Thy faith hath made thee whole
Scripture: Luke 17:11-19
Delivered at Christ Church, Alexandria on Oct. 9, 2022
I speak to you today in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. Good morning Christ Church! This summer I worked as a hospital Chaplain at UPMC Shadyside, UPMC’s flagship hospital, and a place where I was privileged to witness the bravery of Pittsburgh’s nurses and healthcare professionals as they treated the sick people of our region.
I saw a lot of sick people this summer. I saw people with cancers growing within their bodies. I saw people with sudden and terrible heart issues. I listened to husbands, wives, and children that were watching their loved ones declining in health in front of them. I saw people who did not know how they would afford any of the care they received. I saw a lot of pain and struggle and all of the things that humans never want to have to address. And often, I was asked by these people to pray for a cure. People were tired or scared of being sick and they wanted to get better. Maybe this Chaplain sitting in front of them could ask of God what they had asked dozens of times before.
And it was here where I encountered a man who was dying. He was a Muslim man. He was middle-aged, dying far before what seemed to be just. And his family was grieving. He died a slow, painful death. His body was failing. It was clear by every measure that he was amid immense pain and suffering. But we got to know each other during this time. Our discussions over those dying months were deep and beautiful.
I witnessed his daughter make recordings of his voice. They talked about names for children should she ever get married and have a family. His wife put jasmine oil on his body which brought life not only in his room but in the hallway and other rooms that I visited. They put mint and flowers next to his bed. They made videos, celebrated, and loved.
And in one of our discussions, when I asked if there was anything else I could do to help him be at peace. He said, with the introspection only a dying person can give, “No. This is the moment that all faithful people like you and me can look forward to. We know there is something better to come.”
He never once asked me to lay hands on him – even if that was in his tradition, though we did pray together. He never expected God to cure his disease. But he knew very deeply and sincerely the love of God and was thankful for it. He was made well.
Everyone in this Gospel passage was physically cured by Jesus. At the end of the story, 10 people with leprosy did not have leprosy because of an encounter with Jesus. Every single one of them was given physical healing and presumably re-entered Judean society after their ritual cleanliness. Only one was declared to be made well by Jesus.
The phrase “has made you well” has multiple meanings in the original language of the text. It can mean to be made physically healthy, a fact that is made clear in that all the lepers were in fact healed of their leprosy – a disease which would’ve made this group of ten outcasts in 1st Century Judean society and separated them from their families, religious tradition, and any other form of socialization.
It is also a word more often translated to mean save - some translations do in fact take this route, saying, “your faith has saved you.” I’m personally fond of the King James Version, in this case, which tries to encompass both meanings and simply says, “thy faith hath made thee whole.” This phrase is only heard three other times in the New Testament. Each time Jesus said this, it was to a person that had something different about them that would’ve made them ritually impure or socially outcast – in this case, both ritually impure and socially outcast. This was a phrase that Jesus offered in explicit defiance of his culture and, likely, the people that surrounded him in ministry. Even more interesting, every single time this phrase is used, the next chapter is an illustration of the Kingdom of God - as if to preface any talk of the Kingdom of God with these interactions between Jesus and outcasted people.
It is the mission of the Church to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. At the very core of this restoration is a striving for human dignity; to look at all people as people to be made whole. To see humans are more than just bodies, numbers, or names, but souls made in the very image of the God we worship. My friend in the hospital saw that God knew him as more than a man in the hospital, but as someone that was loved, cherished, and whole in the eyes of his Creator.
It is well and good, meet and right, if you will, to beg God to heal ailments. I would even go as so far to say that it is the proper and righteous response to physical illness and the terrible things that happen to our mortal bodies. But our calling as Christians also speaks to answer the very spiritual depravity that haunts the deepest of our societal ills. Our world is one that explicitly ensures that people are robbed of this very dignity, that fights against the restoration of unity with God and each other. But we as Christians must call for the healing of the soul alongside the body. Christ calls the church to hear cries for sustenance, but also for the things that restore the spirit; the things that make us fully human and unified with God.
The irony of the Samaritan coming back is that he probably would not have even been welcomed at the temple he was supposed to be walking to. He was still an outcast because he was a Samaritan! All of the bodily curing that Christ could perform did not shake him of the captivity of the prejudice of his contemporaries. I cannot help but wonder if his act of prostration and praise was inspired by some sense that he had finally been seen and heard by someone who was supposed to hate him. Yet, Christ welcomes him into the heavenly kingdom – reaching into the depths of the body and the soul.
I challenge you Christ Church to emulate Christ in peering deeply into the needs of the heart and of the body. To look not only for how we can bring people sustenance but the wholeness of restoration.
My friend in the hospital passed away just a little after going to a hospice facility. The staff on my floor was heartbroken. His wholeness touched and rippled through even those caring for him. Wholeness does something. It allows for others to see their own humanity and divinity, their own thankfulness, sing their own praises and prostrate in their own way at the feet of God. Wholeness brings forth wholeness. Dignity brings forth dignity. Salvation brings forth salvation. This is the calling of the church. In a world that offers false hope, creates classes, reinforces prejudices, and makes it clear that human worth is what you create and not what you were created to be – we can offer the biggest, widest, and most powerful alternative. We can offer the proclamation of wholeness and restoration.
This is the moment that all faithful people like you and me can look forward to. Amen.
Watch the sermon here: