+ I was once accused, many, many years ago, of being—if you can believe this—morbid. Morbid? Me? I didn’t even know what morbid really meant when I was first accused of it. But this friend of mine said I was morbid because, “Well, Jamie, you like to hang out in cemeteries.”
Guilty as charged! I do like cemeteries. I very unapologetically will admit to that. They’re great places. They’re not spooky or morbid to me at all. For a history buff like me, they are perpetually engaging.
Well, yesterday, I was at a cemetery. Yesterday, my family gathered at Maple Sheyenne Cemetery to dedicate my brother’s gravestone. For those who might not know, my brother died very suddenly at the end of July in Colorado. So, we gathered on Saturday to dedicated and bless the stone that covers the place his ashes are buried, using a beautiful liturgy from the Anglican Prayer Book of New Zealand.
After the service, we stood around talking a bit and looking at the nearby stones. As my family was looking at my father’s gravestone, they realized that, on the back of it, there is my inscription.
OK. You know what… Maybe I am a bit morbid. I actually have my gravestone inscribed already. Yeah, that might be a bit morbid.
Actually, no. It’s just practical. I had the inscription put on it not long after I went through cancer about twelve years ago.
As we were looking it, I realized that one thing I had always intended to have inscribed on it was a very popular Anglo-Catholic inscription. At my seminary, Nashotah House, in the cemetery there, many of the stones carried a very brief, but beautiful epitaph:
And I’ve always wanted that inscription on my stone as well. Because I love that phrase.
I love it because I really love that word, Mercy. It’s an incredible word.
And it’s one that I think sums up so many of the prayers we pray. Certainly, the prayers I pray. In those moments in which I am overwhelmed or exhausted or simply don’t know what to pray, I often find myself just praying, Jesus, have mercy on me.
Today, in our Gospel reading, we find that word, Mercy, in a very prominent place. In fact the prayer the leper prays to Jesus is the pray any of, in our deepest moment of moments, finds ourselves praying.
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on me!”
And he does. We see, in our Gospel reading today, mercy in action. And it is wonderful. These lepers are healed.
But, before we lose track of this story, let’s take a little deeper look. Now, first of all, we need to be clear about who lepers were in that day. Lepers were unclean according to Jewish Law. But they were worse than that. They were contagiously unclean. And their disease was considered a very severe punishment for something. So, to even engage these lepers was a huge deal.
But, the real interesting aspect of this story is what you might not have noticed. The lepers themselves are interesting. There are, of course, ten of them. Nine lepers who were, it seems, children of Israel. And one Samaritan leper.
Now a Samaritan, for good Jews like Jesus, would have been a double curse. But the nine other lepers, knowing who they are and what they are, do the “right” thing. Again and again, throughout the story they do the right thing. They first of all stand far off from Jesus and the others. That’s what contagious people do. And when they are healed, the nine also do the right thing. They heed Jesus’ words and, like good Jews, they head off to the priest to be declared clean. The only “wrong” thing they do is that, before heading off to the priest, they don’t first thank Jesus.
Only the Samaritan stays. And the reason he stays is because, as Samaritan, he wouldn’t need to approach the Jewish priest. So, he turns back. And he engages the One who healed him. He bows down before Jesus and worships him. Jesus is irritated by the fact the others did not come back.
But, if notice, his mercy remained. They—along with the Samaritan—remain healed.
That is how mercy works. The interesting thing for us is, we are not always so good at mercy. We are good as being vindictive, especially to those who have wronged us. We are very good as seeking to make others lives as miserable as our lives are at times. But we are not so good at mercy, especially mercy to those who have turned away from us and walked away after we have showed mercy to them.
Luckily, none of us are Jesus. Luckily, none of us are God incarnate. Luckily, none of us will be the ultimate Judge of such things. Because the One who is Judge all of things, is a master at mercy.
Still, we, as followers of that One, are challenged. If the One we follows shows mercy, we know it is our job to do it as well. No matter what. No matter if those we show mercy to ignore us and walk away from us. No matter if they show no gratitude to us for that mercy.
Our job is not to concern ourselves with such things. Our job, as followers of Jesus, are simply to show mercy again and again and again. And to seek mercy again and again and again.
Jesus, Master have mercy on me.
This is or deepest prayer. This is the prayer of our heart. This is prayer we pray when our voices and minds no longer function perfectly. This is the prayer that keeps on praying with every heartbeat within us. And by praying this prayer, by living this prayer, by reflecting this prayer to others, we will know. We will know—beyond a shadow of doubt—that we too can get up and go our way. We too can know that, yes, our faith has made us well.