by Don Watson
Luke records a very important story for this generation of Christians. Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem and stops at a border town between Galilee and Samaria where he meets 10 lepers – nine Jews and one Samaritan. He tells them to go show themselves to the priests and while they were on their way, they were healed. Immediately, one of them and only one, returns to Jesus, and glorifies God – the Bible says, "With a loud voice." Then he falls on his face at Jesus' feet and thanks him. What an intriguing story! But it's not done. Luke adds, "and he was a Samaritan." No wonder he glorified God really loud. No Jewish town would believe that God healed a Samaritan. He hardly believed it himself! Being a Samaritan, he had often been reminded, completely disqualified him for God's favor, but here he is…healed.
I believe that if God is going to use us to heal, like He did Jesus, we must live on the border between Galilee and Samaria. We must intentionally put ourselves in a place where we can reach across all prejudicial borders and heal whoever is hurting on either side. We must live between blacks and whites, Asians and Hispanics, rich and poor, ignorant and educated, gays and straights, bond and free, Republicans and Democrats, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Atheists. And our purpose must be the same as Jesus – to heal.
Now, this was not the first time Jesus crossed paths with Samaritans. He met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well and asked her for a drink of water. Then He explained the good news about God who loved people exactly as they are and the entire town ended up accepting Jesus as the Messiah. Another time Jesus told this story about a Jewish guy who got robbed and beaten. Some religious people passed by, but left him there on the side of the road to die. At great cost to himself, a Samaritan was the only one who would help. He was the hero of the story, the neighbor, the one who loved like the Father. It is never easy to live on the border. We will constantly be called on to love at great personal cost to ourselves. If there is no cost, we are not on the border.
So we think we get it. Sure, some people are still prejudiced like the Jews and Samaritans were back then, but by and large, we do pretty good. After all, hasn’t our country eliminated the worst elements? But I would like to suggest this story is in the Bible because God knows there is a sick and infected part of our fallen humanity that desperately needs to be removed and healed lest it destroy our reason for existence as the Body of Christ. "And Jesus answering said, 'Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine? Why is it that none but this stranger returned to give God glory?' "(Luke 17:11-18)
“Where were the nine” – the religious, the Christians. Leprosy should have eliminated all the arguments about who was a sinner. In the mind of a Jew, if you contracted this dreaded disease, you were the worst of sinners. So being a Samaritan hardly affected the equation, if any. Leprosy leveled the ground – much to the dismay of any leprous Israelite. What a great lesson, right? I mean, we're all lepers, aren't we? – not just the prostitutes, adulterers, thieves, gays, and Muslims. But the way we criticize, condemn, and judge others in our society you would think we don't know we are lepers. Like those nine Jewish men, we've forgotten who we are – sinners saved by Grace – not because of any good we have done. When these nine discovered they were healed, their reaction (I believe) was not joy, so much as justification. "I guess God realized He made a mistake and sent this prophet to correct it." In other words, "Healing is what we really deserved, because we're Jews." They weren't grateful, that's why they didn't come back.
So what do we think we deserve, because we're Christians? More blessings? More protection? Safe travel because of our prayers? Healing because of our faithfulness? Do we deserve our good life because of our righteous work ethic? Do the people starving in Africa or the homeless under the Jefferson Street bridge deserve what they get because they’re heathens or don't work hard enough? Are they lazy and we are diligent? And even if that is true, do I deserve healing and not them? Aren't my sins just as numerous? Maybe different sins, but no better. Does God treat us as we deserve, or "according to His loving kindness?"
So among the nine Jewish lepers there was no gratefulness for their healing. They decided, who they were, qualified them for the favor of God and, who the Samaritan was, disqualified him. But Jesus didn't require the change of this Samaritan, He healed him WHILE he was still a Samaritan. So it's no wonder He was loudly grateful.
This is the basis of the gospel – relationship with a God who loves us unconditionally and accepts us exactly as we are. In fact, God distinguishes His love from our love in this: “WHILE we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8. What He's saying is so important and powerful if we will accept it. We might love the good people around us, help them, bail them out, bless them, but God says His love is vastly different. When we are at our worst, he died for us. And that is what the nine religious lepers missed out on. Life is not about being leprosy-free, but grace-full. The Samaritan, because he knew he was unclean, a dog, and a sinner returned to thank the One who showed him such amazing grace, and in the process, he met God and discovered who He was. The result was a grace relationship with God. The nine lepers missed out on the most important thing – relationship. And there are so many Christians who may have been healed, and got their ticket to heaven, but missed out on Jesus Himself. Living on the border is about living with Jesus.
A lot of us as Christians have begun to embrace the Good News about the God of Grace. We’re tired of a kind of religion that judges and condemns and criticizes. We want to feel (No, we need to feel) that God loves, accepts, and forgives us exactly as we are, but amazingly there is an element in all of us that is like the nine lepers. We believe we deserve God's acceptance of us exactly as we are, because of who we are and what we have done, but Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Atheists do not. We are glad God loved us while WE were sinners, but the homeless don't deserve a few bucks because they would buy beer. We feel our circumstances deserve innumerable chances from God while we're sinners, but someone who is lazy deserves nothing until they change, get off their duffs and work. We are like the men who worked all day for a fair wage who got upset that God dealt with others according to grace. The truth is, none of us deserve anything, do we? And so, those of us who are recipients of grace, God calls to live on the border and give grace to others.
One aspect of grace and agape love is the YaDa – the Hebrew word for physical love. (Adam knew (Yada) his wife again and she bare a son” – Gen 4:25). It means "To Know" "To intimately know". The way God calls us to live on the border and eradicate prejudice is to know that person so well that you understand who they are and why, what they believe and why they believe it, and what they do and why they do it. You may not agree with them, but you KNOW them. God has not called us to agree, but to understand, appreciate, and love them. "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).
So live on the border. Intentionally engage the people you are different from – not to debate or convince or condemn, but to know and unconditionally love. Perhaps in the process God may use you, like Jesus, to heal them all – Samaritans and Jews, religious and non-religious, Muslims and Hindus, Atheists and Agnostics, Saints and Sinners, Baptists and Adventists, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and Whites.
Live on the Border and love them all.