10/13/2019 Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 17: 11-19.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Earlier in chapter ten of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, and we learned that he is the one to help the injured Jewish man on the side of the road. The parable takes great pains to point out that this Samaritan, this ‘foreigner’ was the one to show mercy to the fallen man, while the two faithful Jewish people passed him by. This choice of characters for the parable was done to highlight the vast difference between the generosity and compassion of the Samaritan as opposed to the indifference shown by the beaten man’s kinsmen. And this morning we find Jesus making his way to Jerusalem, where his earthly mission was to be fulfilled. He encounters ten men suffering from a contagious disease; and it turns put that one of these was a Samaritan.
In the earlier parable, a Samaritan was chosen as the protagonist to highlight the divergent ways that he and the Jewish priest and Levite responded. Israelites and Samaritans were not on speaking terms, due to centuries of religious and cultural divergence; although they were once a shared community. Suffice it to say, that the Samaritan leper who was one of the ten that Jesus meets on the road was doubly marginalized. Suffering from an infectious disease and being a member of a despised group of people; he was one of ‘them’, not ‘us’.
In Jesus’ time persons who suffered from any number of maladies would be considered religiously and ritually ‘unclean’. Women were considered unclean for a period of time following childbirth, touching a corpse rendered one unfit to worship in the temple, and contact with certain animals resulted in ‘uncleanness’. If levels of being unclean were to be itemized, being infected with a contagious disease would be at the top of the list. So much so that anyone suffering from any visible disorder, from highly contagious leprosy to a simple rash would be unclean in the eyes of the Jewish population. These unfortunate people wouldn’t be allowed to live among the general populace. They would be isolated with others having the same affliction, well outside the town or city limits. They were not permitted any social interaction with the ‘clean’ residents and most importantly, were not permitted to enter the temple for worship.
When these ten lepers were travelling and encountered Jesus, Luke notes that they were ‘keeping their distance’. Religious law required that they were to avoid contact with others and were required to shout ‘unclean, unclean’ if they saw anyone approaching them. Yet another example of the isolation and exclusion they were subjected to. It’s very significant to note that rather than make this required announcement of their uncleanness, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” It’s obvious that even in their isolation, they were aware of this man who was performing miracles and providing cures throughout the region. Jesus, in his compassion tells them to show themselves to the priests, and as they make their way back into town and normal society, they find themselves cured.
Jesus’ admonition to show the priests that they have been healed will secure for them a ritual clean bill of health, allowing them to remain in their community and most importantly, again be allowed to participate in temple worship. We must assume that since Luke notes that only one of these was a Samaritan, that the other nine were faithful Jews and that they did exactly what Jesus told them to do. Presenting themselves to the religious authorities to regain their place among the faithful was required by Jewish law, and they were obeying this decree. But the Samaritan, even though the religious practices of Samaria were closely linked to those of Judea, chooses not to return to society right away. He turns around, falls to the ground at Jesus’ feet, praising God, and thanking Jesus for his healing. He recognizes that his return to physical health is a miracle that could only have happened if Jesus were, in fact divine.
The Samaritan gives unbridled thanks for what God has done for him through the healing miracle provided by God’s anointed One; while the other nine simply accept their cure and hurry to show themselves off to the priests and the community. I’m sure these nine were thankful for their physical healing; the difference is that the Samaritan has also received a spiritual restoration. Jesus’ words would hint at his disappointment that God’s chosen ones were so moved by their healing that they neglected to give thanks to the God who provided it. So often we read in Scripture that our ancestors were so absorbed in their lives that they consistently neglected to give thanks to God for all that God provides. In 1 Thessalonians we are admonished to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’. The more modern translation, The Message, tells us to ‘give thanks to God no matter what happens’.
I submit to you that very few of us ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ or, in the Message version, ‘no matter what happens’. This would require that we thank our Creator all the time, for everything that God provides for us; in situations good or bad. Recent research reveals the level of ‘happiness’ that people experience in various places throughout the world. The lowest percentage of ‘happy’ people seems to be right here at home in the States.
Three out of four people in some Nordic countries say they are generally happy with their lives. In America, depending on the demographic, around one-third of us say we are content. Other data shows that at times, nine out of ten Americans experience unhappiness; and only one in ten is content. I couldn’t help but notice a correlation between nine unhappy modern Americans and nine first-century cured lepers! Only the one, the Samaritan found himself filled with sufficient joy to remember to thank God for his renewal.
By the grace of God, we have been healed…of our sinfulness; we have been cured by the work of Christ on the Cross. And like the nine faithful Jews in Luke’s gospel we approach the Lord’s Table in Communion with Jesus and one another. The very term we use for this action is ‘Eucharist’, Greek for ‘Thanksgiving’. But what about the other ‘circumstances’, the ‘no matter what happens’ times? Do we approach God in prayer only when we suffer, when we experience the unhappiness that we, as Americans are apparently immersed in? And when God responds to our pleas, do we thank the Lord for the result, whether it’s the one we prefer or not? Do we thank God ‘no matter what happens’; and ‘in all circumstances’? And perhaps more importantly, do we remember to give thanks in prayer for the tiny miracles we are blessed with daily? What are some of the things that God provides for us? I’ll start; life itself. Sunshine. A baby’s laughter. What else does God bless us with that we should remember to be thankful for? This is not a rhetorical question; this is the interactive part of the morning. Just shout out; what does God provide that you are thankful for?
How we respond to these blessings determines whether we are one of the nine who blissfully went on their way, or the Samaritan, who experiences the revelation that his renewed life is a gift from God in Christ. Our relationship with God through God’s grace and our faith in Christ, provides us the ability to come to the Father in prayers of thanksgiving for all we are blessed with. This should not be limited to gratitude for blessings received, but should also include giving thanks to God ‘in all circumstances’. Like the cured Samaritan, our praise of God in prayer will result in a strengthened faith; and our increased faith will encourage us to a more rewarding prayer life.
This, in turn will enable us to be among those one in ten who are happy with their lives; if we praise God ‘no matter what happens’.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, we give you thanks and praise for giving your Son for our salvation. We thank you for your grace and mercy toward us, your sinful children. Forgive us when we neglect to show our gratitude to you for the blessings you bestow on us. Help us to remember to give thanks to you ‘in all circumstances’.
And the people of God say…Amen.
Let us praise God:
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.