On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
One of my deepest fears is public ridicule. The thought of people seeing some embarrassing flaw or insufficiency in me, judging me for that, and then pointing and laughing (because in my fearful heart, that’s what always happens) strikes terror in my soul. I don’t think anyone enjoys that, but for me this fear hits the level of irrational.
Which is why December of 2011 was terrible month for me. It was that month that someone nominated me for the office of bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod.
As it turned out, I was among the group of “pre-nominees.” In order to remain on the list of actual nominees, these “pre-nominees” were asked to submit information about why you’d make a good bishop in an online form. This information would then be publicized throughout the entire Rocky Mountain Synod.
It wasn’t official, and wouldn’t be until I filled out a 3-page form telling why I thought I’d make a good bishop. That form would be would go to every pastor, deacon, and voting member in the RMS. That caused flashbacks from when I tried out for my Middle School basketball team. “Hahaha! Moss thinks he can play basketball!” That public ridicule is my version of hell. It was in front of me again. I knew, however, that I could avoid it by simply not filling out that online form.
Up until now all this had been someone else’s doing. I hadn’t sought this out; someone else had given my name to the synod office. But if I submitted that form, I was saying in a very public way that I was open to being considered for the office of bishop. I could already hear the sneers and the laughter echoing from all corners of the four states and part of a fifth that make up this synod. Junior High basketball terror again, only now swelled to a multiple state level.
“I can’t do this,” I told my family after several sleepless nights. “This whole thing simply terrifies me. I can’t sleep, I can’t think, I have knots in my stomach. I stewed on this for a couple more weeks.
But finally, if for no other reason than avoiding accusations of hypocrisy from my three adult children (I always told them that “fear doesn’t make our decisions), I quickly filled out the form and, with trembling hand and churning stomach, I hit the enter button and submitted it the last day it could be accepted. Then I went and threw up.
My name, picture, and hastily drafted information were thrust out into uncontrolled internet space where I could already hear the mocking and laughter. “Hahaha! Moss thinks he can be a bishop!” Every molecule of self-doubt and inadequacy was rising up. There was, from this point on, no place to hide.
“As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.'”
Because of their illness, these lepers couldn’t come near to Jesus to ask for help privately. Culturally and legally. They had to stand far away and yell, hoping Jesus might have mercy and help them. Their illness was then public knowledge; and so they were seen by everyone as insufficient, lacking, unworthy, laughable. Shouting in public, they were vulnerable to ridicule.
These ten lepers have to live this way–separated, isolated, humiliated—but at least they could do that privately. They were considered broken and flawed people, and asking for help from Jesus pushed them out into the public view. The broadcasting of their embarrassing insufficiency had to be terrifying.
We all want to hide our frailties and our failures. We all want to keep them private. Lots of us have a fear of publicly exposing all the ways we don’t measure up. We want to keep our inadequacies private, thank you.
What the lepers longed to remain private was now public. But it was when their flaws became known to Jesus, they were made clean. They were restored. They were loved. This is what Jesus does. He meets us in those areas of our lives that we desperately want to remain hidden and shows us mercy there. It’s in those parts we desperately want to keep private that Jesus comes and loves us with unconditional love.
Jesus knows the deepest, most humiliating pieces of our lives, meets us there, and loves us. Day by day, Jesus continues to save us. That’s how love works. That’s how mercy works. Jesus does his most loving and gracious redemption in those parts of our lives that we desperately hope no one ever finds out about.
I didn’t win the bishop election. I didn’t make it past the first couple of rounds. But something changed for me. In the midst of my terror, the risen Christ met me. It was through that experience that I saw the presence of God as love, grace, mercy, redemption, and—yes—healing.
In the gospel reading, one leper–a Samaritan–returns and falls at Jesus’ feet giving thanks to God. One recognized the gift of salvation he had received. One saw the presence of God in love, grace, mercy, redemption, and—yes—healing.
Our response to the presence of Christ’s love and grace is up to us. Our response won’t change how God feels about us. It won’t change our forgiveness. It won’t change our worth as children of God. Regardless, Jesus is present for you. Even now he’s meeting you in the hidden and secret parts of your life. He is cleansing you. He is making you whole. He is saving you. We can recognize the risen Christ’s love and mercy that’s there. And we can give thanks to God. Amen.