Have you ever been to a school or college reunion? I went to one and the college car park was full of new Bentleys and BMWs and a 9-year old dirty holy VW. A friend of mine is a now a consultant anaesthetist and when I saw him he rushed over to me. He was far from the haggard medical student we all remembered. Now he was smiling from ear to ear. I said to him, I know why you’re smiling, it’s because you are now earning £200 grand a year and drive a big car which is an extension of your… personality. But no, he said - and he waved an envelope which contained some money and a letter which said: "Doctor, when I was really ill you helped me and supported me and my young children, fitted me in, 1came to see me at night and you never asked for anything in return. Now my business is making money and here’s something to say thank you." In all the years of being a doctor, he had never had a letter like that before – and he was overjoyed. That this patient had done well with his life mattered to him far more than any medicine he gave him.
The Gospel from Luke also has a healing. It’s a healing which is unusual and we’ll see why. As Jesus approaches a village he’s met by ten lepers. One child wondered why on earth ten leopards would approach Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem, how they were able to talk and why didn’t they eat him? They recognise him and cry out for help. Jesus tells them to present themselves to the priests. The priests acted as ‘environmental health officers’ who signed off the lepers before they could come back into the community.
The lepers shuffle off, no doubt thinking they’ve been given the brush off once again. But as they hobble along the road, something starts to happen. Although we don’t see it, there is a remarkable healing. Imagine the scene. Leprosy eats human flesh; bits fall off. But the leper with crutches now gasps out loud as he watches his leg grow back to its full length. The leper with half a face feels his eyes, jaw and ears - come back. The stumps of fingers on all their hands turn back into the fingers they once were. Not only do they see this healing in themselves; they watch it going on in their friends’ bodies all around them.
Now the usual interpretation says this lot were so ungrateful that they disappeared off down the road without bothering to thank Jesus, all except one of them who does a U-turn and thanks our Lord personally for what he’s done. And people like me are supposed to declare solemnly how we too, are ungrateful so-in-sos only interested in our own comforts never what Jesus did for us.
So how does Jesus ask those questions: "were not ten made clean, but the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Should I have read these words harshly, like I am Jesus offended; or should I have read them emotionally, like I am Jesus upset; or should I have read them scornfully, like I am Jesus angry? Or is there another way to read them?
Well, there is a book waiting to be written about Jesus’ sense of humour and this passage will be in it. Because you know, I am sure Jesus isn’t cross or upset here. I think he was smiling, so full of joy that he is almost laughing. When Jesus heals people, he never stands there like some sort of solemn medicine man who mysteriously makes men and women and children better. The opposite. Not long before this story, Jesus sent seventy of his followers ahead of him to heal the sick. They are so successful that they run back to Jesus unable to contain their joy and Jesus himself is full of joy as well; that the ability to heal people doesn’t belong to the old and the wise, the learned and the brainy, but to babies like his followers.
Everyone is smiling. Jesus is laughing delighted as he prays in thanks to his Father. May be Jesus is laughing with the kind of effervescent, helpless, can’t-stop-yourself laughter you hear from friends when they’re gathered, full of the joy of being with each other. Or the laughter of young children, as they chase one other around the furniture. Or the laughter of relief that the darkness of this world is overcome by the power of the healing love of Christ for everyone in this church this morning. Someone said he would come to church but all he saw was a group of people who looked more miserable when they came out of church than when they went in. Whatever that group was getting, it was nothing to do with the joy of Jesus.
So, to end with what Jesus says. Perhaps there’s a trace of Jesus pretending to be put out and offended, a trace. But that’s not it. Notice how Jesus doesn’t seem to be looking at the leper who came back to thank him and is now sat at his feet, it sounds more like he’s looking into the distance. It’s only in the next, final verse that Jesus turns to face this man. I wonder; you know I am sure Jesus is trying not to laugh. And we reach that last line, not in deadpan seriousness, but in pure exploding joy: get up and go on your way – your faith has made you well! I pray that you too, will know the joy of Jesus’ love for you in the shadows you might know too well. And if any of those shadows seem long this morning, please accept the healing offered at the altar rail shortly and we can pray for that joy to return.