There are three parts to the sermon today. First I want to look at Jesus’ use of parables throughout the gospels, especially today's, and how they connect with the sequence of actions we walk through in our Sunday liturgy, and finally how they can be a model with what we do in our personal and corporate lives, the varied ways we live and move and have our being as Christ’s body, the Church.
Someone once said that if you ask a question, the best answer, the richest response, is one that asks you a larger question, and parables work like that. They can be wider openings to God’s truth. But it’s important to note that might not be at all what we want. Sometimes we’re simply looking to prove a point or to limit the territory, to delineate the in or out of it, what’s good or bad, to find the cleanest way through all this messy life. But Jesus’ way quite often doesn’t seem to work like that. When we ask him questions he seems to take pains to answer practical questions by opening the question wider, even so that the most impractical, the most impossible people, are welcomed into the discussion. Jesus likes to give us questions leading to a living truth, a truth that meets us on our way, where when we try to find a way, a formula, to handle truth, and find that truth and love and mercy are handling us instead! The parables answer us with the possibility that love is larger than we might think but these answers can grow us as we grapple with the chance that God’s life with us is larger than we know….
Luke parables point us there. Look at the man who forgives his two unpleasant sons; the younger for recklessly wasting his heritage, the older for carefully acting like a slave and sycophant, both failing to recognise that all this love was waiting in the richness of the father’s life. Another story is about a lawyer asking who he has to deal as neighbour with, then finding out how a Samaritan, the last person you’d want around, could be a saving neighbour to him. Look at an unjust steward cutting shady deals and being commended for his cleverness by his boss, about a woman throwing a party and spending good money to celebrate finding a lost coin; about someone who had the audacity to leave ninety-nine sheep behind in order to search for the one who went missing.
These are not average people, nor is this a moderate, regular love, these stories witness to a compassion and mercy that go beyond our mete and measure: strange people in stranger stories determined - maybe even designed - but maybe that’s the point! Maybe they are told by Jesus to take us to a dangerous opportunities where we might see a new world beyond the horizon of the life we habitually live; a place where God creates anew out of some almost incomprehensible love; mysterious directional signals that show us where we need to go, what we need to do to be a new people on a new journey illumined by love that is, itself, ever new.
Isn’t it strange that love has to work this hard to get our attention? But even after the resurrection it takes a few hundred years for the Church to offer the doctrine of the Holy Trinity: a parable like model of a three dimensional loving God working on three horizons at once. The stretches our mind to see the Holy One seen, known and praised as the creator who fathers-forth the universe; as this redeemer, alongside this journeyman Jesus joining with us in every day of life and death; and as sustainer and breath-spirit, mending all moments of time, making all things new!
This model of the Trinity, just like all parables, aims to enact that awareness of love and life in more fronts than we can easily see or ken; beyond all our knowledge, in the very middle of our human journey, and closer to us than we are to ourselves; from the new beginning, in the muddled middle, to the very end and the very centre of our lives). Parables also allow us to see the graceful chance love lives together in the creative tension of emerging history dancing in the midst of eternity as if there were all the time in the world. Parables give us room to wonder if all of this could be true.
So now let’s look at the Gospel for today (Luke 17:11-19) in light of our Sunday liturgy.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Could this story be a parable that connects with our Sunday liturgy as well as the way we walk in our faithful journey? I think it is possible by following a four part model written by Dom Gregory Dix in a book called, “The Shape of the Liturgy.”
Dix points to four actions: “Take, Bless, Break, Share". Jesus does these four actions, with his own pilgrim life, and enacts them in the last supper; then the Church, Jesus’ ongoing family, follows to celebrate and continue this outpouring of love in our Eucharist: again, “Take, Bless, Break, Share" and finally we are called to live through these actions, these sacramental benchmarks, in our daily lives as well. If we see it in the gospels then maybe the ten lepers are our older brothers here, helping us learn these particular four steps to the dance of life. “Take, Bless, Break, Share.”
What happens in the Gospel when these ten lepers see Jesus? It must be somewhere on the outside of town because lepers aren't able to go into town because of all those practical purity laws telling who can go where. But could it be when he sees them, then they see themselves for the first time? So often they’ve been overlooked, even by themselves, but now they see their great need and greater dignity reflected in his larger look of love. There they start to take their live, the God-given gift of it, seen by Jesus, breathed by the spirit, to take it seriously for the very first time. And there’s a little death and rebirth right there. A thousand years ago Symeon the New Theologian said the first thing the Holy Spirit, God’s light of love, does is show us our shadow and that takes both courage and humility, to make an ending and a beginning.
For when holy love looks at you from a human face and you see you’re taken seriously; when you’re seen in that compassionate and merciful glance, that you’re a leper who doesn’t fit in and have been ruled out by custom, religion and law, as officially expendable; and when you still see, maybe for the first time, that love takes you seriously exactly as you are and calls you to grow then something happens…
But did you just feel the world get larger? Can you just face the light of love allowing you to take a bigger breath, do you reckon there are options opening before you —yes, the blessing of bigger questions, but bigger answers too — when love looks at you with a blessing — and when the question it often asks is this; can you take that blessing and give it back?
We sometimes forget that our Hebrew heritage calls us to bless God: blessing God for having hearts, souls, minds, bodies, neighbourhoods, nations, being given a world together made of love, love making us new in every moment, larger in every instant; able to bless God for blessing us here and now, always and everywhere, as we are. Bless it all, even if we look to be lepers.
And in light of that love we are called to break apart the world to see what it might look like if God were looking at each and all of us right now with, compassion, encouragement and infinite love.We are called to break free of roles and rules and expectations or landowners and fathers and all sorts of sons, and bad stewards and busy householders and everybody else and break apart the kernel of our being to find the seed of new life in who we already are, where good news call and break through to this deep truth.
For in the lives of each of us God asks a particular and peculiar question and gives a holy and graceful answer. For as we are the body of Christ our very souls and bodies are called to be offered, broken open, shared beyond slick surfaces and shared in a world hungry for a holy food.
If this is true! If the love of God is closer to us than we are to ourselves calling us to share ourselves, to show ourselves, to God’s people as if God could love us as we are, then where can we go and what can we do?
For these are patterns of countless ways God uses material things and the “sacrament of the present moment” to reach out to us. So we take the bread and wine and all the common stuff of daily life like our very lives depended on it. We bless God and let ourselves and our world be blessed as members of that same multi-dimensional love. We break apart all expectations of playing it safe and societal norms and “what would the Romans do?” and look at our lives in the way the God of love might see it! and we come to learn to share the God-given miracle of our ongoing lives in this ever-newborn community of the body of Christ in all its many colours — as thanksgiving and doubt, as faith and question, as answer and calling.
It shouldn’t be such a surprise: we tell ourselves in every liturgy, “We are the body of Christ, his spirit is with us" and we are called to, as St Augustine wrote: “Behold what we are; become what we receive.” So as lepers and losers and lovers of the God who loves us so much more, let us come together to share in the scandalous truth that there is a new creation reaching out to everybody, and that is the heart of the Good News.