Galatians 5:16-24 St Luke 17:11-19
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks.
As we ascend ever higher in the Christian life we are coming to know and love Jesus more. We discover that He is dwelling in us and we in Him.
Our compassion for others is growing because we know ourselves to have been wounded deep within by the violence of the world, the flesh and the devil, as we learned last Sunday. And we also know that Jesus, the Good Samaritan, has anointed our wounds with oil and wine, carried us on His body, and brought us to His Church to be fully healed.
This morning we have come back to the Inn, to the Church, to continue to be fed by His Word written and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. We know Jesus and we love Him, but how will that work of transformation continue? How will we continue our ascent into the life of heaven even now?
In the Epistle today [Galatians 5:16-24], St Paul speaks about our predicament as Christians. We are living at an in-between stage – between the ditch we have been taken out of and living fully in the kingdom of heaven. Each of us still experiences a draw towards the flesh, but also the promptings of the Spirit.
When we’re drawn by the “flesh”, Paul does not mean the body, he’s talking about a carnal way of being – an unspiritual walking – it includes bodily desires out of control – anger, greed, gluttony, lust. But it also includes desires of the soul – such as the desire for greatness, an impulse in our soul given to us by God, but we can try to fulfill that desire in a carnal way leading to pride or vainglory or envy. So a carnally minded person, fulfills the desires of body and soul in a worldly way.
e.g. As I’ve mentioned before, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, dwarves can be seen as a figure of more carnally minded people: they love to enjoy meat and beer to excess and they dig deep into the earth searching for valuable treasure. [see Job 28] The elves, by contrast, can be seen as a figure of spiritually minded people (even angels): they live high in the trees, above the earth, and have more exalted and spiritual hopes, they contemplate, and then they act in powerful and decisive ways. Human beings are somewhere in between.
And this is the reality for us – we are in a state of being where we are satisfying both fleshy and spiritual desires. And as we mature, we’re beginning to see the difference between the two. We are becoming spiritually discerning, learning how to satisfy the longings of our hearts, in a more spiritual way.
Remember Jesus was tired sitting by the well, and the disciples asked him, Rabbi, eat. And he said, My food, where I get my energy from, is to do the will of my Father. This is to be spiritually minded.
In most of the letters of Paul (e.g. Romans 1:29-31, Galatians 5:19-26, Ephesians 4:17-6, Colossians 2:10-3) and in the letters of James (3:13-5:12), of Peter (1 Pet 2:11-4:19; 2 Pet 2-3), of John (1 John 3:10-15; 3 John 9-11) and Jude (Jude 5-19) there are descriptions, like we have this morning, of a carnal way of being, contrasted with a spiritual way of being. Paul says today,
The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
If our minds are oriented towards satisfying the flesh, then we need the Law of God to restrain us. If we keep responding to fleshy desires, to satisfying our longings, we keep finding ourselves breaking the commandments and needing to repent. Our life is one of restraint and chaffing and pain.
But if there is a reorientation of our soul towards the spiritual, we are no longer bound by the Law, because we’re not looking in that wrong way. There is no restraint, St Paul says, against such things as – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We can run free, headlong, into these things, without restraint. You cannot have too much of this fruit, you can gorge yourselves!
Our call as Christians is to not to be continually restraining our desire (as the Buddhists teach) but to release it to spiritual ends, and then there is no need for the Law of God. The energy with which we first pursued fleshy desires, and then used to restrain fleshy desires, can now be released to pursue spiritual ends.
e.g. Coming back to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: The dwarf Gimli, is taken up in a transformation, through his encounter with Galadriel, the “Lady of Light”, an elf princess, by her virtue, by her beauty – he catches a glimpse of God. After the encounter with her he is no longer interested in the mines, but in higher things, spiritual things. There is a reorientation – the carnally minded man has become spiritual minded – grace does not destroy nature but perfects it. He still enjoys his meat and a good pint of beer, he’s catholic in that sense, there is no denying the goodness of creation, but his ideas of beauty and of truth and of ultimate things has been forever changed.
