Joker and Grace

by Oct 14, 2019

Luke 17:11-19

Jesus heals 10 lepers

This weekend I went and saw the new film – Joker. It is the back story of the Joker – Batman’s arch rival – possibly the most recognisable comic-book villain of all time. I saw a tweet before going to see the film, which said: Marvel creates a villain by taking a super-powered person and giving them infinity stones whereas DC Comics creates a villain by taking a normal person and removing everything from him. I’m not going to go into the film in any detail, and I don’t know that I’d encourage anybody to go and watch it. But it is a character driven film which explores what happens when the only encouragement, 
the only control and power that somebody gets in their own life comes from an act of violence fuelled by a combination of desperation and fear. It raises issues about mental health and about the impact of the kind of austerity which drives people to desperation. In the film there is almost no sign of real kindness, or of any grace.

There is a common parlance of paying things forward. It buys into some concept of karma, of the idea that by doing good it builds up a good aura and that means we can expect good to come back our way. In a less spiritual way it can be considered that if we do something nice to somebody, they will be nice to somebody else and, well, what goes around comes around – we can expect something nice back.

Today’s Gospel challenges that assumption in a way. It challenges the idea of God doing things on a basis of exchanging healing for good behaviour, or even for faith. Jesus is travelling towards Jerusalem. Putting the narrative in the context of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. These ten lepers come forward, seeking mercy. Jesus tells them to go to be examined, and it is on their way that they are healed. And one, the Samaritan, turns back to give thanks and praise God. Jesus tells him to get up and go on his way, that his faith has made him well. Only all ten were healed of their leprosy. So what is the wellness that this one’s faith has given him.

While, yes, the 10 lepers do come to Jesus, calling him Master, asking for mercy. They do nothing to demonstrate their faith, to earn their healing, to make penance or ask for forgiveness. But they receive their healing through an act of grace. Grace is a type of gift – a gift freely given, unearned, and undeserved, without any expectation of anything in return. A lecturer at college once said grace is like if somebody through a brick through your window and your response was to bake them a cake. Grace is an act of absurd giving. And yet that is what Christ’s many acts of grace are.

Here, in this story, we are reminded that for all the generosity of grace, it is not everybody who responds to the good news of God’s love for us, of God’s grace, by coming and giving thanks. In our reading from the Old Testament, 
the Hebrew Scriptures, we have the story of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, who also suffers from Leprosy. In return for his taking a young Israeli girl as a slave, she reaches out with the same generosity as God, sending him to Elisha to be healed. Only Naaman’s response is one of pride. He is angered by being sent to a prophet, not a king, for healing. He is frustrated by being made to wait, and thinks the simplicity of washing in the Jordan makes a foolishness of his importance. But the act of God’s grace healing him, also transforms him to recognise God, and discover humility, so that he, like our Samaritan in the Gospel, gives thanks for the gift of grace he has received. And it is the act of giving thanks, as we did last week in our Harvest celebration, as we do every week in the great thanksgiving – the Eucharist – is the act that brings us wellness, as we engage with the gifting of God’s love for us, that brings us into that relationship with God, so that we can realise the gift of God’s grace.

So what does this mean for us when we reach out to our neighbours with God’s love? The slave girl, taken by Naaman responds to her enslavement with God’s love and grace, seeking to make her master better. Christ heals the 10 lepers without any expectation of anything in return, though he celebrates at the return of the one who comes to give praise to God, and who demonstrates his wellness, his oneness with God, in the process. We should always be prepared for those we reach out to help to respond with thanks, or with church attendance, or with a share in our beliefs.

The Gospel of Good News which we come together to proclaim and give thanks for, is not one we can earn or deserve. It is not one which any amount of paying it forward through acts of kindness can generate. But it is a Gospel which, for those who receive it and recognise it and give thanks for it, can be a proclamation of love and service as we try to exercise the same surprising love and generosity which God gives to each of us.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

Weekly Services

Sunday Mornings

8.00am Said Eucharist in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School

Weekday Services

Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Evening Prayer 
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm

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