READING: Luke 17:11-19
SERMON: "The Ten Lepers - A Narrative Sermon"
Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
The following sermon was one of the first narrative sermons that I wrote.
It has proven to be a classic and has been used by countless preachers
around the world since I first posted it to the Internet in 1996. Please
feel free to use it, and to adapt it as you see fit. As a personal note,
I feel that using it for Thanksgiving Sunday, Year A, is most appropriate,
though the primary text is also used for Ordinary 28, Year C.
Once again I want to tell you a story
a story from the gospel of Luke,
the story of the Ten Lepers.
Relax - allow the story to speak to you as it must have spoken to
those who were there at the first, those like you - those who were
following Jesus Christ to learn from him the way of life.
We were heading with Jesus to Jerusalem.
We had taken the old border road that ran between Samaria
and Galilee, and it was a hot day.
It was the kind of day when the dust of the road lies thick on the
bushes and puffs up around your feet with every step you take.
The kind of day when the sweat runs down into your eyes
and turns the grime on your face into streaks of mud.
For a while - the only sound that any of us heard,
was the low drone and buzz of the insects as we walked,
but then through the still of that day,
at first in the distance,
then closer and closer - we heard them
"Unclean, unclean, unclean".
We began to look around, and finally,
as we rounded the crest of a hill to begin the long
walk down to the village in the valley below, we saw them.
They were standing off the road a bit,
and as we walked towards them the cry
"Unclean, unclean, unclean" stopped.
There were ten of them,
and even if we had not heard their cry we would have had
no problem knowing what they were.
Some of them had rags wrapped around their hands,
others had their feet bundled up in strips of old cloth,
all of them were dressed in the tattered and torn clothing
that people in their condition were required to wear,
and all of them had, as they were supposed to,
long unkempt hair.
There was no mistaking what they were -
they were lepers
and at the sight of them standing just off the path
staring at us like hungry and wounded animals
None of us wanted to get any closer to those wretched
creatures - and who could blame us for that.
I mean everyone knows about leprosy don't they?
It is simply awful.
No one can recover from it,
it slowly rots and destroys the body,
and worse yet, it is so easy to catch.
That's why the priests insist that everyone who has a skin blemish
report to them for an examination.
The priest looks at them,
and if they have raw patches of flesh
or white bumps or red marks on their skin,
or if their hair is discoloured,
he pronounces them unclean,
and the person must go into isolation for seven days so no one else
is put in danger.
It must be very difficult for those people,
wondering for all those days if they have leprosy,
wondering if they are ever going to be able to live with
their families again,
but it is fair,
fair for the rest of us,
and fair for their families,
because leprosy is not good, not good at all.
Most times the person does not have leprosy
they go back to the priest after seven days,
their blemish is healed over,
and they are pronounced clean
and allowed to return to their homes.
But for others,
for those like the ten we saw that day,
their blemish has worsened,
the colour of their sores is brighter,
or more of their flesh is infected,
and they are banished.
They are declared forever unclean.
forever unable to have normal human contact,
unable to bounce their children on their knees,
unable to hug their wives or husbands,
unable to do anything that might cause someone
else to catch what they have.
Imagine, if you can, living out the rest of your life in a hovel,
having to live in a camp and spend all your time
with those who are suffering and diseased like you.
It just so hard to think about -
of not being able to see anyone you love except at a distance,
of only being able to talk to them by yelling from far off.
After a while everyone you know would stop coming to see you,
no one would want to look at you,
or have anything to do with you,
and no one, despite the fact they claim to love you,
will ever hug you or kiss you or touch you again,
no one, that is, except those who are like you,
those whose bodies are twisted, shortened, and rotting.
Imagine too, waiting to see what will happen to you,
waiting to see if your disease will spread as it has in others,
taking from you your fingers, your toes,
destroying your mouth and nose,
till at last you starve to death,
or die from some infection...
but not until you have lingered for several years.
Imagine it - waiting - and hoping - trying to hope,
trying to hope for that one in a million chance
- hoping that your sores will clear up and that
you will be able to go to the priest
and hear him say the word CLEAN over you.
Imagine what it means to have to go around in rags
and wear clothing that is torn and tattered.
Imagine how hard it must be to let your hair grow long,
and never be allowed to comb it.
Imagine how it must feel to have to cry out "unclean,
unclean" whenever you come near a normal person.
That is what leprosy is all about.
No one in their right mind would want to come near it.
That is why we stopped on the road when we saw the lepers that day.
We were being cautious,
as cautious as any right thinking person would be in
the presence of danger.
