Luke 17: 11-19
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate being in this position, being told I have to stay in this one spot, standing in this spotlight. I feel trapped and boxed in, just as you just saw in the video, and feels so out of character for me. I’d rather move around, be free, rather than being stuck here. Yet, this is what I was told and so I’m going to stay here, despite feeling uncomfortable and out of sorts. I apologize ahead of time if I just start kicking things off the stage, but for me, being trapped is just not a good feeling. Here we are though, all, boxed in while boxing others out and all for our own comfort despite making us feel small. Comfortable so I don’t have to face my own fears of what lies beyond this box that others have tried to put me in, but even worse, that I’ve allowed myself to be in.
It’s not much different than the lepers in today’s gospel reading that we always hear on Thanksgiving. It seems like a rather odd gospel for Thanksgiving but here it is. This whole section of Luke’s gospel is about the boxes, the social expectations, that the lepers, and even worse, the Samaritans were put in by others. Little by little Jesus has been leading his disciples to a place where they become free of the labels and boxes that have consumed their lives. The worst part for the lepers, and a Samaritan nonetheless, is that they were thrust into these boxes. They weren’t given much choice in their time. They were automatically excluded from civil society. It makes you question, who really was in the box in the first place? But that was the social expectation of the time. Everyone stayed in their boxes and if you wanted to get yourself in trouble, like Jesus seems to, all you needed to do was to begin to break down the barriers that separated one from another. You become a threat to the status quo and to the social norms identified by the community. It’s not just an individual issue Jesus is confronting. It’s for the well-being of the entire community that separates themselves from their own humanity all for the sake of their boxes, feeling comfortable regardless of how small it feels when trapped within them.
Maybe Paul says it best though in the second reading when he reminds them that God doesn’t make garbage, doesn’t make people who are lacking or in some sense imperfect. God has created us all in such a way that go way beyond the boxes we’ve created for ourselves, in order to fit in and feel comfortable. Ironically, it’s often because of the boxes we create, thinking ourselves comfortable, that cause our greatest fears and suffering. It is the boxes that not only close us off to ourselves but also keep others out, others that very well can relate to our own experience. We just don’t want to see that. We want to see what we see and nothing else. We want to be the measuring stick because that’s what has often been done to us and we’ll do anything to protect these boxes in order to maintain our sense of belonging and fitting in, even if it means excluding others.
There is still this issue of giving thanks that we hear in the Gospel and the reason why we are here this week celebrating this liturgy and the enormous amount of food that you’ve collected. It appears on the surface that Jesus seems rather superficial, that he’s looking for a pat on the back for doing what was right in the first place, as if he was waiting for them to return to bask in the glory, saying, “Look what I’ve done!” Well, I’m not sure I’d want to believe in a God like that, a God caught up in such superficiality. As a matter of fact, if that’s the reason why we have all this food up here today and that we gather in this space for Thanksgiving, well, we’ve really missed the point. If that’s what Jesus was about with this leprous Samaritan, we’ve also missed the point on him. That’s more us than it is Jesus. It’s us that like to feel good about doing what we should have done in the first place! Here’s the thing about this one who was healed of his leprosy. Something happened in that initial encounter with Jesus, as if he were touched in a deeply profound way within his own heart that reminded him that there was more to this Jesus person he met and encountered. It was if the Christ in him was speaking to the Christ and he was forever changed. In that very moment, he was healed of more than just his physical illness, he was healed of all the labels that had defined him and for the first time he comes to accept that there’s more to him than all of it. This is the reason to give thanks and why he returns. He returns to the source of his life while the other nine go back to once again have the community tell them what box in which they belong. They may have been physically healed but it literally only ran “skin deep”.
The transformation Jesus demands of the community goes beyond the superficial, pat on the back for doing what was right in the first place. It’s breaking down the boxes and stepping out into the darkness as I do here to see the other as Christ. I can assure you that there are people in this gathering today who are probably just as much in need of this food here as the people in Peru. Yet, because of our ability to separate and dehumanize people, enhanced by our technology, we miss it. We don’t see the suffering of the other, especially if they don’t fall within our own social norm and expectation. It’s why Jesus struggled so much with the people as well as the political and religious authorities. They had become so blinded by their own systems of belonging and the suffering it imposed upon others that they would no longer see them as human beings in need. They saw them by their disease. Thousands of years later it hasn’t changed much. We have our black box. We have our white box. We have our brown box. We have our jock box. We have our nerd box. We have our theater box. We have our boxes around sexuality. We have all these boxes that minimize us from who we really are and the worst part, we grow to accept that that’s the norm, that that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Jesus turns it on its head.
It’s been very hard for me to just stay in this space, boxed in up here and feeling trapped. I don’t feel free. I feel anxious and nervous, all to protect this box that I’ve agreed to be thrust into. Unfortunately, that’s what we do to ourselves and to others. We are the Samaritans but we’re also the Jewish followers, all excluding for one reason or another, but more often than not out of fear. As we gather for this Thanksgiving celebration we have a great deal to be grateful for and to give thanks for in our lives. It’s not about patting ourselves on the back for doing what was right in the first place. It’s stepping beyond the boxes to those in need that break them down and change our hearts. In this moment of encounter through video, through the Word, and at this altar, the Christ in us speaks to the Christ and our lives are changed forever, where we no longer need to live our lives boxed in. Just think how much bigger our lives and hearts would be if we allowed the boxes and labels to be stripped of us. Just think about how much better our world would be. Just think about how much better this school would be. That’s what was feared the most and yet what Jesus desired the most. It’s time to step out into what feels and even looks like darkness, and see each other for who we really are, then, come, and give thanks.