like. We forget that we hold title for a little time as caretakers.

This story is about giving thanks, but not in the "count your blessings" way. It is about recognizing that all is a gift, created by a power beyond us. Something shifts fundamentally when instead of claiming our right to the good we receive, we acknowledge the Giver.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.


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