Luke 17:11-19 (Pentecost 18C)
St. John’s, Galveston (10/9/2022)
Rev. Alan Taylor
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Like many of you, I’ve been reading the Bible for quite some time now. Given my vocation, sometimes I read it to study, where I pay a little more attention to detail. Other times though I read it more casually. Overall, it seems to me that there are some passages where being there to witness the event would have given us a much greater appreciation for the things that transpired. I say that, because it’s easy, I think, for us to dismiss details of a story, details that we wouldn’t be so apt to dismiss if we were to see the sights, or smell the smells, or hear the sounds.
Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here about God’s word. There is nothing lacking in the word of God. It is powerful in and of itself. In that respect, it is unlike anything else ever written down, or read. St. Paul once said specifically of the Gospel, that, “it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.” At another time, Jesus said to Thomas, the disciple who insisted that he see the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side in order for him to believe, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet, have believed.” And finally, John tells that he wrote the Gospel that bears his name, so that,“you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that, believing, you would have life in His name.”
Certainly, God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path in and of itself. Still, there are those passages, aren’t there? If we were there, if we better understood the customs of the time, if our eyes saw, and our ears heard, we might more readily understand the incredible message that lay behind the events.
Jesus was walking one day between Samaria and Galilee. I always figured that Luke offered certain details in his Gospel simply as a way to get Jesus from one place or another. But I wonder if there is often something more to those little details. I wonder if we meet up with Jesus in that particular place today, between Samaria and Galilee, for a reason.
The land between Samaria and Galilee is neither one or the other. By its very existence, it is a place where it is impossible to forget that the two pieces of land had once been one. At one time, it was all the land of Israel. But that was long ago. The nation had been torn apart. The Northern Kingdom had been destroyed first, leaving but a remnant behind. Then the people in the Southern Kingdom, who came to be called Jews, were plucked up and exiled from their land as well. In the grand scheme of things, they had only recently returned and found themselves at odds with that remnant, living in the region of Samaria. So, it is a location that causes one to remember how things were, long before the experience of exile left its mark on both kingdoms. It's a place where old grudges grow. It’s a place where you might find yourself unsure of who belongs and who doesn’t, where you might be uncertain, un-trusting, even a little fearful.
On that day when Jesus traveled between Samaria and Galilee, that uncertain land, there was one thing that was certain. The ten lepers He met that day on the roadside truly didn’t belong. It was an awful thing, you know, to be afflicted with leprosy. Aside from the physical torment, the weeping sores and the pain of the scorching sun beating down onto such blistered and tormented flesh, there was the sad fact that you were considered unclean by your own people. You were an outcast. You were unwanted, not only by the community itself, but presumably by God as well!!
You were forced to participate in an ugly, demeaning ritual should you ever find yourself out in public. You were required to make your condition known to anyone who might be passing by. You had to identify yourself by announcing that you are A LEPER.
There were 10 of them that day, lepers, that is. Perhaps they were huddled together for the sheer joy of human community and touch, or perhaps they just found safety in the fellowship of the despised. Regardless of why they were together it was the scent of despair that filled the air. “Jesus, Master, (they said), have mercy on us!” What is life like when all you really want is mercy? What is like when there isn’t the faintest desire for riches, or happiness, or even peace? When all you really want is mercy, the kindness and compassion of someone, of anyone, in the case of these ten lepers, of God?
As soon as Jesus saw them, He sent them away. Not however, because He loathed their appearance, or because He couldn’t stand to be in their presence, but because He chose to have mercy on them, to love the unloveable, to want the unwanted. “Go (He said) and show yourselves to the priests. And as they went they were cleansed.”
I wonder? How many times must these ten lepers have looked down at their hands and feet, at their arms and legs, and been reminded of that which separated them from God? Their flesh, like an active conscience, continually reminded them of their unworthiness and of their uncleanness.
But as they made their way to the priest, everything changed. Their sores dried up and faded. The pigment returned to their skin. Beyond the physical, they were acceptable again. They were whole. Like a man or a woman who hears those cleansing words of God, “I forgive you,” they were back in God’s good graces. Jesus had truly had mercy on them!
It was an amazing day for them. A day they would never, ever, forget. Nine of them continued on their way to the priest, while one returned to Jesus to give Him thanks. Some would say only the one was thankful while the other nine weren’t. Frankly, I don’t really believe that is the point of the story at all, nor do I believe the nine were actually unthankful as they made their way to the priest. I mean, with what they had been through as lepers and having their lives returned to them, it’s hard to imagine the nine being unthankful.
The question is this, and actually, I’ll express it in a number of questions, but they’re really all the same. Who is it who makes the partial, whole? Who makes the unacceptable, acceptable, or the unwanted, wanted? Who takes the despised and the rejected, the weak and the helpless and makes them His own? Who turns darkness to light? Who raises the dead and gives them life? Who opens the door to heaven and says to those stained by the leprosy of sin, you are my beloved child and in you I am well pleased?
The one leper returned to Jesus to give Him thanks, because he knew that Jesus was the answer to all those questions and more. The priest served to point the way to the Christ of God! He served to intercede on behalf of the downtrodden, the despised and the rejected. Jesus though was and is the fulfillment of everything the priest pointed to. He Himself is the priest, He is the sacrifice, the temple, the forgiveness, the atonement. Indeed, He is our peace with God!
The man was a Samaritan! The one leper, that is. He was a Samaritan. That too is an important point we dare not miss. It’s God’s way, isn’t it? “The last will be first and the first will be last.” The despised and the rejected are exalted while the proud are humbled. As with these ten lepers, God found each of us, each of you in a similar condition. Oh, not so much in your flesh, but in your heart and soul. Unacceptable, unwanted, despised and rejected. And so, “consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” Yes, God chose you!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +