Meditation on Luke 17:11-19
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
Oct. 13, 2019
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
I had a special blessing last Friday that I want to share with you. Two second-grade teachers, members of our church, invited me to volunteer at Coshocton Elementary, helping children with their reading. I read aloud The Littlest Pumpkin to one of the classes, like I did for the children here, and discussed the importance of not judging people by their size and being friends with everyone, even those who are different than us. Then, propped on a windowsill at the end of a hallway, I listened to children, one by one, read aloud from picture books. It was comfortable for me being back in reading specialist mode, listening for their expression and decoding skills, asking questions for comprehension and to build background knowledge and interest, complimenting them when they read well. The time just flew by. Before I knew it, I had been there 2 hours. And I couldn’t wait to come back the next week.
As I said goodbye to one of the teachers, I realized that I had recognized some of the children as those we have been reaching out to in Coshocton’s needier neighborhoods. I wondered what would it take to draw some of them into our flock so that we could minister to the entire family here? And what would make them more comfortable with us?
Then the answer came. We have to keep going out to them, caring for them and showing that we care, without expecting anything in return. Isn’t that what Jesus would do? He didn’t wait for people to come to his community or the synagogue. He went out to them. We need to be who we really are–show them that Christians are imperfect but loving people trying to follow the Savior and experience healing in our own lives and draw others nearer to Him who is able to grant us a faith that makes us well.
Today’s passage in Luke 17 begins with the announcement of Jesus setting his heart on his final destination–Jerusalem. He is on his way to the cross. But he isn’t finished teaching us that God’s salvation and healing transcend uncomfortable social, religious, and political boundaries that human beings build up between one another.
Samaria, in ancient Palestine, was the central highland region between Galilee to the north and Judea to the South. When the Israelites conquered the Promised Land, this region was given to the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim. First Kings and 2 Chronicles tell us that the kingdom splits after Solomon dies and his son, Rehoboam, comes to power in 930 BCE. While Rehoboam’s arrogance is said to have caused the split, the division of the kingdom will ultimately be blamed on his grandfather, David’s, sin with Bathsheba. Samaria becomes the capital of the northern kingdom, called Israel, while Jerusalem becomes the capital of the southern kingdom, called Judah.
By the days of Christ, the relationship between Jewish people and the Samaritans is strained, at best. You’ve heard it said that Jews and Samaritans don’t get along–and how Jesus is forever challenging prejudice, exclusivity, and isolationism. Remember Jesus’ offering Living Water to the Samaritan woman at the well, an outsider to her own community? And the story of the “Good Samaritan,” who rescues and cares for a stranger, who was beaten, robbed and left by the side of the road, to be passed over by a priest and a Levite, members of his own faith community.
Do you wonder why Samaritans and Jews don’t get along in Jesus’ time and centuries before? Samaritans believe that they are descendants of Joseph, through his sons Manasseh and Ephraim, and that the center of worship should remain at Shechem, on Mount Gerizim, where it had been in the time of Joshua. The Jews, in contrast, build their first temple at Jerusalem. Bad feelings increase between the two groups after the Assyrians conquer Samaria in 722 BCE, and thousands of Israelites are taken as captives. The Assyrians resettle the land with foreigners who worship pagan gods. The foreigners intermarry with the Israelites remaining in that region. The Jewish people in Christ’s day accuse Samaritans of idolatry and look down on them as a mixed race. Jewish people would travel miles out of their way to avoid passing through Samaria, a region under Roman control that extended about 40 miles from north to south and 35 miles east to west.
When Jesus meets the 10 lepers entering a village that is “between Galilee and Samaria,” it isn’t clear if he has walked through Samaria or if his disciples are with him at this border town. I’m going to go with “no”–that Jesus is walking this way alone, as the disciples are never mentioned. The lepers approach Jesus at a distance, out of respect. They are living outside the village, not permitted to live in the community, even with loved ones. They are barred from worship in the synagogue. They are seen as “unclean,” unacceptable to God. But are they really? Or is this just a cruel barrier erected by human beings to keep them out of God’s house?
The Son of God, seeing the 10 lepers and hearing them cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” responds mercifully and compassionately. “Go and show yourselves to the priest,” he says. Do you remember when they are healed? Not immediately. They are healed as they obey Christ’s voice and are on their way to the priest, hoping for a miracle.
I am bewildered that the others who are healed don’t respond with gratitude. Perhaps the point is that not everyone who experiences the goodness of God recognizes that it is the Lord who has blessed them. And some who do, don’t always respond by living gratefully. Isn’t that true in our society today? We experience blessings all the time, but do we always stop and say thank you to God for what He has done? And share with others our thanks and praise?
We can’t see the Lord’s facial expression in this passage, but knowing his mercy and compassion for the poor, hungry, despised, and sick, I don’t think he is speaking with anger when he questions those who do not return to say thank you. I think he is just teaching us, making his point that God’s salvation is for everyone, even our enemies, by emphasizing that the one who falls to his feet, loudly praising God, is a Samaritan. “Were not ten made clean?” Jesus asks. “But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus says to him, and I am sure he is smiling when he says this, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
I am looking forward to reading with the children again, next Friday, and getting to know each of their personalities, as well as their skills in decoding, fluency, and comprehension. Still a reading specialist! I am happy to be able to use all my gifts and talents, my training and experience to help others. It is such a good feeling to be used by the Lord. It brings me joy, especially, to extend my ministry beyond the walls of our church in a way that is comfortable for me–and reach out to help some of the youngest and neediest members of our community who may never have the opportunity to go to church. After all, it’s up to an adult to bring them!
I know that many of you are serving the Lord beyond the walls of our church, out in the community. You inspire me! Thank you for your faithfulness! You never know what a difference you will make in someone’s life. Wherever you go, remember that you bring the peace and healing love of Christ.
Perhaps the best moments of my morning with the children on Friday was after they finished reading with me and they went to take reading tests. Each one came running out to me in the hall to tell me that they had passed, that they had reached their goals. Each one said, “Thank you!” And many of them gave me a hug!
I had tears in my eyes as I walked back to my car. I cried, just telling Jim about my experiences later that day. I felt gratitude and awe for the Lord who gives us the desires of our hearts–puts those desires in us–then gives us the desires of our hearts, makes our dreams come true. For I always wanted to be a second grade teacher and did my student teaching in second grade. And here I am, ministering in a Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, and suddenly, I am back in the classroom. In second grade. The timing is perfect. It’s just what I needed, a ministry project that, while I help others, is bringing me healing after a difficult summer. Praise the Lord. For he is making me well.
If only we could be as joyful as the little children and as grateful for our blessings–small and large. Like the Samaritan who was healed of his leprosy when Jesus was on his way to the cross to give his life for a world that scorned and rejected him. May we all be stirred to share our faith, gratitude, and joy like the despised outsider, the Samaritan who praised the Lord with a loud voice and fell humbly at his feet. The one who made Jesus smile and say, “Get up, and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Let us pray.
God our healer, we praise you now with all our heart for what you have done for us. Help us to be more grateful and to live lives of gratitude. For you, in your mercy and compassion, are making us well. Help us to be your humble servants, letting go of our own plans and goals and trusting that you know what is best. Build your Kingdom here, in this place, and use us to reach out to our needy neighbors, especially to the children, Lord, so that we might spread hope, joy, peace and love. Give us confidence to use the power of our faith like the one whom Jesus healed of leprosy–to make our families and communities well. In Your Son’s name we ask these things. Amen.