Meditation on Luke 17:11–19
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown
Pastor Karen Crawford
Oct. 9, 2022
Link to the livestream of the worship, with my message: https://fb.watch/g3TPraiT-v/
Our confirmation students are, once again, gathering with me at the manse tonight, preparing to work on faith statements. This is the most challenging part of the entire confirmation program!
It just dawned on me yesterday: growing up in a Lutheran church, I never had to write an original faith statement. I had a lot of memorizing to do—the Lord’s Prayer with trespasses, the Ten Commandments, the books of the Bible, and the Apostles’ Creed. Did any of you have a lot of memorizing to do for your confirmation? I had to know all the right answers to the catechism—so that was more memorizing and making sure I used the correct language to express the church’s faith.
No one asked me what was in my heart.
I recently was asked to write a personal statement of faith for a doctor of ministry seminar. We were urged to be creative and use metaphor rather than the carefully crafted, traditional church language we have been taught. I spent hours and hours rewriting my statement of faith. And I’m still not completely satisfied with it. So, I feel great compassion for our students, writing and sharing faith statements for the first time, at such a young age.
I pray that they will trust themselves, their church, and me with this assignment and share what’s in their hearts. Because more important than our carefully crafted words is what’s in our hearts. The God who is always near to us is always listening for our hearts. Scripture assures us that our loving and compassionate God knows what’s in our hearts—like no one else does. In 1 Samuel 7, the Lord says to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him, for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem in our reading in the gospel of Luke. He appears to be alone in this leg of the journey —a kind of a no-man’s land. He’s somewhere between Samaria, where the dreaded Samaritans live—who don’t worship and sacrifice to God at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, but up on a mountain—and Galilee, where people of his own culture and Jewish faith dwell in their own communities.
Jews and Samaritans don’t usually live closely together. But they do in this village that Jesus enters—a place where healthy people don’t dare go; people with a skin disease live there. The Bible calls them “lepers,” but they don’t all necessarily have leprosy (Hansen’s disease). And it doesn’t matter if they do or not. They are ALL unclean because of the imperfections of their skin—it could be eczema or psoriasis or some other serious rash—but it’s ALL the same to the priests and considered contagious, no matter what it is. People with skin diseases cannot come to worship or live in the same home or community with their families. Their affliction is seen as a punishment for their sin or the sins of their parents.
How can they earn a living? You ask. They can’t. They have to remain at a distance from everyone who doesn’t have a skin disease. They are forced to beg and scrounge for food, relying on the charity of others. Many will die not from their skin disease, but from poverty, hopelessness, hunger, and loneliness.
Jesus enters this village where other people don’t dare go—because he came to seek and save the lost. He came to show God’s love and compassion to the stranger, the outsider and the outcast. He came to proclaim the Reign of God drawing near by calling all to repentance, casting out demons, and healing people of disease. Immediately, 10 lepers approach him, and they know who he is! Christ makes himself known to them. They still keep their distance, so as not to make the One who can heal and save them unclean.
They cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
The healing doesn’t happen right away. Jesus invites the lepers to participate in their own healing by a simple show of faith—go and present yourselves to the priests. They are the ones who will declare them clean and allow them to return to their former lives, once again.
And verse 14, “As they went, they were healed!!!”
One turns back—and doesn’t follow through on doing what Jesus tells him to do, at least not yet. But the one who turns back after he is healed reveals the true state of his heart–his love and gratefulness to God. He praises his Healer with a loud voice, throwing himself at Jesus’s feet, thanking him profusely. And this is when Luke tells us that he is a Samaritan. He is an outsider to the Jewish community. After this joyful, healing encounter with Jesus, the lover of all people, he is a believer, with no place to go. Though he could live with Jewish lepers, he wouldn’t have been welcome to live in the healthy Jewish community.
My favorite line in this whole passage is when Jesus asks the man, and I believe that he speaks gently, almost playfully, “Were not ten made clean? So where are the other nine?” This is Christ’s way of telling him that he did the right thing! He is lifting up the Samaritan as an example because of his faith and the gratitude he expresses, with all his heart.
The door of salvation through Jesus Christ opens wide to ALL who come in faith and humility, recognizing that salvation is God’s loving gift—not a work, not something that can be earned. Or lost.
Jesus is speaking to generations of believers who might be tempted to judge other people as outsiders or unworthy of God’s grace, mercy, and healing, when he asks, “Did none of them return to give glory to God except this foreigner?”
He sends the Samaritan man off with a blessing, saying to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” The Greek word translated “Get up” is the same word used for “resurrection.” And the Greek translated “made you well” may also be translated “healed” or “saved” you.
I find myself wondering what the Samaritan will do now, after his healing, life-changing encounter with Jesus. He may be, perhaps, like the Samaritan woman at the well—who becomes a believer in Jesus when he tells her her life story and offers her living water, so she will never thirst again. The Samaritan woman in John leaves her water jar at the well and becomes Christ’s apostle, sharing her testimony in the city and bringing others to faith in Christ the Messiah.
And I can’t help but wonder what happened to the other 9, as Jesus asked, perhaps playfully. Will others recognize them and welcome them as friends and family, once again?
Will their healing encounter lead them to share their stories? Will it lead to a change of heart? In their gratefulness to God for the gift of a new and abundant life, will they seek to bring Christ’s hope and healing to their community? What would you do? What will you do now that you’ve heard their story? What does your heart tell you?
I wonder how you will make a difference.
Let us pray.
Holy One, Heavenly Potter, thank you for breathing life in us at Creation and your Spirit that continues to breathe life into our ministries and unite our church family. Thank you for the gift of our faith, which we feel deeply in our hearts, and the promise of our healing and wholeness through the work of your Son. Fill us with such gratitude, Lord, that we cannot help but live lives of thanksgiving, in love and faithfulness, seeking to bring hope and healing to the world. We look forward to your Son’s return, when on earth it shall be as it is in heaven and the Potter’s work of art will be made complete. We pray these things with joy and thanksgiving. In Christ’s name. Amen.