(Begin by reading the Gospel. Better yet, ask someone to read it to you. Close your eyes and just let the words fall over you. Which word stands out particularly for you?)
Much of the time, Jesus preaches to the people about the Kingdom of God. He understands the plan of God and he wants us to understand it, too. He tells parables—strange little stories that help us think about what the Kingdom of God is like. However, sometimes Jesus stops telling us about the Kingdom of God, and shows us instead.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Leprosy is a disease of the skin that is highly contagious. In Jesus' time, people with leprosy have to live on the outskirts of the villages so that they do not cause everyone else to become sick with the disease, too. They have to call out, "Unclean!" whenever someone gets too near, to warn them of the danger of their presence. Many people believe that leprosy is a punishment from God for something they have done. We can imagine how that would feel—to be sick, to be separated from home and family, to be considered unclean and sinful, to be isolated from the community.
Notice how these ten people keep their distance from Jesus. They do not want him to get sick. They do not want him to get angry that they are near. They do not want to see disgust on his face. But they want mercy more.
We know that mercy is a gift from God. If they ask Jesus for mercy, they know who he is. They have faith.
When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.
Made clean—no longer do they have the disease.
Made clean—no longer do they have to live apart.
Made clean—no longer do they have to bear the rejection, disgust, and fear of others.
Made clean—they can come home.
Here is God's mercy.
God makes clean.
God brings people back into community.
For a moment, everything is perfect. Full. Whole. Complete. As God wants it to be.
It is a miracle. It is a sign.
For a moment, the Kingdom is here. Now.
And then it is not.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
One of the healed people responds to the sign.
One of the healed people responds to the fullness of the Kingdom here and now.
He praises, he worships, he thanks God. This must be how it is in the Kingdom.
But where are the others?
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?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Jesus tells us how this sign of the Kingdom occurred. There was no healing touch or special words. Their faith did it. Their faith gave God room to act, to break into our broken world and pour in mercy—mercy that heals, cleanses, and brings people into community, into communion with God.
But the moment passes. Only one person responds with praise, worship, and thanksgiving.
Can we have that moment again? Can we experience that fullness of the Kingdom? How can we give God room to act, to break into our world again and again?
Jesus tells us how.
When, in our faith, we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we experience the mercy of God: God cleanses us of our sin (our Baptism garments are made white again—forgiveness is freely given!) We are restored to the community of the faithful.
When, in our faith, we receive the Sacrament of the Sick, we experience the mercy of God: God heals us of spiritual and/or physical and/or mental pain. We are brought back into the community from the isolation that illness can bring.
In the sacraments, we can experience a taste of Parousia, the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.
What, then, will the Kingdom of God be like when it is complete?
God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)
God will be "all in all." (1 Corinthians 15:28)
We live our faith and give God room to act. We respond to the gift of God's great mercy with praise, worship, and thanksgiving.
(Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians!)