We stopped and we wondered what Jesus would do,
because Jesus, in defiance of all common sense,
did not seem afraid of lepers.
We had seen him once touch a leper who had come to
him and begged to be healed.
And Jesus reached out and touched him,
and said to him "be clean"
and the man had been healed.
It was quite the event,
and I figure that the ten lepers we met that day must have
heard about it because
as we started again to work our way down to the village,
they spotted the teacher and began to call out to him,
JESUS, MASTER, HAVE PITY ON US.
When Jesus heard this he stopped,
and as the sun beat down on our heads
he turned towards them and holding out his hands he said,
GO, SHOW YOURSELVES TO THE PRIESTS.
The ten lepers must have wondered what Jesus meant
they must have wondered,
because the chance of being healed of leprosy
is so rare.
They must have wondered, but they must have hoped as well,
they must have believed that Jesus had done something for them,
that their one in a million chance for a normal life
had come to pass,
because all of them turned and started down
the road ahead of us into the village.
As we watched them go,
the dust rising from their tracks as they hurried ahead of us,
we began to realize that Jesus had healed them.
Why else would he have said to them,
go show yourselves to the priests?
We knew that anyone who is healed of a skin disease
is required to be pronounced clean by a priest,
and we marvelled that Jesus,
with just a word,
could heal those ten men.
And, as we found out just a few minutes later, it was so.
We were told that as they went down the hill towards the village
that their sores began to dry up,
and their blemishes disappear.
With every step they took towards their old home,
they felt stronger, younger, more energetic,
till, when they had rounded the final turn on the way
to the village, they were completely healed.
It must have been an incredible walk for them,
think of it - after all their suffering
and then, all of sudden,
at the word of a stranger,
their loneliness, their pain, their banishment
began to evaporate.
With every step
it must have become more and more apparent that they
could once again play with their children
and make love to their wives
and work with their brothers and relatives in the
fields and stables of their old homes.
We saw one of the lepers again,
it must have been about fifteen minutes after he and the
others had disappeared down the road to the village
that he came back up the road to us.
We could tell something had happened to him while he was still
fairly far off.
The shuffling cautious walk of the leper was gone,
he was striding rapidly up the hill towards us,
and he was singing and laughing and saying over and
over again, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
As he got closer we could see that he was completely cured,
his skin, what could be seen of it thru his tattered rags,
was pink and glowing with health.
When he got close to us he singled out Jesus,
and still singing and saying Alleluia, Alleluia,
he ran over to Jesus and threw himself down at his feet
and thanked him over and over again till finally
Jesus touched him on his head and looking at us said,
"Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other
nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to
God except this foreigner?"
At first we did not understand what Jesus was talking about,
but then we noticed that the man at Jesus' feet
had the accent of a Samaritan,
that race who despises us,
and refuses to worship in the right way,
and sacrifice to God at the temple.
And as we wondered what Jesus meant by his words,
he looked down at the Samaritan and said to him,
"Rise and go, your faith has made you well."
And the man got up and went his way,
still singing and praising God.
We stood there a minute and thought about what Jesus had said.
We wondered if Jesus was angry at the other lepers for not coming
back and thanking him and God for giving them their lives back.
We wondered if Jesus was trying to tell us something about
himself, or about Samaritans.
It was a strange saying - but one thing was certain,
all ten men had been cured of leprosy,
Jesus had said so,
but also it seemed to me that the one man,
the one who came back to us and thanked Jesus,
had something even more special happen to him.
He was not only cured. He was made whole.
The others with me that day also thought the same thing,
and as we talked about it among ourselves
we asked each other if Jesus was trying to tell us
that there is something special about giving thanks.
And we all got to wondering about how we might have behaved if
we had been given what the ten lepers received that day?
Would we have been like the one who came back to thank Jesus?
Or would we have been so happy about what we had received
that we, like the nine, would rush through the formalities
with the priests,
and hurry back to our homes and our normal lives.
We asked ourselves and each other
if we had ever really thanked God for what we have,
or if we had done all our lives what so many do,
if we had simply gone to the priests and the temple
at the times prescribed by the law,
and made the offerings and said the prayers
that our religion asks us to say,
and then returned to our homes to carry on as before.
We wondered -- were we like the nine lepers who were cleansed?
or were we like the one who was not only cleansed, but,
because of his faith,
because of his giving thanks,
was made whole.
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1996 - 2005
use only with appropriate acknowledgement
Note that in 2001 the Rev. Jim Batchelor prepared a First Person Narrative
Sermon based on this text. You can access it at Another Narrative Sermon.