Today I want to put two things together that might seem an odd match: healing and stewardship.
How do they fit together? Well, let’s turn to our gospel story from Luke and see what we can find out.
We read of ten lepers who band together and seek healing from Jesus.
The number ten in the Bible signifies completeness—think of the ten plagues of Egypt, the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb on the tenth day of the month, or the Ten Commandments.
So we could read the ten lepers as representing a complete picture of humankind.
That’s a bit jarring, isn’t it?
Even today, we would think of lepers as “the other,” someone different than we are.
We know that leprosy in the Bible could represent any number of different medical conditions, but these people were ostracized from society, driven out and forced to live in sub-standard, isolated conditions.
When we think of lepers in the Bible, we are likely to think, “Those poor people. That’s awful.”
We are not so likely to think, “That’s me. I’m a leper. I need healing.”
But that’s exactly where I want us to go.
Let’s think about isolation and alienation.
The hard fact is, our resources or lack thereof can and do isolate us from people who are not like us.
As much as we would like to believe that America is a country where we live out the principle that all people are created equal, we actually live in an incredibly stratified society.
We are isolated and strictly divided by economic class in this nation.
Poor people, middle class people, and wealthy people do not live together. We are segregated according to our resources.
That is a very sad truth.
That is something from which we need healing, I think we could agree.
And that underlying isolation that is a function of our class-based society is manifest in other ways as well.
Anything that marks us as different from the majority can put us in a metaphorical leper colony.
Have you ever been the only person of your profession, ethnicity, or gender in a group of people?
Have you ever been made to feel less-than because of your age or level of physical ability or marital status?
We’ve all experienced the isolation and pain of the lepers. We’re probably closer to understanding them than we think.
And what is their solution?
They cry out to Jesus for healing.
This is important, because we can respond with a number of wrong-headed approaches to isolation.
We can go with a problem-solving approach that often does nothing but treat surface symptoms rather than underlying causes.
We can try the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” approach where we try to fix our feelings of loneliness from God and one another by busyness or materialism.
But none of those things will work.
We need healing directly from Jesus.
We need to bring ourselves to him and confess the truth, that we are consumed by fear and smallness and an atmosphere of scarcity so pervasive we don’t even see how it affects us.
We are always afraid that we will not have enough—enough money, enough time, enough power, enough love.
This mentality of scarcity dominates our lives and controls our actions.
But notice how Jesus responds to the ten lepers.
He heals every single one of them, instantly, with no strings attached.
He does not ask them to pass an orthodoxy test or promise to turn from sin or even go forth and share the Good News with others.
He simply heals them, and tells them to go show themselves to the priests.
And here the band of ten breaks up.
Here the complete group becomes fractured, because one of them makes a rogue decision.
He turns back to thank Jesus for this incredible miracle.
“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice,” Luke says. “He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.”
It’s the outsider among the outsiders who returns with gratitude.
And because he turns back to thank Jesus, his gratitude sparks a deeper healing.
The other lepers are healed of leprosy—their immediate problem is solved.
But listen to what Jesus says to the tenth man who returns in gratitude: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
He is not just relieved of one condition, his leprosy.
His whole self, body, mind, and soul, is made well, brought to a full state of flourishing.
Now I want to make a hard turn here and ask you to consider something interesting.
This group of ten lepers, who in that number ten, represents completeness: think of that group as your entire life, your entire range of resources and blessings.
There were ten, and one came back to thank Jesus.
That is a tithe, and the tithe is a very important concept in the Bible.
A tithe of the community in need of healing was returned to Jesus in thanks.
And that tithe brought forth an even deeper healing and wellness from Jesus.
I want to say that one more time.
A tithe of the community in need of healing was returned to Jesus in thanks. And that tithe brought forth an even deeper healing and wellness from Jesus.
That is a fascinating idea when we start to think about our own stewardship, isn’t it?
I told you at the beginning that we don’t often speak of stewardship and healing in the same breath.
But I think we should. Because I think that when we allow our dominant mentality of scarcity to rule our lives, we are in need of healing.
When we live our lives in fear of never having enough, grasping money and power and love to ourselves with clenched fists and eyes screwed shut, we isolate and alienate ourselves every bit as much as any leper colony.
So what is our solution? We can’t solve our problem ourselves.
We need to turn to Jesus with open minds and hearts and say, “Jesus, I know you’ve blessed me so abundantly, but I’ll be honest with you, I struggle to share my blessings freely with others. It’s hard for me to let go of what I have, because I tend to think that I earned it, rather than realizing that everything in my life, down to the molecules of oxygen I breathe in moment by moment, are a gift from you. And so, Jesus, I bring myself to you, and I ask you for healing.”
We know from our story that Jesus is always pouring out healing onto us, whenever we’re ready to truly let down our guard enough to receive it.
And he gives it with no strings attached.
No orthodoxy test, no needling you on the fine points of the Nicene Creed you’d prefer to remain a bit vague about, no examination of your record on fulfilling your baptismal vows.
No demand of repentance from your sins, and not even any promise to share the Good News with others.
Jesus gives knowing he probably will not be thanked, because that is who he is.
He can’t not give to us, because his very nature is love poured out onto us.
Jesus does not expect to be thanked, but we can be that tenth leper if we want to.
We can break away from the vast majority of humanity and come to Jesus and thank him from the bottom of our hearts.
We can be the tithe, the one out of ten, who returns to him with thanks.
And one important way we do that is with the traditional concept of tithe, giving ten percent of our income to support our church, the gathered Body of Christ in this place.
And here’s what I think.
Being the tithe is what makes giving a tithe a path to deeper healing and wellness for ourselves and for the world.
See what I’m saying? A literal financial tithe given out of habit or pride or duty may cure us of leprosy, but it won’t make us whole.
Being a tithe is a much deeper and more challenging call.
Being the tithe means returning our whole selves to Jesus in thanksgiving.
And we can do that in so many ways.
We can start, of course, with our financial tithe, giving ten percent of our income to support the church.
But we can also tithe our time, tithe our attention, tithe our gifts and skills, tithe our material goods—any blessing we have can be returned to Jesus with thanks.
And then we start to notice something.
We stop carefully parceling out ten percent for God, and ninety percent for me.
At the beginning, as we’re trying to start loosening our death grip on everything we value and think keeps us safe, we’re going to do the math religiously.
But as we start to undergo the transformation from giving a tithe to being the tithe, the numbers start to be less and less important to us.
So you gave twenty-five percent of your time to service this week, instead of ten.
We see a need and give money and goods and love and the giving number creeps up.
And rather than a source of toxic pride, we probably stop calculating and even noticing the percentages any more.
That is when we move from giving a tithe to being the tithe, being the one out of ten who gives our whole self out of gratitude.
Because whether we realize it or not, we long for that deeper healing.
We know that just getting rid of our leprosy, just getting rid of one problem and yet living without gratitude, keeps us imprisoned.
We ache to be made whole, and that deeper healing comes when we step out in faith and say, “Yes, Jesus, I want to give you my whole self, and no longer be chained by the fear of scarcity. Give me freedom from the small calculations of parceling out my love by percentage.”
That leap of faith is the path to healing and freedom, the path to the place where we’re able to hold all of our blessings lightly—money, material things, time, talent, and treasure of all kinds.
We hold them lightly and give them freely because we know at our deepest level that Jesus is our source, who sustains us at all times and in all places.
And our call in life is to return ourselves and all we have to him with profound thanksgiving for his healing love.
That is being the tithe, and when we commit ourselves to that call, we too will hear Jesus say to us, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
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