The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23C)
October 13, 2019
Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Ruth 1:(1-7) 8-19a
2 Timothy 2:(3-7) 8-15
Today’s Gospel, another tale from Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, tells the story of Jesus cleansing ten lepers in a village between Samaria and Galilee. What is remarkable about this story is not the healing miracle. The people of Jesus’ time would have taken for granted Jesus’ power to make such things happen. No, what is remarkable about the story is that only one of the ten who were cleansed went back to Jesus to thank him, and that the one to do this was the Samaritan.
As well we know, Samaritans were a people apart from the Jews. They lived apart, had different customs and religious traditions, and were considered by the Jewish establishment of Jesus’ day to be an inferior people. They were outsiders, foreigners. They were constructed in the popular culture of that time as the consummate “other.” Luke certainly likes to use Samaritans in this way in his narratives. We need only think back to the story we heard this summer to remember this. In that episode, the Samaritan, the only person who stopped to help an injured traveller, is painted as the most unlikely of heroes, the one least likely to come to the aid of a stranger and yet, he is the only one to help his neighbour, a neighbour he has never met before. We learn in that story that we must not be so quick to judge the behaviour of someone because of their race or ethnicity, not to assume so easily who might be our neighbour, or who might be the one to offer us the very Love of God.
Likewise in today’s story, it is only the Samaritan, the one looked-down upon, who acts according to the commandments to love God and love neighbour. Only he is able to take a few extra minutes out of his journey and offer praise to God and thanks to Jesus for the great deed done to him, to thank Jesus for this act of healing love. Jesus commends him for his faith, telling him that it is his faith, his living relationship and connection with God that has made him well.
There are several perspectives from which we can consider this story, three points of view to consider that together help us better understand our call to the Christian life. The first is that of the nine who were healed and who did not stop and either thank Jesus or offer prayers to God. They certainly knew who Jesus was, or at least had some idea of his reputation as a healer. They recognised his power and called upon him for help for, although they “stood at a distance” as he entered the village, they “lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” They even called Jesus, “Master,” and yet after they were healed, there was no rejoicing and no one thought to say “thank you.” Perhaps, they were focussed on following Jesus’ instruction to “go and show yourselves to the priests.” Perhaps they had not yet noticed any transformation. What happens next, however, leads me to believe that they simply felt that what Jesus did for them was their due, that it was owed them, and that they need not think twice about the person who offered the healing or whose authority was the its source.
The second perspective is that of the Samaritan who, “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.” He certainly noticed something in his body had changed and spontaneously expressed his gratitude to God. He clearly was so moved by what had happened that he went back, despite his differences from Jesus (and presumably the others), went back to the one who uttered the healing words and “fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks,” literally humble gratitude for that which was done for him. This Samaritan had the confidence in God and in Jesus not to fear the social gap between himself and his healer. Jesus recognises and commends this as nothing less than “faith,” for after rebuking the others, Jesus announces that it has been the man’s faith has made him well. The Samaritan’s faith, then, was different from that of the nine others, for he saw Jesus’ as one with whom he was in relationship, one with whom he had a living connection, and not merely the source of healing power, just there for the taking. The Samaritan, in accepting his healing and offering thanks, has deepened his connection to Jesus and the work of the Kingdom.
The third perspective is that of Jesus himself, who offered the Love of God to all who were open to receiving it. He did this regardless of their race, regardless of any expectations he might have about the people themselves, and not seeking their gratitude. The people asked, and as soon as Jesus “saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” This act of healing, like the Samaritan’s thanks for it, was also spontaneous. He did not look for gratitude before he gave of himself. He offered his healing Love to all and showed that there is enough for everyone.
Yet, at the same time, Jesus is not afraid to point out to all within ear shot, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Jesus does not fault the nine for a lack of gratitude to him and he does not retract his gift of healing. What he does, however, is point out that the other nine failed in their own duty to give thanks for that which they have received. He pointed out that the other nine, presumably recognisably religious Jews, just like the men who walked past the injured man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, failed in their obligation within their own covenantal (that is to say, faithful) relationship with God. Jesus is both a generous healer and not shy about calling us to live up and in to the love that God is offering and giving us all the time.
Each side of this story casts an informative perspective on how we are to lead our lives, how we are to act towards each other, especially when we call for help ourselves and are the recipient of a loving action. Indeed, asking for and accepting help are often much harder for people than helping someone else. You have to admit to being vulnerable, you have to say out loud that you can not do it by yourself, and our society, which so values rugged independence, is engineered to shame this kind of admission as weak. Perhaps those nine who were healed without thanking God after were, like many of us, embarrassed to have been helped and loved. Perhaps they did not know what to do and just went their own way, while the Samaritan was willing to let himself be vulnerable and acknowledge and accept the help and love that had been given him.
The acts of seeking, receiving, and sharing the Love of God are powerful. These are the central task to which we are called children of God, to which we are called as Christians as we live our life in the world. This story shows us each of these elements in action and mirrors for us the reality of how this is effected in the world. I have been talking with the adult Confirmation class about how Anglican theology is essentially practical, how all our theological thinking and liturgical participation is meant to be connected to our Christian living. Our ideas about faith as essentially relational, and about the giving and receiving of the sacrament as the continual work of thanksgiving are not simply ideas, but models for how we are to live in relationship with God and with each other.
We should not be shy about asking for the help we need and accept it graciously, with thanksgiving to the one who gave it, and praise to God for that expression of love into the world. We should not be shy about answering people’s cries for help and do so without expectation of reward ourselves. We should also not be afraid to call people to account for their actions or their inactions that run counter to the command to love. These things are all interrelated and part of what it means to exist within a living relationship with God and our neighbours.
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
Feria, 12 October 2019
© 2019 Andrew Charles Blume