Pentecost 21C – October 13, 2013, October 10, 2010
October is Clergy Appreciation Month.
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7-Thus says the Lord to the exiles in Babylon: Build houses; plant gardens; take wives; have children. But seek the welfare of the city to which I have sent you.
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c – Namaan, a Syrian, goes to Elisha to be healed of his leprosy.
Psalm 66:1-12– Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth, for he has tested us, refined us like silver.
Psalm 111 – I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
2 Timothy 2:8-15 – I endure everything for the elect, that they may attain salvation. If we have died with him, we will also live with him. Do your best to show yourself an approved worker.
Luke 17:11-19– Healing of the ten lepers.
We all know the story. For most of my 25 years of ordained ministry it was appointed for Thanksgiving, so many of us old preachers tackled it annually between football games.
Jesus is in some unnamed village between Samaria and Galilee, on his way to Jerusalem, headed for we-all-know-what. Ten lepers meet Jesus, asking for mercy. With an ostracizing disease they cannot participate in religious, social or financial life of the community. Leprosy could be any number of diseases. An unknown spot on the arm could be diagnosed as leprosy by a priest. If so, certain rituals were performed. The leper would often be asked to leave the community. One could only return if the priest had declared the disease healed, and the person clean.
Houses could have leprosy too. Leviticus 14:34-47 says,
When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, 35 the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “There seems to me to be some sort of disease in my house.“36 The priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease, or all that is in the house will become unclean; and afterward the priest shall go in to inspect the house. 37 He shall examine the disease; if the disease is in the walls of the house with greenish or reddish spots, and if it appears to be deeper than the surface, 38 the priest shall go outside to the door of the house and shut up the house seven days. 39 The priest shall come again on the seventh day and make an inspection; if the disease has spread in the walls of the house, 40 the priest shall command that the stones in which the disease appears be taken out and thrown into an unclean place outside the city. 41 He shall have the inside of the house scraped thoroughly, and the plaster that is scraped off shall be dumped in an unclean place outside the city. 42 They shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and take other plaster and plaster the house.
43 If the disease breaks out again in the house, after he has taken out the stones and scraped the house and plastered it, 44 the priest shall go and make inspection; if the disease has spread in the house, it is a spreading leprous disease in the house; it is unclean. 45 He shall have the house torn down, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and taken outside the city to an unclean place. 46 All who enter the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening; 47 and all who sleep in the house shall wash their clothes; and all who eat in the house shall wash their clothes.
These laws were designed for the safety of the whole community. They were like our health codes, mold abatement and so on.
One can only imagine the struggle of being ostracized from the community. How does one work? Who helps you in your infirmity? How much would you miss your family? Does your family bring food to you? How far away are you from the comforts of home?
Jesus commands them to go see the priests, even though they have not yet been healed. They must act on faith, going to the priests even though they have not seen their healing even begun.
Along the way they are healed. Jesus asks them to visit the priests, but not for healing. A priest would have to give them a clean bill of health, before they could return home to mainstream society. Being sick, or more accurately here, unclean, inferred divine disfavor. If you had leprosy, God was clearly punishing you for some hidden sin. Healing was then a sign of forgiveness.
They leave, for home presumably, but one of them turns and begins praising God with a great voice (phoneis megaleis/φωνηςμεγάλης). I love the image of praising God with a megaphone. Falling at Jesus’ feet he says the two important words we are taught as children: “Thank you,” (Euchariston/εὐχαριστων). Giving thanks is a eucharistic event. Taking the eucharist is an act of Thanksgiving. Sin is the heart incurvatus en se as Luther said, turned in upon itself. Giving thanks is a sign that the heart is no longer turned inward, but now turned outward in joy and thanksgiving for God, life, love, Christ, the other. Ten were healed physically. This one leper has found more than physical healing.
Jesus is not soft here: “Were not ten cleansed? So, where are the other nine? Is no one going to praise God but this foreigner? Okay, son, move along. Your faith has made you well.” Thoughts:
- Jesus isn’t happy with a 10% return. In his parable of the sower and the seed, he seems to expect at least 25% of the seeds to fall on good soil and bear fruit. 1/10 lepers returning to praise God and give thanks catches his attention.
- There is a running critique of Israel’s lack of faith in Luke. Foreigners consistently have more faith than Israelites. The “foreigner” comment seems like a slam at first, but Jesus is pointing out, as he did in the Good Samaritan, that sometimes those of other cultures and religious traditions show more faith, compassion and hospitality than those we consider orthodox. Jesus, perhaps ironically, points out that this person is not one of the orthodox, righteous insiders. To wit: “Oh look, a heathen gives praise to God! Hmm. Where are the faithful?” Once again a scandalous Samaritan is made a hero in Luke. This must have irked some folks.
- “Your faith has made you well,” is actually “Your faith has saved you.””Sodzo” is the verb (ἡπίστιςσουσέσωκένσε). Luke uses salvation language again. Salvation, not as life after death – pie in the sky when you die – but salvation in it’s fullness: one made whole, right with God, body and soul. Paul would say “justified.” Jesus is saying,”Your faith has made you right with God.” Here is justification by grace through faith, even in Luke with his rich/poor flip-flop theology of the afterlife.
The leper’s salvation is revealed by his turning to praise God and give thanks. Meister Eckhardt’s words (my second favorite German heretic) have stuck with me all these years: “If the only prayer you ever prayed was ‘Thank you,’ it would be enough.” Having a heart of gratitude, a heart that explodes in praise of God, these are signs of salvation. Luke’s Jesus will use similar words with Zaccheus two chapters later after Zach gives half his stuff away: “Today salvation has come to this household.”
Today. Gratitude, generosity and joy are signs that salvation is here. Now.