Can the Foreign Be Made Familiar?

As someone who  grew up in church, growing up, I didn’t really pay any attention to visitors/new members coming into the church. As I’ve grown up, I’ve always wondered about the journey of those who didn’t/don’t grow up in the church and how they come to know God for themselves. Even more than their journey, I ponder the plan and the program of the church to make the foreign, familiar for those who have no acquaintance/exposure to relationship with God. Evangelizing can be an effective measure in awakening an interest but how do we/how does the church help establish the initiation of relationship for whom the relationship/church/community fellowship is foreign?

Check out the scripture reference for this post, here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2017%3A11-19&version=NRSV;MSG;NIV;NET

Luke 17: 11-19 captures the telling of Jesus’ cleansing of ten lepers. These lepers approach Jesus, aware of His ability, and ask Him to have mercy on them. Jesus replies to their request with instructions to show themselves to the priests. As these lepers obeyed the instruction, they were made clean of their leprosy. Seemingly, the focus of the text is centered on one of the lepers, who upon realizing he was cleansed, turned back to thank God. Interestingly enough, it is also stated that this thankful, former leper was a Samaritan. Jesus questions the leper about the other nine who were also healed. Jesus asks him where they were. Jesus acknowledges the culture difference of the leper before Him and dismisses him, saying, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well” in verse 19.

The community in which the lepers found themselves must have been one that communicated Jesus. Once people had leprosy, they were ostracized and were outcasts for a customary time period before they were allowed to enter the presence of a priest who would declare them as cleansed. While we don’t know whether or not the nine lepers who didn’t turn back to thank God were un-church’ed’  or not, we do know that they were not Samaritans. I say that to center in on the concept of community. Regardless of these lepers/former lepers status as church members, we can suspect that someone, somewhere had mentioned Jesus, to them; for they approached Him and sought out mercy. Even while keeping their distance, they decided to come before Him. They knew something about Him.

They heard about Him and knew that they could be made clean if they asked Him. Verse 14 expresses that their obedience, to His instructions, results in the realization of their expectation. They follow His instructions to go show themselves to the priests and as they went, they were cleansed. They all got what they asked for. What is required for the story to continue? Verses 15-19, suggests that moving beyond request to relationship grants us wellness beyond being cleansed. I find the significance of relationship in this thankful and former leper’s response. Within the immediate aforementioned verses, we find the leper, once realizing he has been cleansed, turning back to praise God and prostrating himself before Jesus in thanksgiving. This is striking to me because although Jesus is God incarnate, this leper gives praise to God in a loud voice and prostrates himself before Jesus. In verse 12, all of the lepers approach Jesus, but after being cleansed, this one – former leper, praises God and prostrates himself at Jesus’s feet and thanks Him. I’ll just read into the text that something happened during the/his process of realizing he had been cleansed, by Jesus.

It is noted by Jesus, that the only returning leper is a Samaritan. Jesus poses a question, He asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?  Verse 14 states that as they went to show themselves to the priests, that they were made clean. I raise the question, here, did any of them ever make it to the priests? I’ve always been told that being somewhat/half obedient isn’t obedience at all – they were instructed to go show themselves to the priests. The process by which we profess differs from the process through which we proclaim God as our Lord and Savior and those differ for us all.

I’ve heard this text preached and the emphasis given to the expression of thanksgiving given by the one leper. What, then, of the other nine & why was no response offered to Jesus about where they were? Jesus presses on after asking where they were, to ask, ‘was none of them found…’ in verse 18. Perhaps, Jesus was asking God and not the cleansed man before Him. Jesus asks, “was none of them found…to return…”. A small portion of the lyrics to, Amazing Grace, states, “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” – could it be that the other nine were cleansed of their leprosy (whatever caused them to be outcasts) but still lost? The answer to Jesus’ question was unknown. Where were they, the other nine? How well does the church offer what’s familiar to it, to the foreigners of the faith? Is the church seeking to truly make disciples by becoming involved in the lives of those who come in, the church, so that they don’t leave the same? Can the other nine lepers ever be found, by way of the love of the church, to return and give praise to God?

The text closes with Jesus telling the cleansed man to get up, go on his way and that his faith has made him well. I believe the foreign can be made familiar through a personal encounter with Jesus, as is displayed by the one leper that turned back to give thanks. The one leper went from keeping his distance, when approaching Jesus, to prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet and thanking Him. How does that happen? Here’s why I think relationship is beyond request. The personal encounter, the one leper had, with Jesus took place after he was already cleansed. It wasn’t until after he prostrated himself and offered thanksgiving in His presence, that his faith was affirmed as making him well. Let’s endeavor, as the church, to not treat foreigners as outcasts but to welcome them in and have them experience the power of the presence of God.

As always – Stay blessed, a blessing & encouraged.

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