A reflection on the readings for Proper 23 Year C: Jeremiah 29:1,4-7; Psalm 66:1-11; Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19 - by The Rev. Camille Hegg
The reading from Jeremiah reminds me that for so long women did not have choices in whom they married. I’ll give Jeremiah credit: he was trying to foster hope and rebuilding of the Hebrews during the time of exile. But it’s all up to the men to choose wives for themselves to have sons; choose wives for their sons; and give their daughters in marriage.
Then, in Luke Jesus speaks to lepers, at least one of whom was a Samaritan. Presumably the others were Jews because he told them all to go to the priest to show themselves, as was Jewish law. I put these two together and now will put into a context that came back to me all over again.
It was 36 or so years ago. I was going through the discernment process for ordination to the priesthood. It was a strenuous process which lasted a year. In the “urban quarter” the entire twelve of us (only two women) were encouraged to focus on inner city issues. Among other things we were expected to visit singles, gay and lesbian bars and then reflect on the experience. Long story short, I had two ‘epiphanies’ in the lesbian bar. First, I was welcomed there just because I was a woman. I had only been in any kind of bar or social function with a man. Secondly, the place was raided that night and the bartender told me that happens almost every Saturday night. “Harassment,” I said to myself.
Let me be clear: I had processed this first visit to a gay or lesbian bar in the following way: I believe what Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.” Therefore, if the truth is that I can’t minister to homosexual persons because I am afraid or prejudiced, I need to know it. Further, if one is homosexual how much better for all of society that they be able to live freely, truthfully and safely. With a lot of anxiety my friend and I knocked on the door; and were welcomed. All of my stereotypes vanished during those moments of processing, anxiety, and welcoming of me because I am female.
Lepers of societies, who are they? Women, still, not welcomed, treated as property, abused by employers, governments, male partners and some women; gays; lesbians; blacks; Muslims; Jews; the poor; the ill; foreigners; immigrants; the Other. Whoever is in power seems to abuse, exclude or ignore in order to maintain their power.
And yet, Jesus, over and over, went to the powerless and treated them with respect and dignity. He broke through barriers and called into question authorities and rules which dehumanize another person. In so doing he healed them. Someone has to make the first move to begin to break those barriers. In this story it is they, the lepers who make the overture to Jesus. Jesus took them seriously. Surely that should be my role, the church’s role.
In the Kingdom of God outsiders are welcome. However, neither I nor the church should be the one to wait for the “outsiders” to make the first move. But both I and the church should be the first to listen to those who plea for recognition, healing and health.
Epiphanies are in store for all of us when we seek truth, justice and healing for ourselves and others.