What is a Good Life?

Posted: October 5, 2022 in Uncategorized

What is a Good Life?

Rex Hunt the Australian cleric I often quote from tells a story in a sermon on our topic a few years back. The story goes like this and you will no doubt have heard such stories often;

A man in his early 30s was diagnosed with brain cancer. He had a wife and young children and a promising career. Suddenly all of that was swept away from him. He could barely talk or walk. He was in constant agony. His friends and his family, except for his wife and mother, avoided him. The doctors shook their head. It was too bad. He was a nice bloke and deserved a longer life. But there was nothing they could. Finally, he went to a famous surgeon who offered to operate on him, even though everyone else said the tumour was inoperable. The surgeon warned the patient could very well die during the operation, though he (the surgeon) was pretty sure he would survive and return to health. They decided to take the risk. After nine hours of surgery, the surgeon came into the waiting room, grinned at the man’s wife and said, “Got it!” The man recovered and went on to a happy and successful life. Twenty years later the surgeon died. “We should go to the funeral,” the man’s wife said. “I’d like to,” her husband replied. “But it’s on the weekend and I have an important golf tournament.”  (Adapted/Andrew Greeley.web site, 2004)

Traditionally the story by Luke of the Ten healed lepers/outcasts, is used as an object lesson for ‘thankfulness’. Very much like the story of the man with a brain tumour. But what if it wasn’t about thankfulness? What if it was about the new Jerusalem or the new Kingdom of God or the realm of God that Jesus was keen to challenge people with its concept. What if the tenth Leper is a symbol of this new realm this new way of being that Jesus was on about? Maybe this story has some hidden codes within it and we need to break them. Perhaps. Allowing for some general problems with Luke’s lack of geographic knowledge, ten ‘lepers’ spotted Jesus from the distance they were forced to keep between themselves and other people. They called out to him, presumably in desperation, for there was little to no hope for lepers, for the unclean, in those days. Jesus also kept his distance and did nothing. But Luke says he told them to go and show themselves to the priests. And as they rushed off, they were made whole. At that point one of them, a Samaritan, a foreigner, stopped in his tracks. Instead of going to the priests and giving thanks in the ‘traditional’ way, as set down in the rules and regulations, turned back.

He (we presume it was a ‘he’) didn’t do what was expected. He didn’t do what Jesus asked him to do. He didn’t follow the others, with whom he had probably lived for years. Instead, he stood alone ‘against the stream’ and followed his heart And in search of this code we note the words Luke’s Jesus says: your faith has made you whole. Not my faith has made you whole! Nor is it God has made you whole! The healing presumedly emanated from within the power of the outcast. All the other nine (and we read: Judeans) wanted, was to be made well. To go back home and start all over again, doing what everybody else was doing. To lead a normal life… driving to work on Mondays, doing the shopping on Thursdays, attending synagogue on Friday night if nothing more interesting was on, dining on the occasional kosher Big Mac,
meeting someone and maybe starting a family of nice, normal, ordinary kids? And who would blame them?

But one, a Samaritan (read: unclean? heretic? Northern Jew or even Muslim perhaps for a conservative exclusive Christian?) rather than a Judean (and here we read: clean? holy? And even Christian perhaps?) comes back. And Luke’s Jesus gently lifts the man to his feet and affirms him. It’s all right. Remember this moment of faithing.

No brokers were needed. Not even for those whom others considered outside the paddock of God’s love and acceptance. Luke’s Jesus had a lot of time for those who dared to risk being themselves… we recall the likes of the unjust steward or the devious manager we remember the prodigal son, to name just a few. Likewise, many of those whom Luke’s Jesus singled out for special attention, where others considered them unacceptable, unclean, beyond consideration. Yet they were the ones who risked themselves in more ways than those who were the so-called ‘averagely good’.

The ‘averagely good’ are safe, because they don’t take too many risks.  They always keep the right side of any rules. And they don’t step out of line in case that’s a bad thing to do. The ‘averagely good’ people mostly remain just that. ‘Averagely good’ for the rest of their lives. But those who follow their heart and continue to work at being themselves, know that sometimes risks must be taken. Those that know reality is not what it seems, that loving is more powerful than fear, that the weak power of goodness is more transformative than the strong power of rule and dominance and control. Their faithing is making them whole. And we remember another Lukan story – the so-called Good Samaritan, where the question was changed from ‘who is my neighbour?’  to ‘whom will I allow to be my neighbour?’… (Robert Funk)

Maybe the question from this story is not ‘where are the other nine?’  but ‘where is the tenth?’… Where is the one who follows the heart instead of the instructions as Barbara Brown Taylor asks?

Maybe faith is not about how to live a ‘normal’ or ‘averagely good’ life. Nor is it slavishly doing as Jesus says, down to the last biblical letter. But maybe it’s to go on the journey that Jesus chartered. And to have faith with Jesus in the re-imagined world of the story/parable. To transcend the boundaries we erect around ourselves, and as I suggested a few weeks ago maybe its about joining Jesus in the reimagination of the opportunities in the face of the plight of being a leper facing exclusion or an averagely good person facing irrelevance. Maybe its time to realise how much we, and all on this fragile earth, are accepted, and affirmed by a right relationship with our planet. Being Christian today is not about being right or being better than or even being average, it is about joining the Jesus model of breaking through the systemic and the assumed boundaries that are supported by fear and control and the norm and having faith in the transforming power of weakness, of exclusion, of forgiving, of turning the other cheek, of giving up one’s comfort whatever that is in terms of complacency, fitting in, empire building, financial elitism, all for the sake of the other. The power of the cross is after all about being finished, being eliminated by the power of might. Even if one still believes in the traditional Supernatural nature of Jesus or God it is the weak power that works. The Romans and the empire hade the might power but it crumbles in the face of the weak power of the crucified one. Remember we are talking metaphor. Just as the tenth leper is the one who gets it right by not doing what Jesus says might be that the outcast of today gets it better. And in the political climate of Jesus’ time, as in our own, such a claim surely is something to think about? Is the challenge to re-imagine and thus recreate? Is it time to admit that doing theology is not about claiming that it is dealing with hard conceptual knowledge but rather interpreting imaginative and poetic figures. Is it not time to demystify, pare away supernaturalism and thus render meaning to people who do not think that religion means crucifying our intelligence after all are not the traditions bound up by their culture, language and historical time and place in which they grow and as we are experiencing today wither away or lose their symbolic power. Is it not time for the tenth leper to shake up the world. Amen.


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