"Boat." Image by Ana Karenina via Flickr; licensed under CC BY 2.0.
See, return, praise, worship, give thanks, get up, and go.
What if we imagined, if only for this week, that this could be the rhythm of faith?
At the same time, it can’t be a universal prototype, because then it would not honor the unique witness of this text.
It can’t be a uniform response to Jesus, because then the witness of this one Samaritan becomes a generalized response rather than a specific reaction to the mercy of God.
It can’t be a “to do” list of what is expected of believers when you encounter Christ. If it is, then we have just eschewed the truth of the incarnation. If we truly believe in the fullness of the incarnation, then we have to believe that one’s response to Christ’s revelations in our lives has to be as specific as the encounters themselves.
Like all aspects of our life, faith ebbs and flows. It goes through stages and steps. It is susceptible to fits and starts. It manifests different patterns and paces depending on our circumstances.
For many of the persons with whom we do ministry, faith has varied rhythms, moving all too seamlessly between assurance and uncertainty, fluctuating in its patterns. That can be disturbing and even a cause for abandonment of faith all together.
In a culture of certitude and conviction, in a society that values prediction and proposition, in a world that insists on calendars and schedules and appointments, faith does not seem to cooperate. What do we do with that? And what do we do when we find ourselves in the same proverbial boat?
We all know that ministry is a lonely profession. It’s lonely because there is really no job like it. It’s lonely because you pause, wondering what to say, when you are at a party, where you don’t know anyone, and someone asks you, what do you do for a living? It’s lonely because it’s quite possible you don’t have anyone to talk to when your faith is not cooperating -- and you desperately need it to accommodate your schedule.
Our biblical stories remind us of, and even help us embody, the rhythm of faith. And the most gracious truth of so many of these stories is that they give witness to how faith changes and shifts. How faith is immediate and how faith is patient. How faith is demanding but willing to wait for the response that you are able to give at this time and in this place.
Getting back to our passage, this is what pulls me in this week. That the response of the one leper, who we only later find out is a Samaritan, is emphasized and celebrated as a model of discipleship, of believing, of faith. His response to his healing is not just a singular expression, not just about giving thanks, but gives witness to a trajectory, a process, a spectrum of reaction. We are not called necessarily to respond as he did. Rather, we are called to imagine our own.
For argument’s sake, however, it might be worth embodying each one of these steps as possible responses to God’s activity in our lives. Perhaps this is the practice of faith that is called for this week, lest we reduce our Samaritan friend to tokenism. When we suggest that his only response to his healing is gratitude, we reduce him to some sort of example, some sort of moral model to follow. No. This person, overlooked and marginalized, discarded and discounted, ostracized and rejected, is the one who embodies what it means to see yourself as Jesus sees you.
He is the one who embodies the entirety of reaction to the mercy of God. What God does in your life could elicit all seven of these responses, and even a seven-fold response all at once.
Has it ever for you? Or, could you imagine trying it out sometime?
This is what this story asks of us. Are you content to respond to Jesus’ mercy in only certain ways? Or, do you see this outsider, this Other, as someone who might very well model the breadth of our possible responses to God’s love?
All were healed. But only one was saved, which begs the question, what does it mean to be saved, here and now, in this moment in Luke, for this Samaritan leper?
Well, the easy answer is that Jesus will die for him. But we are not there yet. No, he is saved because Jesus brings him back into community and he is saved because he sees that he can be a member of a community again. But, not just any community: the community of the Kingdom of God -- where the ignored are favored. Where the disdained are redeemed (Psalm 111:9). Where those left out are those who live as we might -- and should.
Through the response of the Samaritan with leprosy, we are invited to reflect on how the fullness of what salvation might mean for us happens, in part, when we see, return, praise, worship, give thanks, get up, and go, as all potential responses to God’s mercy. A response that carries forward our redemptive God, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15c).