A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 15 May 2011 by Joram Calimutan. The scripture readings that day were 2 King 5:9–17 and Luke 17:11–19.
As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, he went along the border between Samaria and Galilee. He was going into a village when he was met by ten men suffering from a dreaded skin disease. They stood at a distance and shouted, "Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!" Jesus saw them and said to them, "Go and let the priests examine you."
On the way they were made clean.a When one of them saw that he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself to the ground at Jesus' feet and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. Jesus spoke up, "There were ten who were healed; where are the other nine? Why is this foreigner the only one who came back to give thanks to God?" And Jesus said to him, "Get up and go; your faith has made you well."
What does it mean to be a healer? In a context where majority of Asian people suffer from hunger, poverty, forced migration, environmental destruction and widening gap between rich and poor how does a Christian like us become a healer?
Let us pray:
O God of life and history as we collectively make reflections on your word we ask for your presence to enlighten and strengthen us. Let the words that comes from the mouth of your humble servant be your word that will guide and inspire us as we follow the example set before us by Jesus Christ. It is our prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Good morning my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. How are you? It is my fervent hope that all of you are in good health, with unwavering hope, embedded faith in God to bring witness to God’s liberating acts in the history of people.
It was in January 2005, when I first came to Hong Kong as an intern of CCA’s program on Decade to Overcome Violence. The following month was when I attended my first worship service in Kowloon Union Church. After serving one and half year in CCA I returned to the Philippines in May 2006 to serve as a pastor of a local church of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) for four consecutive years.
What is Asia Sunday?
Today we are celebrating Asia Sunday though this year Asia Sunday falls on June 5. It is being celebrated in a flexible way that is why here in KUC we are celebrating Asia Sunday today.
Asia Sunday has been celebrated every year since 1974. It has been celebrated in Asia and ecumenical organizations around the world on the Sunday before Pentecost. The observance is to commemorate the founding of the East Asia Christian Conference, renamed in 1973 as the Christian Conference of Asia.
The theme of Asia Sunday 2011 is “Make Us Healers, O God.” This is drawn from the CCA 13th General Assembly theme which will run for five years (2011-15), “Called to Prophesy, Reconcile and Heal.” The theme is a prayer for us to become healers even as we also pray to be healed of our brokenness and division in our personal and communal life, and in relation to the whole creation.
Concept of healing
To give light on today’s theme let us first be clear about the concept of healing based on the story of Prophet Elisha healing of Naaman’s dreaded skin disease. From the story we learn that Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, was highly respected and esteemed by the king of Syria, because through Naaman the Lord had given victory to the Syrian forces. He was a great soldier, but he suffered from a dreaded skin disease.
One day his servant girl who was an Israelite said; "I wish that my master could go to the prophet who lives in Samaria! He would cure him of his disease.”
To make the story short, Naaman went to Elisha’s house in Israel. Elisha sent a servant out to tell him to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan River, and he would be completely cured of his disease.
At first Naaman was very reluctant to do what Elisha was asking but he was convinced by his servant to just wash and be cured.
Indeed Naaman was cured from his dreaded skin disease and he returned to Elisha to pay back with his gift. But Elisha refused to accept such gift saying; "By the living Lord , whom I serve, I swear that I will not accept a gift."
It is now clear that this healing, based on the Bible as experienced of Naaman, is a gift offered to persons who are willing to follow what God is saying. Self-interest and economic status should not be allowed to intervene. Healing is a free gift given to a person and it should not be compensated with money and rewards. This gives a wider perspective and understanding on what should be the essence of being a person, and affirmation of God’s liberating acts.
In many hospitals that we have right now in order for a sick person to be healed it is necessary to have money to pay for doctors and other medical practitioners. It is no wonder that many poor people in Asia die without proper medical attentions. All too often, healing is a commodity rather than an instrument to restore a person’s essence and dignity.
We’ve been healed
Now the question is how to be a healer in the context where majority of Asian people suffer from hunger, poverty, forced migration, natural and manmade disaster, and widening gap between rich and poor.
The Gospel of Luke narrated the story of Jesus healing the ten men with dreaded skin disease. Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, he followed along the border between Samaria and Galilee. He was going into a village when he was met by ten men suffering from a dreaded skin disease. They stood at a distance and shouted, "Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!" Jesus saw them and said to them, "Go and let the priests examine you."
