Once upon a time there was a homeless woman named Sam. Sam had not always been homeless and she wasn’t exactly sure why or when she had become so. She had some vague recollection that she used alcohol too much and that things had become fuzzy and unclear overtime. She was fired from her job for being drunk, she lost her home and her family left her because of the bottle. But they didn’t understand. They couldn’t understand. Alcohol was the only thing that gave her comfort, gave her warmth. It was the one friend she could count on to get her through the days. So she slept where she was when she was tired, eating what she found, mostly trying to escape into the bottle whenever she could find the money to do so. People didn’t treat her the same afterwards. They wouldn’t look at her, wouldn’t answer her if she called out to them. She had become invisible. When people did talk to her it was usually to yell at her to get a job or to spit on her. She wished they would show her a job she could get, or that she could keep. After a while she told herself the way others treated her didn’t bother her anymore. They just didn’t understand. Sam’s leprosy was addiction.
Daniel was also homeless. But he was homeless for a different reason. The voices in his head had begun while he was still a college student. But without a network of family to support him, he had had nowhere to go when the University kicked him out. Strangers on the street seemed frightened of him. They didn’t ignore him - no, they went out of the their way to avoid him. At least the voices kept him company, though what they said was sometimes mean or scary. At least he wasn’t alone. Daniel’s leprosy was schizophrenia.
Joan was a gang member. She wore her gang colors and walked through the streets with both the pride and courage of her group, but also with the fear of other gangs. She walked with a weapon in her pocket, hand on the handle, she walked with her eyes constantly scanning around her. She walked with the memory of gang members hurt and killed, wearing the scarf of sought revenge. Her hatred gave her the strength to overcome the grief, to get up each day, to walk each day with plans - but without much hope of living past her twenty fifth birthday. She saw the fear of those around her. Their fear fed her determination. The police harassed her on a regular basis: they too only fueled her courage. They didn’t know nothin’. They didn’t understand. But she would show them. Joan’s leprosy was hatred……
Joe was an ex-convict. He had a bad start in life, had been abandoned by his mother and beaten by his father. As a result he started very young with bullying, he got involved with the wrong crowd and had found acceptance participating in petty theft, becoming involved in drugs, committing minor assault. He had been to jail on several occasions now, and had a couple convictions. He’d tried to go straight. But he’d found that his convictions meant he was unable to get a job, for the first question on any application is “have you ever committed a felony?” So he returned to the only life he could lead: one of crime. He saw enemies all around him, he had to be careful, careful. And he found himself expanding into bigger and worse crimes as he became desperate and as he found he cared less and less for himself or anyone else. Joe’s leprosy was his past.
(5.,6.,7.,8.) Myeesha was an African American woman raised in a neighborhood that still revered the Klu Klux Klan. Tim was a gay man beaten up again and again for being a “queer”. Ali was a Muslim man, harassed and even detained because he looked like a “terrorist”. And Jose was an immigrant who did not speak any English, pursued and attacked because of his immigrant status. All four had had enough. They were angry, they were bitter. They lived in terror with pains that had not been healed. Their leprosy? Social rejection and prejudice that had led in the end to an inflamed terror anger that were eating each from the inside out.
Suzie had AIDS, Quentin had actual leprosy. Their diseases were feared and as a result, they were feared. Poor, at the end of their financial ability to pay for medical care, their leprosies were exactly that: they were outcasts, never to be accepted, never to be healed.
Imagine then, that one day Jesus came to these lepers, here and now. He came to this town and these ten people. These “lepers” all approached him. Still keeping their distance they shouted out to him and called, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests...to the medics, to those who can say, ‘your leprosy has been healed’ and who can allow you, invite you, incorporate and include you back into society.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when she saw that she was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. She prostrated herself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And she was not one of us: she was not a Christian, not an American, not one of us. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Where were the other nine? We can see where they are. One was still bitter that he had gotten leprosy in the first place, not thankful that what was rightfully his was returned to him. Another, an atheist scientist couldn’t accept that Jesus had anything to do with the cure. Another didn’t realize she had been cured. Another felt lost without the thing that defined him any longer. Another ran home to be with the family he had not been able to face for years. Another felt cheated - she hadn’t had to work for the cure and believed that work was an important part of receiving healing. One had gone to preach the good news to all who would listen. Another was afraid of Jesus - this man who had such amazing power. One was doing what she was told - going to the priest because that’s what Jesus had said to do. And another was so happy that he just plain forgot and was too busy dancing in the streets.
Jesus said to Sam, to the one who returned, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Sam stood and looked at Jesus. “No,” she thought, “my faith has not done this - you have done this. God has done this. But looking at Jesus, she saw that what he had said was also true. Sam had chosen gratitude. It wasn’t just happiness, it wasn’t just a “feeling.” God had given all a place of thankfulness within and Sam had chosen to call on that place. Sam made a choice about the way she would look at the world; she chose to recognize all the gifts, including the “leprosy” that had led her to this miraculous place. They weren’t all comfortable gifts, but Sam was thankful for them all. In being healed in body, she was healing in spirit; and in being thankful, her mind was clearing. In seeing the gifts in every aspect of her life, she found the courage to face her pain and let go of her “leprosy”. Her faith that Jesus healed her, allowed her to be part of her healing, too. She chose gratitude: and that is a healing gift that continues, day after day.
Bonhoeffer said this, “In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”―Letters and Papers from Prison.
The Deuteronomy passage goes even farther reminding us not to forget who gave us every good thing. We did not earn what we have: it was all a gift. To repeat the passage, “Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”
That memory, the faith that accompanies it, and the gratitude that follows, makes us much more whole, much more happy (as I’ve shared before – studies show that gratitude goes a long, long way towards creating happiness and more, contentment in people), much more able to move forward into the world with success, with conviction and with energy.
I hope that your Thanksgiving was truly a time of remembering all that has blessed your lives. And my prayer for all of us is that we, too, find healing in our faith, and in our gratitude for all that God has given us.