(G&P N° 936, Luke 17,11-19)
I would like to talk about the experience Jesus makes with the ten lepers. Usually the text is presented so that the one leper who comes back to Jesus understands Jesus, thanks Jesus, is the only one really healed. The other nine are unthankful and do not understand anything. I don’t like this way of presenting the story.
Why? Because Jesus never puts people down. I would like to point to a different topic: ten lepers come to Jesus, the ten are healed, but only one remains with Jesus. Nine to one – this relation is still valid – generously calculated. I speak of the part of the population still remaining with the traditional Church and its message. Only ten percent may share the religious nearness to Jesus by continuing to go to Church (in Berlin the percentage is much smaller: 12% of the population are baptized protestant, 3% catholic – but the number attending services in churches is much smaller).
All the lepers have been touched, have been healed by Jesus. The ten are not so different from each other: they all have been healed, but only one remains with Jesus. It is the difference in reaction to the healing that makes them different. So many studies show that religiosity does no longer have this close link to the Church, to the community of believers. To be far from the Church does not mean to be far from religiosity. The ways to experience God’s nearness do not necessarily lead through the church doors. Those who come to church on Sunday, like you, live a special form of religiosity, marked by the communion of the Church, marked by the wish to experience God’s nearness in the space of a church building, of a Church community.
But there are many other forms where people are experiencing the nearness of God, the Church is seen as just one of these places. What does this mean for the Church?
One way of dealing with the phenomenon is to continue as usual: tradition, dogmas, doctrine, neither looking to the right nor to the left, not perceiving the world that surrounds the Church. Then the Church, then we as a community, may become a ghetto in which people with the same ideas and ideals gather, a ghetto on the edge of society. Uniformity instead of diversity reigns.
The second way would be to be totally open to everything we see in the modern world, to limit ourselves to the realm of giving good advices of how to succeed in life and in its crises. But here the Christian message would lose its specificity. The Church would not be more than a giver of good advices like so many other gurus. Perhaps: “Diversity without unity”?
Thus – on one hand you find church leaders worried about what Rome says, worried about correct liturgies, worried about the quality and the catholicity of the men and women coming to church – I mean catholicity in the sense of being conform to catholic rules and orders and requests and demands. A church occupied with herself, forgetting what happens around her. Uniformity without diversity?
On the other hand you would find committed Christians asking themselves: “How do we go down well, how can we be well received? How to have fuller churches and how to have attractive events? How to produce and trigger good articles about the church in the news?”
This is a real dilemma – a dilemma that keeps the church alive. The tension is a fruitful tension if the two sides approach each other, if ideas and visions are shared. In this process, there is not one side in the possession of the full truth, not one side has a monopoly for salvation. “Unity in diversity” would be the objective. The ten lepers make it clear: The story is not about the one single follower of Jesus and the nine renegades. No! They have all been touched and healed, but each one of them has his or her own way of dealing with it. It was the task of Jesus to handle this, Jesus had to live with this. It is our task today to handle this same phenomenon – we who are following Jesus, we who are the descendants of the ten lepers
Wolfgang Felber SJ