Faith that Makes You Whole

Luke 17:11-19

Most of Jesus’s story about healing the ten lepers is easy to understand. But it’s the last line of the story that has always been confusing for me. Jesus said to the foreigner, “Your faith has made you whole.”

I thought all ten were made well. Why does his faith make him more whole than the others?

I’m not sure if I’ve figured it out or not but I think it has to do with the fact that there are two different Greek words used. All of the lepers were healed, or cleansed (katharizō) of their leprosy. But Jesus said the Samaritan was made whole (sōzō). In most other places in the Bible, sōzō  is translated “saved.” Your faith has saved you.

photo by Stephanie Lynn HindsSo what’s the difference between being cleansed and being saved?

I’m going to retell the story as it might apply to October, 2014.

Ten mid-level managers of a private company that does subcontracting work for the federal government have health issues. As supervisors paid on a salary basis, they are constantly under pressure to meet deadlines. If it takes working longer to get the job done—and it always does—they put in many more hours. The stress to their bodies and minds has taken its toll. High blood pressure, headaches and migraines, restless sleep at night from the pressure to do better than last month. They’re bad-tempered and unsympathetic. The people they supervise don’t like them. They are excluded from having any fun with people who know how to enjoy life.

One day the big boss walks in and says, “I can see that your work schedule is impacting your performance on the job as well as your health. I’m going to upgrade the manufacturing equipment and that will take two weeks. Because I’m still paying you during this shutdown, I want you to get out of town and help out a friend of mine who has a camp in the Rockies.” So the ten highly frazzled managers go to the Rocky Mountains for some rest, recreation, and community service.

In the mornings they do some painting and basic cleaning at a children’s camp. In the afternoon, they hike. They raft. They ride horses. They breathe air far from the hydrocarbon-filled spaces around the city. They take pictures of the beauty and the glory of the creation – the mountain peaks, the blue skies. Every night they gaze up into the endlessly clear, star-filled skies.

And along the way, their blood pressures begin to drop. Their headaches go away. They sleep like babies at night. They are cleansed and it feels good.

Then they go home and return to life as usual, the way they always have done it.

Except for one, and he’s an Iranian, who says, “What an awesome world my God has made! And I’ve taken so little time to appreciate it.” When he gets home, he volunteers at a neighborhood center. He sets up containers at home to separate out the clear plastics from aluminum cans from recyclable paper. He decides he’ll ride his bicycle to work (4-5 miles away) when the weather permits. He carries a couple of trash bags to pick up litter on the road. And he starts making plans to add some solar panels to his home.

And the One who cleansed him said, “Didn’t I cleanse ten? Where are the other nine? Was none of them except this foreigner awakened by what they saw and experienced that they might actually respond in gratitude?” And he said to him, “Go on your way. Your faith has made you whole—your faith has saved you.”

Everyone’s blood pressure went down. Everyone’s headaches disappeared. They all slept at night. Ten were cleansed but only the foreigner…the one outside the “chosen” religion, became a whole, mature, life-appreciating person.

I’ve written a lot about Jesus proclaiming, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom is within your reach. I think being saved is also “at hand.”

To be saved is more than the promise of a better life when you’re dead. The meaning of the Greek word saved is: to be delivered or rescued from a current difficulty…in the present. End-times religion has made the kingdom, eternal life, and salvation all about life after death.

Being saved is being delivered from the absence of life today so that you can experience the things of the kingdom—the peace, joy, hope, beauty, goodness, etc., in all that surrounds you today. To be saved is to be rescued from your anger, your frustration, your impatience, your boredom, your greed, your insecurity—today.

The key to being saved from thinking you need more money in your bank account or more toys in your toy barn to enjoy life is faith. Faith that God will provide the true riches of peace and joy, even if you don’t add four more hours onto your work day and two hundred more dollars to your wallet. Faith that if you do your work well, like the birds of the air finding food each day, your heavenly Father will take care of you.

Faith that brings wholeness (salvation) is trusting that the true riches promised by God are better than those the world promotes—power, prestige, material possessions.

This is where salvation is truly a choice. You must choose to trust that the way of Jesus leads to the abundant life rather than the way of greed and capitalism. The way of Jesus is compassion, improving life for others, not selfishly storing up treasures that moths and rust can destroy.

And when you let yourself take a break, demonstrating your faith that God can control the world for a week or two, who will you thank for watching over you? And what will that gratitude look like?

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