10-9-22 Morning Prayer Reflection by Sandy Burnett
I recently bought a used car from my friend Barbara. She told me that in preparation, she removed all of her bumper stickers from it, except the one that says “Gratitude for all there is, and all there isn’t.”
One of the things I’m grateful for is that leprosy is no longer the scourge that it was. It still exists in parts of the world where people can’t access treatment, but it can be cured with a two-year course of antibiotics. It is a bacteria that spreads through droplets in the air. The first effective cure for leprosy, which we now call Hansen’s disease, wasn’t introduced until the 1940s.
In the Bible, the word for leprosy covers a variety of skin ailments including psoriasis and eczema. These are often chronic conditions and a person could live a very long time after showing the signs, separated from their communities in what one author called a “living death.”
By the Middle Ages, when St. Francis admitted he feared lepers, leprosy had come to mean Hansen’s disease.
In Judaism,lepers could only return to society if a priest certified that they were “clean.” That’s why Jesus sent the 10 lepers to the priests. I have to admit, I always thought Jesus just wanted the priests to know he was working miracles, but it was actually the only way for the cured lepers to be readmitted to society.
Then, only one of the lepers — a Samaritan of all people — returns to thank Jesus. And Jesus responds, “Your faith has made you well.”
I don’t think this means that the other lepers remained sick. The Gospel said they all were cured on their way to the priests.So it’s not such a stretch to believe that what Jesus is saying to the Samaritan is that his faith has not only cured his leprosy, but also has saved him in the bigger sense of the word. He is saved as a believer in Jesus, as a man of Christian faith.
This is my somewhat lame segue to Paul’s letter to Timothy. I know the purpose of the letter was to encourage Timothy to be a minister of Christ. It has the characteristics of most good pep talks. Early on, Paul tells Timothy of his own suffering in prison, where he is not only in physical pain, but also humiliated to be publicly described as an evil person. Paul, though, says these sufferings are borne gladly out of his love for Jesus and for spreading the Christian message. He tells Timothy that he’s been promised the greatest rewards for this service, and that Timothy can share in these rewards.
Then Paul says:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
I get that. It makes sense.
But then comes “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”
What in the world does that mean? As usual, there are contradicting views. One author I read said that it doesn’t mean that God will provide salvation to the faithless. This author said it means that God is faithful to himself and his own values, “for he cannot deny himself,” so those who lose faith, or who never had it, have lost out on salvation.
But other authors, and I tend to side with them, contend that God is faithful to all of us who have ever been believers, even if we don’t always act like it. God has made his promise of salvation to believers, and he cannot deny that promise. That doesn’t mean we get a free get-out-of-jail card if we believe in God but willfully go against Christ’s teachings. We will be punished by our own feelings of distance from God, of guilt and shame.
Finally, Paul exhorts Timothy to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”
I find it comforting that Paul says we need only do our best to present ourselves to God. Of course, that’s a big “only.” I think Paul is reassuring Timothy that he has only to do what he is called to do as a minister and missionary, that God knows his strengths and weaknesses, and will not set him up for failure. I believe God wants all of us to make the most of our potential, whatever that may be. The important thing is to believe in a God of power and compassion. All of us can believe that, and, like the tenth leper, our faith will make us well. Amen