Homily for Ordinary Sunday 28C

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Have you ever been a foreigner?
Have you walked the streets
and seen faces and heard language that is not your own?
Have you ever felt uncomfortable, at the margins, unrooted?
One of the least comfortable experiences for me
when a theological student in Fiji
was to walk the less salubrious streets of Suva
and to be the only kai-valagi, the only white face, in sight.
I used to wear a sulu, the formal lavalava,
and to try to fit in,
but clearly I didn’t.

There’d be words in Fijian or Hindi followed by laughter
and I’d wonder whether I was the source of amusement.
Wandering the urban South Pacific,
past beggars and shoe-shine boys,
somewhere that could have been
anywhere in the Third World…
and to not belong.

And to be confronted with disability.

We in the so-called First World
are not used to human deformity.
“Leprosy” is only as close to our experience
as the occasional giving envelope for the Leprosy Mission
secreted at the back of the church.
At a distance, without intimacy.

We do not have beggars on our streets,
and when we see them in countries like Fiji,
there is an internal struggle.
Do we walk by or do we respond?
We don’t know how to act. We don’t belong.
They, in their own way and in their own world,
don’t belong.
This has been Mental Health Awareness Week.
If we were looking to those at the margins,
those who don’t belong in our world,
those who are as lepers in our society,
perhaps there is something there
for us to consider.

Distance is a theme of our readings this morning.
Lepers – even rich and powerful lepers –
are outcaste, do not belong.
Naaman, a high military man,
is inexplicably struck with leprosy.
He hears that there is a powerful man of God,
a prophet in Israel, and seeks him out.
Naaman is horribly offended that Elisha
doesn’t even come out of his house to meet him,
an important officer from the local military power.
There is distance here. The distance is significant.

In the gospel, Jesus enters a village,
and ten lepers approach him.
They keep their distance,
calling out to Jesus rather than coming near to him.
The distance is significant.

One of the lepers there, pointedly does not belong,
for he is a Samaritan. Those people the Jews loved to hate.
A people, remember, who were a constant reminder
to the Jewish people of their years of exile.

There’s exile present in our other readings, too.
A young girl is captured from Israel and taken to Aram.
She tells Naaman’s wife of a prophet
– who, ironically is in Samaria.
Healing of course happens,
but in both cases without touch,
without intimacy, without magic.
Naaman in particular misses the magic.
Healing is expected and in both cases, happens,
even at a distance.

But in both stories, there is something incomplete
until Naaman and that Samaritan leper
return to the man of God who has made them well.
It is not until this return
that Jesus can say to the Samaritan leper
“Get up and go on your way;
your faith has made you well.”
The key word here is “return”,
for these men are, you will have noticed, foreigners.
They are both in a strange land – they are in exile.

Jesus the Christ represents the return from exile.
His ministry begins in the River Jordan,
the border of the Promised Land,
and it culminates in Jerusalem, the heart of Israel.
Jesus’ mission is about moving from the margins
to the heart of God,
about restoration, the end of exile.
About those who had no hope of belonging
suddenly being welcomed into the people of God.
Samaritans and other Gentiles like you and me.
The people who don’t belong in our polite social company.
The excluded, the difficult, the disabled,
the down-right maddening and misanthropic.

The return from exile is less a physical or geographical state,
but one of relationship with God.
An acknowledgement of our need
to travel towards and to fall at the feet of our God.
To recognise the distance in our lives,
a need for healing and restoration
that goes beyond illness and disease.
We might pray for healing, and I have every confidence
that God grants that to some of us.
You, like me, have probably seen that happen.

But we might more often pray and work
for a closing of the distance between us and others,
between our interior and exterior personas,
between us and God.
For a “wholeness”
that is more than simply a body working well.
For a healing that can give us a thankful heart,
one able to cope with the effects of “being made well”.
To recognise those little moments of homecoming
we experience,
when we do encounter change and hope and wholeness
and well-being – being where we belong.
Exile ended.

When and where we are invited to stop,
like the Samaritan leper,
and not just do the normal ritualised things we do
to give expression to our faith,
but to celebrate in humility and joy at the feet of our Lord.
Our hope and home for now and for eternity.


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