Jesus healed the sick, the leper, the blind, the deaf, the crippled, the bleeding women, the possessed, the marginalized and the downtrodden. Jesus attended to the needs of these people with neither hesitation nor reservation. Jesus did not care what the Pharisees and scribes might say against him; what was important for Jesus then were the justice, honesty, mercy, compassion and love that characterized the reign of God.
And in this particular example of Jesus’ healing ministry is the story of ten afflicted men. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he came across the ten men with dreaded skin diseases. And these ten men begged for compassion and for Jesus to heal them. Jesus heeded their cry, and said "Go and let the priests examine you."
These ten men were despised, isolated, and ostracized ‒ not only by the community to which they had belonged, but, and worse, even by their own family. They had been deprived of their sense of belonging.
Jesus not only healed their disease but, more importantly, they were brought back to the community to which they had formerly belonged, and had their human dignity restsored.
On the way they were made clean. When one of them saw that he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan.
But Jesus was saddened and asked "There were ten who were healed; where are the other nine? Why is this foreigner the only one who came back to give thanks to God?"
How does this story relate to us today? Probably every one of us here has experienced healing from physical, emotional and spiritual diseases. Many of us will consult the best doctors or medical practitioners or perhaps counselors to be healed. Many of us adhere to a healthy diet to maintain our strength and healthy bodies.
But after we’ve been healed from the disease, what happens then? Did it bring changes to you, or did you simply revert to your old self? Many who have been sick are aspiring to be healed just to go back from his/ her old self. As we say in Tagalog, Hindi nakapagtataka na sa muli nilang pagkakasakit mas malala pa ito kaysa dati. (No wonder when they get sick again it is worse than the previous one)
This is what actually happened in the case of the nine men. After they had been healed by Jesus, all they did was go back to their old selves‒apolitical, self-centered and unable to follow God’s will of justice, love and compassion. Unlike the Samaritan, who, after he experienced the healing, recognized the liberating acts of God through Jesus. He went back to Jesus to thank and follow him.
The Samaritan knew that following Jesus and acknowledging him as the Messiah was inviting persecution from the Pharisees and Scribes as well as the Roman authorities. However, because of what he experienced he was willing to take that risk, in the expectation that he too would become a healer like Jesus and his disciples.
To be a healer
The challenge for us today is to bring healing to those who are hurting. Hurting because they are wounded and wounded because they are broken physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Still, the challenge for us is to avoid rushing into the world with a “ready made”, “one size fits all” remedy, for the diverse ailments of those in Asia. In our present context, to become healer is to be ready to get out from our own ‘comfort zone’ that blinds the many believers to see the injustices, oppression and exploitation of the many poor people of Asia and of the world.
To become healer is to recognize that the majority of people in Asia is suffering from poverty, hunger, unemployment and government neglect ‒ the main reason why there are 53 million migrants from Asia Pacific region working in dirty, dangerous, demeaning and difficult type of jobs that most local people detest to do.
No wonder here in Hong Kong there are Filipino professionals working as domestic helpers, Indonesians whose numbers have increased drastically these past years, as well as people who come from Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Thailand among others who brave the exile just so they can provide a better life for their families and children back home.
To become healer is to act with compassion to many foreign domestic workers, asylum seekers and other victims of human rights violations, abuse, exploitation, discrimination, government neglect and xenophobia.
To become a healer is to engage in solidarity with the victims of abuses, exploitations, human rights violations and discrimination in their struggle for justices and human rights.
To become healer is to impose no conditions and reservation on the victims of violence and oppression when we help them to be healed and empowered. It is tantamount of saying that to be a healer is not to expect and accept rewards from the victims. Because in doing so, we would be no different from Gehazi the servant of Elisha. We will be cursed with Naaman’s dreaded skin disease and it will come to us and to our descendants forever.
As I reflect on the healing ministry of Jesus I cannot avoid remembering the twenty-one church people (pastors and lay leaders) from the Philippines who were victims of extra-judicial killings during the administration of ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Seventeen of them were my co-workers from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. They were assassinated and murdered because they tried to heal the wounds of people brought by the unjust and inhuman societal order, and to bring witness to God’s liberating acts in history.
Indeed, to become healers based in the manner of Jesus Christ is inviting danger and persecutions from persons who are infected with greed for power and wealth, lack of concern to others especially the poor, deprived and oppressed. To be healers is to be ready to face the crucifixion as Jesus suffered at the cross.
The only question that we should ask ourselves is: are we willing to be persecuted and crucified for the sake of healing the wounds of people victimized by unjust and inhuman societal order? If your answer is yes, indeed God has made you a healer.
In the name of our God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.