A shouting Gospel

POST BY PGallagher

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash
Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Some of our prayers are spoken aloud. We are not ashamed that our words are audible. However, mostly we do not think of ourselves as shouting to God. 

 

The incident of the ten lepers is described in a Gospel passage full of shouting. The lepers have to shout to Jesus: Jesus, Master have pity on us.[i] He has to shout back to them: go and show yourselves to the priests.[ii] The one leper who expresses his gratitude does so at the top of his voice.[iii] This is indeed a shouting Gospel. The law forbade lepers from coming close to anyone and prohibited others from approaching them. A conversation with lepers had to be conducted at maximum volume. Jesus cured the ten with a cry of Go.[iv] This was not a dismissal but a reassurance that since he had cured them they could now seek the official authorisation to return to normal civic and family life. Jesus’s shout announced the good that had been done. The lepers were cured. They would no longer need to shout to everyone else but could speak normally.

Do we shout to the Lord? Some of our prayers are spoken aloud. We are not ashamed that our words are audible. We make our joy known. We clearly express anguish and disappointment. We cry from the heart. However, mostly we do not think of ourselves as shouting to God. In our prayers we often prize a certain quiet and peace. We desire to listen as well as to speak. We sometimes whisper and fall silent. We are submissive to the will of God. We do not take Jesus Christ to be shouting at us. Certainly he must sometimes try to make himself heard over the many other sounds with which our ears are filled. The Lord is often obliged to catch our attention. He competes with our other interests and our tendency to drift off. He also sometimes has to make his word carry across the considerable distance which we have placed between ourselves and him. The word of Jesus is challenging, arresting and sharp. The Lord’s addressing us can stop us in our tracks. His commands impact powerfully on us. His grace-filled counsel changes us. Jesus speaks with authority in our life. He does not mutter under his breath. Nevertheless we do suppose him to be shouting at us. His word is often an invitation to come closer. Jesus says Peace be with you.[v] He asks us to follow [vi] him. He murmurs Do not be afraid. [vii]

The Lord’s help goes before us and follows after us.[viii] God’s grace is helping us before we know it and as we go on our way that same grace is strength and reinforcement coming to our aid. Jesus’s instruction to the lepers to go to the priests told them that they were already cured. His shout took the miracle for granted. His cry was full of gentleness. His shouting was good news. Were some of them a little skeptical? Lepers were customarily shown no kindness. Perhaps jokers tried mean-spirited teases about the inspection by the priest. However, one by one, the lepers came to the realisation that they had been healed. Now as they were going away they were cleansed. [ix] What a joyful discovery. With what delight they made their way to the inspection. Why would they now delay a moment before seeking the official recognition of their return to health and to normal life? Jesus had told them to go and attend to these important formalities. Nevertheless, one of the ten lepers did delay. A thoughtful and appreciative person, just becoming aware that he was free of leprosy, did not go with the others to attend to the legal side. He went first to thank Jesus before the official confirmation of the cure. Finding himself cured, [x] he went right up to the Lord, the Gospel tells us and…. Shouted.[xi] The former leper had been shouting for years. He was accustomed to having to raise his voice to speak to someone in the ordinary world. Now he no longer had to bellow but he could not help himself. Praising God at the top of his voice...he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.[xii]

The man was a Samaritan.[xiii] There was no cure for being a Samaritan. Samaritan lepers were doubly excluded from decent society in Galilee. They were excluded by their illness. They were excluded by their membership of a disliked foreign race and religion. The Galilean priests could do little for a Samaritan leper cured by Jesus. No doubt had he arrived with the others, now purified, he would have been associated with the official declaration of healing. However, for a Samaritan there was no question of being welcomed into to the normal life of the community. To be a Samaritan was to be abnormal and to be shunned, with or without leprosy. Across a great distance, the grateful one who had thrown himself at Jesus’s feet, cried out to the Lord of everyone. His shout carried across all sorts of divisions and prejudices. His was the cry of the person who is excluded, who is in pain and who is neglected. The shout is the consistent one from those from whom people shrink in horror. Jesus, have pity on us.[xiv]

So, finally, we arrive at gratitude. The Samaritan expresses his thanks. Jesus, no longer shouting, says Were not all ten cured?[xv] ‘Well, yes’, he might have been informed, ‘they were. However, the other nine are doing exactly what you told them: they have gone off for inspection and to secure permission to go back to their families.’ Amid so much shouting, Jesus is not reminding us of our manners. He wants us to remember to say thank-you, of course. However, he is showing us that it is what God has really done for us which underpins all other gratitude and courtesy. Our respectful treatment of people, whoever they are, springs from an awareness of how God cherishes them and us too. Jesus teaches how to respond to the realisation that God is energetically at work in our life. Your faith has saved you.[xvi] The foreigner and heretic has understood that it is God who has helped him. There has been a miracle. However, this wonderful cure takes us well beyond the sufferings of those living with Hansen’s Disease. We go deeper, even, than a just response to the harsh treatment of lepers and Samaritans.

Now we hear the shouting! At the top of his voice, the one of the ten who has understood to whom he must really reveal himself and acknowledge the purification that has taken place has expressed what all, not just his nine fellow-sufferers, but everyone can understand. The one who shouted his thanks to Jesus has grasped something essential. Like Naaman, cured of leprosy, returning to Elisha with his whole escort ,[xvii] he can say: now I know.[xviii] God is greater than the worst suffering and the most deeply rooted hostility between peoples. Faith in the living God saves. To praise God, to thank him for what he is and for what he has done for us, out of faith, is itself healing and reconciling. Now we know. We are united to others by our need for cure; by our longing to be whole again; by our deep desire to be within the walls of the holy city; by our love of harmony between peoples. But they cannot chain up God’s news.[xix] Jesus, although he is in solidarity with all, cannot himself be truly excluded, or rendered taboo or pariah.[xx] Taken outside the gate to be put to death,[xxi] he returns, risen in glory. We give thanks that Christ has drawn us into faith and has lifted us up with himself. He sends us back into ordinary life. We are cured of our divisions and are now united to those with whom we were once at odds. Stand up and go on your way, [xxii] he says, honouring our rediscovered independence and our desire to live our gratitude. Shout to the Lord, all the earth. Let us ring out our joy.[xxiii]



[i] Luke 17.13

[ii] Luke 17.14

[iii] Luke 17.15

[iv] Luke 17.14

[v] John 20.19 for example

[vi] Matthew 4.19 for example

[vii] Matthew 28.10 for example

[viii] Roman Missal, Collect for the 28th Sunday

[ix] Luke 17.14

[x] Luke 17.15

[xi] Luke 17.15

[xii] Luke 17.15-16

[xiii] Luke 17.16

[xiv] Luke 17.13

[xv] Luke 17.17

[xvi] Luke 17.19

[xvii] 2 Kings 5.15

[xviii] 2 Kings 5.15

[xix] 2 Timothy 2.9

[xx] Mark.1.45 Jesus driven out of town by the fuss over the cure of another leper

[xxi] John 19.20

[xxii] Luke 17.19

[xxiii] Psalm 97.4