And it is so with us. When St Paul says that those who follow the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, he is not pronouncing final judgement on the carnally minded person. Paul is saying that so long as one is oriented toward the flesh, one will not know the peace and salvation that Jesus has come to bring. As soon as anyone carnally minded turns towards the spiritual, towards God, they will inherit, they will begin to taste of all these fruits of the Spirit. For all of us it is a matter of being less carnally minded all the time as we become more spiritually minded.
In the Gospel today [St Luke 17:11-19], 10 lepers are crying out for mercy to Jesus. They are men separated from society because of a disease of the skin which could contaminate others. You could see the disease itself as a kind of parable for those suffering from being carnally minded. They cry out for mercy – and that is a cry that Jesus will always, always, always hear and respond to. Ask and it shall be given to you: the mercy to be forgiven and the mercy to be cleansed from the pollution of sin.
Jesus tells them to go and show yourselves to the priests. Under the Law of Moses, people who had leprosy and were healed, would need to go first to the priest who would examine them to confirm it and then declare them healed and they could then live in community again. So without seeing themselves healed immediately, these lepers walk towards Jerusalem, to the Temple, in faith, that is, trusting Jesus, to seek the priests, and as they follow his command, they are healed.
We could see this as the same call of St Paul to walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. The more we follow the spiritual way, the way of love, the way of truth, the less that sin clings to us and draws us back into its dead ends. Following Jesus in faith, in this new way, listening to the promptings of Jesus’ Spirit within us to holiness, leads to holiness, to a cleansing, a purifying of our desire. The new path becomes easier and easier. It is the life of growing holiness.
The mercy that Jesus shows to these men, is the same as he shows to us if we choose to walk by the Spirit. It is to be forgiven and to be given the grace to follow and stay on the new path. We will experience healing.
But the Gospel account of this healing doesn’t stop there with their healing. Nine of the men continue on their way to the priest but only one returns, a Samaritan, when he sees that he is healed, to give thanks and praise to Jesus.
There is some difference between this Samaritan, whom Jesus describes as “this foreigner”, and the other nine, who by contrast are Jews. One might suspect that the 9 men who show themselves to the priest will find themselves in some way helped by the Law, but that the Law will continue to be a cause of restraint for them – don’t do this, don’t do that – but it cannot be an instrument of their salvation, of a true change in heart.
But the man who comes back to Jesus with such enthusiasm, has had his spiritedness released, he is experiencing the full force of the new path. The fruit of the Spirit is manifested in him. He is “praising God with a loud voice”! love, joy, peace, he now knows and will continue to know as he stays close to Jesus. He has known not just a temporary relief from sin, but, Jesus says, “your faith has made you whole.” He’s become spiritually minded.
Is Jesus drawing us away from the Law? Yes, in a way, we need it for our restraint less and less as we “crucify the flesh, with its passions and desires.” He draws us into the life of God. And as we catch glimpses of God on our way, like the Samaritan, or like the dwarf Gimli who saw Galadriel, we are encouraged and inflamed with love of Jesus. The life of holiness becomes something we enjoy more and more.
This Samaritan is like the recent convert to Christianity, who is often more zealous for the faith, because he or she sees more clearly the difference Jesus makes. They are not confused that it is the Law that saves us, but understand that it is Jesus.
Our energy is not to be directed primarily in holding us back from doing what is wrong. Rather, it is being released to do what is right, to follow the Spirit, to seek the kingdom of God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
This morning we have, and we will, cry out to Jesus for mercy, and he will respond. Soon we will confess our sins and be assured we are forgiven, we will be washed in the Blood of the Lamb and made clean. Let’s not stop this morning with being restored, but also ask Jesus to make us to really love to Walk in the Spirit.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which you do promise, make us to love that which you do command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2