Friday, October 19, 2007

Jesus heals the Impenetrable

Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV) 11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers1 approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

Last weekend when I was preaching, I thought the end times were coming, but it was really just the clanging of big rocks that kids were throwing onto the roof, and the sound of dogs barking. Preaching in my second language (Spanish) is challenging, but it’s getting better. The Gospel lesson was 17:11-19, where Jesus cleanses ten lepers.
The pain and suffering the lepers endured because their infected skin was magnified by the infected looks they received as they were socially ostracized because of the religious views around leprosy.
In the interior of the Chaco province in Northern Argentina, where I’m living, there are neglected indigenous communities that are dying of hunger. They live in a region known as “El Impenetrable (The Impenetrable),” because of its lack of water and thorn scrubs. (The living conditions in Chaco are starting to get a little more international attention: Many of the people there move to the outskirts of Resistencia, the city I’m living in, only to be further ostracized by the people here.
Last weekend we also had a province-wide social assembly where various social development organizations gathered to network and discuss various social issues, one of which was the extreme hunger of the indigenous communities. To speak on this issue was a delegate from the indigenous community, Jose Carlos. As he spoke you could feel the pain of his community in his voice. Then in this secular assembly, he expressed his faith in Jesus, and how Jesus challenged oppression, and struggled for justice.
When Jesus cleansed the ten lepers, only one returned to give thanks. So what happened to the other nine? Were they just plain ungrateful? Or had they been infected for so long, both physically and socially (both by their blistering skin and the shame they felt every time they had to warn others that they were “unclean”), that when they had been healed they couldn’t even believe it, let alone give thanks to their healer? Had the reign of oppression become so normal that it mad the reign of God seem foreign?
Poverty in our church (MisiĆ³n Maria Magdalena - see photo) community on the outskirts of Resistencia eats away like leprosy. Children are underfed and mothers go through the dumpster to find food. When it seems that all I can see is the effect of the reign of discrimination, corrupt politicians, and yes, even the policy of the U.S.; it’s hard to see beyond it to see the reign of God. When we go through difficult times, when we are in pain, when society ignores us, it is hard to see God’s grace.
Like the nine lepers, it is hard to see that because of Jesus, we have been healed. It is hard to look past this world of pain, and see that Jesus is bringing a new world, that in heaven there won’t be all this leprosy, oppression, suffering and pain.
We read that even though society doesn’t see the lepers, Jesus sees them! Over and over (especially in Luke) Jesus reminds the oppressed that God’s reign is a complete reversal of what they are experiencing now. They have dignity and beauty in God’s sight, and they shall be healed and free.
The leper who returned to give thanks to Jesus was a Samaritan (a foreigner, despised by the Jews), which made him the oppressed of the oppressed. Despite all this, he saw past the way the world looked at him and recognized in Jesus’ look that the One who gave him dignity, sees it in him, and promises him that it will be restored in him.
When I heard Jose Carlos express his hope in Jesus in the midst of his pain regarding the current situation of his people in the Impenetrable, I thought about this leper that returned to give thanks to Jesus. It is this beautiful ability to see the grace in the midst of suffering.
Even though I see the hunger on the faces of the children in our church community, when they come to the church for merienda (afternoon snack) and dig into a ham and cheese sandwich, in their eyes there is a moment of grace.
As overwhelming as the leprosy of this world is, may we feel the grace in Jesus’ healing look, to which nothing is impenetrable. Like the Samaritan leper, may this look bring us to our knees, and give us the strength to praise God, and give thanks to Jesus.

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