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Pentecost 18C Sermon
Luke 17: 11-19
13, 2019


Sermon Archives


Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

There are a few stories in the Gospels that include Samaritans that catch our attention, and something about these people should be said if we are to truly understand the impact of these stories. There was the Samaritan woman at the well with whom Jesus spoke about everything in her life. She ended up being a witness to people in her town about Jesus. There was the so-called, “Good Samaritan” in the parable who helps the man who was beaten by thieves and left on the side of the road for dead. He was alone in his generous assistance after a priest and a scribe cross to the opposite side of the road to avoid this victim of violence. And then there is the one leper from our reading this morning, the Samaritan leper who, though nine others are healed of their leprosy, he is alone in his returning thanks and praise to God and Jesus for saving him. Without any context we 21st Century Bible readers might think that Samaritans are pretty good people – at least they are peaceful neighbors to the Jews from the former southern Kingdom of Judea. That is not the case. There is a lot of ugly history between these two groups of people which, when things happen that put Samaritans in a favorable light, it is a shock to those who saw or heard them.

Samaria was once the tribes of Israel, which comprised the Northern Kingdom that David had once united until political battles (which make our current situation seem tame) divided them. They were conquered by Assyria, who moved in and began centuries of intermarriage, thus compromising the historical faith of those people of God. Over time, Samaritans developed their own religious traditions combining an emphasis on the Torah with their new worship center being on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem instead of at the temple in Jerusalem.

Things got worse, and in 128 BC, the rivalry turned especially violent when the Judeans destroyed the Samaritan sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim. Having to travel through Samaria to get to Galilee, in Jesus’ day many Galilean pilgrims bypassed Samaria en route to Jerusalem even though it added considerable time and distance to the journey. You can see how the Jews considered the Samaritans enemies, not just unfriendly neighbors. These, once close family members of the faith were by Jesus’ day actively feuding. They had grown apart so deeply that not one Judean or Samaritan could claim to have a friend or even acquaintance from the other camp.

That is why it is so shocking to a Judean audience that there would be a Good Samaritan … or a Samaritan woman that Jesus would speak to at a well … or that the one leper out of ten who returns to Jesus to express gratitude to God is a Samaritan. They had been trained to hate each other as “ungodly” … and yet, here are snapshots of them in loving relationship with God and showing love to their fellow human beings.

Who is it that people in our country are being trained to hate as “ungodly” today? Who is it that, if you heard of their devotion, gratitude and kindness, you would recoil, doubt, or even exclaim, “It can’t be true!”? Would it be someone who has a different religion from you? Or a different denominational affiliation? Race? Gender? Sexual orientation? Nationality? Political affiliation? Occupation? Socio-economic scales? It is my experience that people who have no friends, family or acquaintances who share some of these differences are more prone to hold more grudges and widen the chasm of hatred and hostility toward them. It is through interaction – conversation and fellowship – that we can overcome the barriers that divide us, and then it is by working side-by-side in love and outreach that those bonds are strengthened, respect earned and bridges built between all of God’s people. Jesus healed all 10 of them without regard for their nationality or religion. Can we be part of the healing that God calls us to in the same way?

October 4th was the feast day commemorating St. Francis of Assisi. He is known as someone who loved all of God’s creatures, human and animal. That is why we have animal blessings around his day. He was also known as someone who tried to love generously and show gratitude in all that he did. Francis lived during the time of the Crusades. He made several attempts to visit the troops fighting in the Holy Land, and in 1219 he met with Sultan Malik al-Kamil in Egypt. At that time in Europe there was no familiarity with the Islamic culture or religion; they were only stereotyped as enemies and infadels. There was an overwhelming anti-Islamic sentiment, and Popes repeatedly used the promise of eternal life and total forgiveness for all sins for those who fought these holy wars. Francis left his own culture at great cost to himself to go to the Sultan – to enter the world of another, one who was considered a public enemy of his world and religion. It took three tries until finally he was able to make it to Egypt, primarily to tell the Christian troops that they were wrong in engaging in this war. This act of humility and respect for the other – and thus for Islam – gained hum what seems to have been an extended time, maybe as much as three weeks, with the Sultan. After the meetings, al-Kamil sent Francis away with protection and a gift (a horn that was used for the Muslim call to prayer). These two men showed each other mutual regard and respect and the horn can still be seen in Assisi. For Francis, being loyal to a particular religion should come second to being loyal to the much larger Kingdom of God. By spending three weeks with this powerful, yet culturally different man, he broke down barriers between them. We do not know if it made a difference in the relations between the sides during these holy wars – and there still is animosity between many Christians and Muslims in the world today – but his example is one that reminds me of the actions of a certain Samaritan who returned thanks to a Judean who pronounced him clean from his leprosy, and restored him to his community.

This story is a reminder to me of many things. That Jesus is the lord of healing, and through him all people can be restored to health and wholeness in mind, body and spirit. That there is no discrimination in who God chooses to heal. Yes, God’s healing power is active and available even for those we might consider very different and strange to us. And finally, it is a reminder that all people have the ability and capacity to love, give thanks for and share gratitude toward God and fellow humans, just as much as we do! May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.