Sunday, December 9, 2012

28th Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 6: 10-17 / Luke 17:12-19

And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.

In the film version of The Wizard of Oz, near the end of the story, Dorothy believes that she has been stranded forever in the wonderful, but nonetheless alien, land of Oz. The wizard has taken off in his hot-air balloon, and as he is no real wizard, but only a huckster, he can no more will his balloon to return to her than she can fly up to the balloon. It is at this moment that Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, arrives on the scene and reveals something quite startling to Dorothy:

Dorothy: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?
Glinda: You don't need to be helped any longer. You've always had the power to go back to Kansas.
Dorothy: I have?
Scarecrow: Then why didn't you tell her before?
Glinda: She wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.
Scarecrow: What have you learned, Dorothy?
Dorothy: Well, I—I think that it, that it wasn't enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em — and it's that — if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?
Glinda: That's all it is!
Scarecrow: But that's so easy! I should've thought of it for you -
Tin Man: I should have felt it in my heart -
Glinda: No, she had to find it out for herself. Now those magic slippers will take you home in two seconds!

It's not that Glinda here promotes some sort of Pelagian nonsense, as though Dorothy is able achieve her heart's desire by her own effort. After all, it is the magic of the ruby slippers that makes this mode of travel possible in the first place. Rather, what Glinda, who gifted these slippers to Dorothy near the beginning of the film, has known all along is that, apart from an effective knowledge of the power that she has, a power which depends heavily on rightly understanding her situation as well as her heart, then no gift, however precious and potentially life-transforming, can do her any lasting good.

In the Gospel today, we hear of Jesus' healing of the ten lepers. What sets this story in many ways apart from other miracles of Jesus is that the healing of the ten occurs entirely apart from any explicit eliciting of faith. That is, the ten ask for mercy, and Jesus sends them to the priests, whose task it was according to the Law to declare a man clean or unclean. Even so, all of them, we are told, are cleansed by Christ's power along the way and, we may well imagine, the nine who continued on their way were to rejoice when the priest gave them a clean bill of health.

Yet, only to the one who returned, the one who saw that he was healed, does Jesus say, Your faith has made you well. All of them, in other words, have been made well in one sense; all of them have received the gift of physical deliverance from leprosy. However, only this solitary man, indeed only this foreigner in an alien place, a Samaritan, can in fact be declared by Jesus to have been made well. He alone, of the ten, has learned what must be learned by the gift he has received, and only he can profit from that knowing, being taken back to the place he most desires — not Samaria, but to the bosom of Abraham, to be in the presence of God through the help of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

We have, all of us who have received the grace of baptism in Jesus Christ and been brought to a new and everlasting life in the Holy Spirit have received a far greater gift than a pair of magic slippers. We who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and called out of darkness into light, have professed a faith far richer, far deeper than the faith proclaimed by the Samaritan who was healed from his leprosy. Yet, do we we know it? Do we know of this gift we have received? Has it made, and does it make a difference?

This time of preparation for Christmas, this solemn fast of awaiting that the Church imposes on her faithful, does for us in profound ways what Glinda did for Dorothy in simple ways. If we are honest, we will confess that, even though the gift is ours, we really do not yet understand it. Our heart is not yet settled on Jesus Christ, and we do not see his gracious coming, in times past, today into our hearts, and on the Last Day, as we ought, namely, as the fulfilling of our heart's desire. This year, let us make our waiting for his Advent be a way to discover once again what Jesus Christ has done for us and continues to do for us. Let us stop on our way going about our daily tasks, and seeing what has been done for us, proclaim aloud to all who would hear that Jesus Christ is Lord, that he has made us whole, and we have no greater joy than to fall down before him and give thanks.

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