The beginning of the Gospel today notes that the healing of the ten lepers took place “on the way to Jerusalem.” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem begins at Chapter 9, verse 51. For those keeping track, about 12 Sundays ago. In Luke’s Gospel Narrative, we have been journeying to Jerusalem with Jesus since mid July. The writer of the Gospel of Luke uses this time to share parables of Jesus, dig up information about Jesus’ journey, and to speak as thoroughly as possible about discipleship.
Aside from being in the “region between Samaria and Galilee”, read the first verse of the Gospel, the village Jesus and the disciples are in is not identified. Its location and the description of the one who returns to thank Jesus as both a Samaritan and a foreigner is enough to set the scene for the writer of the Gospel of Luke.
Some interesting history for you all, Samaria became “foreign” following Israel’s secession from the Davidic monarchy in 1 Kings 12 and the establishment of Samaria as the capital of the northern Kingdom under Omri in 1 Kings 16. The Assyrians destroyed Samaria in 721 BCE, dispersing its citizens and resettling the region with other conquered peoples. Ruling and dominant global powers at that time did that. They took people they had defeated in various wars, uprooted them from their homelands and inserted them into different lands around their particular kingdoms.
In Nehemiah 4, tensions developed between the people of Samaria and the Jews who returned to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, which the prophet Jeremiah had some interesting things to say about today in our first reading. During the Hellenistic period, Jews and Samaritans took differing sides in the various conflicts that unsettled the whole region. In Acts, Luke treats Samaria as one of the first fields of Christina mission, a theme which is foreshadowed in Luke, in fact in today’s Gospel, as well as the parable of the Good Samaritan.
By singling out the leper who returns as a Samaritan and a foreigner, Luke shows that Jesus’ message reached well beyond the border of Judea, both literally and metaphorically. The mission to the Gentiles is a prominent feature of the book of Acts, especially evident in various pivotal and tipping point kinds of stories from the book itself.
The other interesting interpretation of this Gospel is about the final phrase, “Your faith has made you well.” This is a vague interpretation of the Greek, it has many different layers to it, one other layer being that it can be interpreted as saying “Your faith has saved you.” This of course, has much more emphatic theological and Christological overtones. Does Luke suggest something other than healing happens to the lepers, or the one leper who returns to Jesus? Has the one leper been saved, in contrast to the other nine who were cleansed as well?
The lepers were cleansed on their way to see the priests. The one who returns does so because he sees that he has been healed. He does not return to be healed by Jesus. He returns rather, to give thanks and praise to God. It seems that Luke is presenting this story in the Gospel not to distinguish one leper from the others, but to emphasize the proper response to any act of grace: thanks and praise.
Any act of grace we receive in our lives should be followed by a response of thanks and praise to God. How many of us would have responded in the same way the Samaritan leper would have responded? How many of us would have had the courage to turn around and give praise? We live in a time of entitlement, when we believe we have worked hard enough to receive or just rewards. A time where we believe we are above and beyond thanks and praise. Past that immature expression of weakness.
To express thanks and praise to God is to humble ourselves in a way that is probably quite unfamiliar to each of us. Every Second Sunday so far we have sung the Gloria that was written by Maggie Brickson, and every Second Sunday so far I get goosebumps all over my body. I get chills when we sing it because I believe the simple act of singing something about giving thanks and praise taps into a deep part of our soul, a part of my soul that does not get fed all that often, a part ofm y soul that does not see the light of day for fear of a show of weakness.
Five years ago when I first started here, I took an online class through some seminary down in Iowa, it was called from maintenance to mission, and one week were talking about transformation and congregations response to transformation. And as we were discussing, I said, we should, in light of various transformation a congregation experiences sing about them, and yell about them and give thanks for them from the rooftops, at the top of our lungs. There was silence for a moment and then someone said, people don’t need to hear about transformation and thankfulness, they need to hear about sin and how to be reconciled.
To express thanks and praise is to humble oneself before God, it can be a humiliating experience and people will not hesitate to humiliate anyone who shows any kind of humility as a part of humbling themselves. After all we are individuals, who arrived in the place we have arrived because of the hard work we have accomplished and we did it all on our own thank you very much. Entitlement is a dangerous. It leads to hubris, which leads to judgment, which leads to separation. The only thing, it seems that can bring entitlement down is a good does of thanks and praise.
The basic Christian response to God is gratitude: gratitude for the gift of life, gratitude for the world, gratitude for the dear people God has given us to enrich and grace our lives. The basic Christian experience is gratitude to God for God’s love in Jesus Christ and the accompanying gift of hopeful confidence and wholeness and wellness that comes with it, regardless of the worldly circumstances in which we find ourselves.
This week I would ask you to consider Anne Lamott’s two favorite prayers: each morning wake up and pray, “Help me. Help me. Help me.” And every night as you go to bed pray, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” And as you fall asleep, remember this song.