Greetings, SBT Readers!
A dreadful madness seems to be overtaking humanity. The kidnapping and murder of a Sikh family in California by a disgruntled former employee is one such symptom of this madness. Photos of a smiling family, the youngest of whom was an infant of eight months old, will haunt me forever. Further from home, the massacre at a nursery in Thailand that left 37 dead, mostly children, is again "shocking beyond belief." The perpetrator--- a former police officer-- was under stress regarding an upcoming court appearance and possibly high on methamphetamine. These are just two tragic examples of how ill-quipped society is to deal with the stresses of the modern world. The fast pace of life, economic anxiety, global warming, fear of nuclear war and ease of access to weapons have all been compounded by the Covid-19 epidemic. In Chicago, lawlessness is the law of the land, with youth being responsible for most looting, car jackings, armed robberies and worse. Other cities are also experiencing mayhem but our leaders seem to be incapable of coming up with solutions. That may be because they, too, are overwhelmed.
Perhaps rather than focusing on how to prevent atrocities and punish perpetrators what we need to do is to establish "humanizing" centers that offer immersion in the written, visual, auditory and kinetic arts, along with meditation, intergenerational social interaction, workshops on spirituality, and so forth. At one time, religion served this purpose; perhaps it is time for leaders from all faiths and from all political persuasions to invest in humanity in ways that are intentional, creative and effective.
Link to the Sunday Readings
Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
traveling through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance and, raising their voices, said,
"Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"
When he saw them, he said,
"Go show yourselves to the priests."
As they were going they were cleansed.
One of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
"Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has only this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"
Then Jesus said to him, "Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you."
It is customary these days to distinguish between physical afflictions and core identity. For example, instead of defining someone as a diabetic, we would say that "X has diabetes": or instead of describing someone as "lame," it is more acceptable to say that he or she has mobility issues. While such precision in word choices may sound pedantic or excessively "politically correct," it does serve to heighten our awareness that there is more to a person than ailments. At the same time, however, afflictions can define one's experience of life. In the case of the ten people with leprosy whom Jesus encounters on his way to Jerusalem, their whole world has been disfigured. Not only are they isolated from friends, family and neighbors, but they can no longer participate in work, community events, communal prayer or family celebrations; they can no longer dream because life has become a living hell. Most likely, they live in caves or huts, far from residential areas; most likely, they have to scavenge for food or rely on whatever provisions the village folk leave for them. Moreover, they carry the stigma of a disease so dreaded that everyone regards it as a punishment from God. Only a miracle can save them.
Somehow, the ten have heard of Jesus and recognize him from afar. Their cry, "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!" is loud enough that he can hear and respond. Interestingly, all ten have faith in his healing abilities, for when he says, "Go, show yourselves to the priests," they do so. This means that all ten head towards the religious authorities who can declare them disease-free, thereby allowing them to re-enter the world they left behind; this, of course, is before they are healed. They follow Jesus' instructions even though their journey to the priests will take them right back into the village from where they have been exiled.
All ten have remarkable faith but only one, as we know, returns to thank Jesus. The narrative, however, is more than a narrative of gratitude; quintessentially, it is still a story of faith. Let me explain. While the ten all cry out to Jesus to heal them, their cry is based on his reputation as a healer -- as an itinerant magician, if you will. Jesus "works his magic" and nine resume their lives without looking back or remembering either their disease or who has healed them. The Samaritan, however, has an "epiphany moment." So awesome is his experience of healing that he forgets Jesus' directions to go to the priests, but instead gives glory to God -- although, as Jesus points out, he is a "foreigner," the implication being that the other nine are probably Jewish. What this suggests is that for the nine, observing rituals of purification is more important than honoring God while for the Samaritan-- a despised "pagan"-- the opposite holds true. Faith, then, goes beyond a belief in miracles and is grounded in relationship with God. A miracle can astound us, impress us, and allow the impossible to happen, but it remains "mere magic" if we fail to see God's saving power in the event. Magic bends reality to our will, to our egos, to what we desire, to what we long for; true miracles awaken the heart, transform the recipient and reveal God's glory. The Samaritan in this story does not need to seek the priests' certification of healing; he already has God's!