Getting Well

Luke 17:11–19, preached by Rev. Jane McBride on October 09, 2022

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson is one of my favorite picture books. Here’s how it starts:

It was a perfect summer until Jeremy Ross moved in right next door to my best friend Stanley. I did not like Jeremy. He had a party and I wasn’t even invited. But my best friend Stanley was. I never had an enemy until Jeremy moved into the neighborhood. Dad told me that when he was my age, he had enemies, too. But he knew of a way to get rid of them. Dad pulled a worn-out scrap of paper from a recipe book. “Enemy Pie,” he said, satisfied. You may be wondering what exactly is in Enemy Pie. Dad said the recipe was so secret, he couldn’t even tell me. I begged him to tell me something—anything. “I will tell you this, Tom,” he said to me. “Enemy Pie is the fastest known way to get rid of enemies.”

Theodore and Sarah, thank you for thinking so long and hard about our story for today. I think the Bible stories that are a bit frustrating and puzzling are often the ones that teach us the most in the end. You two noticed things I never would have noticed on my own. Like how the lepers’ limbs re-grew so fast and how uncomfortable that must have been. Or that it’s easy to confuse a leper with a leopard. You asked why it’s important that the one who returned to Jesus was a Samaritan. Your question made me think of Enemy Pie. Probably everyone in the story except the Samaritan was Jewish. And Jews and Samaritan were enemies. They were also kind of like family. They had the same ancestors, the same God, and the same Bible. But they disagreed about what place was most holy, about where people should worship God—on the temple mountain in Jerusalem or another mountain called Mt. Gerizim?

Which brings me to your question about the priests. Why send the lepers to the priests? Were they like doctors? Well, as you know, in those days lepers had to live far away from other people because people thought leprosy was contagious. They had to shout or ring bells to warn people to stay away. They weren’t included in the community. They were treated as “different” or “other” like the kid in the poem who had a name no one could pronounce and who ate food that was strange to the other kids. The job of the priests was to be the ones who would examine the men to see whether the leprosy was gone, and to say if they could come out of isolation and join the community again. So it made sense for the lepers who were Jewish to go and see them. But not for the Samaritan since he was their enemy. He wouldn’t even be welcome in the temple. 

As you mentioned, Sarah, in ancient times, illnesses of all kinds were thought of as a sign of a person’s sin and separation from God. Jesus, however, challenged that view. He didn’t see illness as a punishment from God. And he didn’t think that the isolation of the lepers affected only them. He saw their situation as a sign that the whole community needed healing. And he also refused to treat Samaritans as enemies. He knew that God accepts people of all religions and cultures. Why didn’t Jesus heal the ten men before he sent them to the priests? Perhaps his main concern was to call for their restoration to the community, and he was making the point that the healing of their skin disease ought to be secondary to their acceptance as people. Or maybe asking them to take the initiative to get up and go see the priests was his way of acknowledging that healing is not something that is done to us but something that we play a role in claiming.

It seems to me that Jesus’ response to the Samaritan’s return is less about criticizing the other nine than it is about critiquing the attitude of those who hate and exclude Samaritans. “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?” In other words, a Samaritan can be a model of faith, even while remaining a Samaritan. A Samaritan can be fully well, in body and in belonging. The community of God’s people can include, love, and respect a Samaritan. And in fact, the community is not complete without Samaritans. A community that includes lepers, Samaritans, and other folks who have been marginalized will learn from listening to them, will be changed for the better by their presence. Jesus told the man, “Your faith has made you well.” Here, again, we get a glimpse of how Jesus thinks of faith—as a divine-human collaboration that makes wellness possible. 

Getting back to Enemy Pie, Tom’s dad got to work in the kitchen while Tom played outside. Tom gathered up some stuff he thought might go in the pie—earthworms and rocks—but his dad gave them back. Tom thought the pie would be awful, but it smelled and looked delicious. He fantasized about what the pie would do to his enemy—make his hair fall out? Make his breath stinky? Then Tom’s dad told him the plan. His dad said:

“In order for it to work, you need to spend a day with your enemy. Even worse, you have to be nice to him. It’s not easy. But that’s the only way that Enemy Pie can work. Are you sure you want to do this?”

I think you can see where this is going. The playdate, the supper and wonderful the pie for dessert, were not designed to reinforce Tom’s hatred, or to harm Jeremy. Their aim was to heal a hurt, to mend a rift, to turn an enemy into a friend.

This year, I will be meeting regularly with a circle of clergy from around the country who serve historically white settler congregations. All of these colleagues and their congregations are engaged in the work of reparations and all of us want to be held accountable as we deepen and strengthen this practice. Our first session, this past week, was led by Melvin Bray, who has developed a twelve-step “Truth and Transformation” model that treats inequity in all its forms as a social addiction, an addiction to being on top.[1] He pointed out that our society sees competition, the pursuit of being the best and having the most, as simply the natural order of things. In his presentation, Bray emphasized that systemic inequity does not ever begin with prejudice or hatred. Inequity begins when someone oppresses someone else for profit or gain. And then they make an enemy out of that person in order to rationalize their actions. This is also the main point Ibrahim Kendi makes in his book How to be an Anti-Racist. Bray reminded us: we can’t change inequitable outcomes by stopping the hate, by befriending each other. The practice of equity is needed as well.

Faith makes us well, Jesus teaches us, and wellness is a shared experience. Faith sees those society marginalizes as people with dignity, as people who are an important part of the community. Faith is the divine-human collaboration that heals. Faith provokes joyous thanksgiving and heartfelt praise. Faith makes friends out of enemies, for sure. But faith also holds us accountable for the part we each play in creating and justifying unfair conditions. Faith teaches us to value being ourselves instead of being the best and having enough instead of having the most. Faith uses power with equity, creating a community that is well and whole. Amen.