rev._joaquin_willis_3.jpgWhen He saw them, He said, “Go show your selves to the priest.” And as they went they were healed. – Matthew 17:14

If God says, “Go to church and show yourself to the priest and you will be healed,” but society says, “You’re unclean so you cannot go,” what would you do? Would you go or stay put? Many now stay home when facing this choice.

Sometimes we miss our blessings because we cannot or won’t obey the voice of God. We get stuck in the rut of feeling unworthy; frightened by church or society’s regulations, we remain outcast from healing.

The passage at the top of this column comes from the story of the cleansing of 10 Lepers (Luke 17:11-19). Back then, lepers were banished from the community because leprosy is a highly contagious and painful disease. Having it meant isolation from all, especially from the temple.

Several years ago, scientist conducted research on 21,000 people and when compared to those who never attended church, temple, or synagogue, those who went to church more than once a week had the equivalent of a 7.5-year longer life expectancy. Going to church can be good for your health.

The lepers cleansing story has always fascinated me, because Christ showed courage in dealing with them and because the one who said “Thank you” was a person of color. What intrigues me today is the statement, “As they went they were healed.”

It caused me to think about other finer points, like, Christ must have counted them: “Were not all 10 cleansed?” This made me wonder whether the leper colony was larger than 10. Were the 10 the only ones brave enough to show themselves to the priest? What also intrigues me is this: What if they hadn’t gone? Would they have remained lepers?

Obedience triggers grace and these together produce healing and holiness. Scripture often points out that sin makes us sick but preaching against sin will never heal us. We can be healed only by our faith-filled actions towards holiness.

Many think they can be made righteous by their own efforts at self-righteousness. But what Jesus teaches here is that yielding to His commands produces instant forgiveness and healing. It takes no faith to stay stuck in the rut of feeling unworthy or frightened of society’s sick regulations.

Jesus saved us from sin by His death. Despite our self-righteousness, we are given grace and, through faith in Him, we are healed. The lepers weren’t healed by their works;  it was Jesus’ command that sent them to see the priest. Jesus had more than pity on them. He had compassion. All were healed when they moved towards the priest.

But the Samaritan leper was the only one who really understood the power of what happened, because he came back and said, “Thank you.” Then Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

The other nine only got healed, which meant their bodies showed no more blemishes. But the one who said thank you was “made well.” That means in addition to being physically healed, his sins were forgiven and his soul was washed of its blemishes. He was holistically healed, in body, mind and soul.

Leprosy as a disease of the skin still exists but it has been largely kept in check. But leprosy of the mind and heart is still rampant. In the blink of an eye, some will shoot a child for playing loud music, beat a baby to death for crying or kill a homeless person for begging. Many cry out for help from today’s leper colonies and we don’t stop to help. We pretend not to hear or even to acknowledge their presence.

Many today suffer from mental and spiritual leprosy. Consequently, they live in isolation from their families and neighbors, cut off from loved ones, friends and churches. They won’t go to church to show themselves to the priest. They hide behind computer screens, contacting friends through Facebook and following celebrities on Twitter and avoid going to church by streaming their worship experiences.

If we obey Christ and go show ourselves to the priest by going to church, our gratitude will produce miracles. Then we too will see, as the lepers did. As they went to church, they were healed and the one who came back and said, “Thank you, Jesus,” was made completely whole.
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or