Luke 17: 11-19
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist Church
October 20, 2013
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”
When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
A lot has been made about the story of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. Remember the story. Jesus came to a well in Samaria. His disiciples left him there because they needed to go into town to buy food. At the middle of the day a woman from Samaria came to the well and was surprised by Jesus who asked her for water. Who then turned the conversation around and supplied her with living water. Her life was so changed that she ran to her village to tell everyone about this man who saw into her heart and still loved her.
We know this story, but how often do we hear the story of the Samaritan man? The one in today’s Gospel reading? We simply know him as the leper who wrote Jesus a thank you note. And that is mostly what we know about this story, that it is about being grateful.
And it is, but it is also about much, much more.
Let’s start at the beginning: Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem. He was traveling toward his death. Deliberately. Radically.
This concept came to me at a conference I was just at. And so some of you have heard me say this before just recently. Jesus was, like each one of us, traveling toward his death. He was just much more aware of it than we usually are. and much more accepting of it. As a matter of fact, he set his face toward it.
We usually try to duck out of the way when someone mentions that we are mortal, don’t we? We don’t wake up every morning and say: Oh good, I am one day closer to the grave. I have one less day in my life span today than I did yesterday. If you have ever taken a depression test you know that one of the questions that is asked is if you think about dying frequently. If you would answer, yes, every day I wake up and say to myself, I’m closer, well, you would be prescribed some very strong anti-depressants.
But Jesus was and he knew and we are and we should at least consider it. At least enough to think about, what does it mean that this is the only road we will travel. This is the only life we will live. This is our chance to get it right. Maybe, like Jesus, we would live more fully.
Jesus was on his way toward death, yet fully living his life as the moments presented themselves.
Such as this one: he came to a village. A village that happened to be on a border between two ethnic groups: Samaria and Galillee, We know about borders between two ethnic groups. We are watching what happens all over the world when two ethnic groups who are living in the same region start wars with each other. Syria, Nigeria, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine.
It’s why we can’t make any head way in these reasons, because the hatred and distrust run so deep and so ingrained. We don’t know how to negotiate in these situations. We don’t know what is deeply causing the conflict. The people may speak the same language, even worship the same god, but they hate each other with a passion that it hard to understand.
Jesus traveled between the borders of ethnic groups and came to a village. On the way to his appointment with death in Jerusalem. Would you stop? Would you pay any attention to a group of men who came out a village of a border town full of ethnic strife?
Or would you avert your eyes, as if you were passing a horribly disfigured person and didn’t want to draw attention to yourself or to their sorry plight?
What would Jesus do. Oh vey, Jesus would, of course, look the horribly disfigured person right in the eyes. All ten of them. And hear their cries for mercy. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."
Have mercy on us. They didn’t presume to ask for healing. They were probably only asking for a handout. or a kind word. or an acknowledgement that they were human.
Leprosy, the untouchable disease. It’s curable now. And we know that it isn’t as contagious as it looks. But it can still cause horrible disfiguration so we can only imagine what a person with leprosy looked like in Jesus day. Mercy was not often given to a person with leprosy. dishonor, shame and fear, not mercy.
Yet in this border village ten men lived with leprosy. And there was a priest who served their needs. Maybe it was a leper colony. Or maybe it was a village filled with strangers, outcasts and ten men with disfiguring diseases didn’t make much difference to anyone.
They cried out for mercy and received healing. Salvation really. Wholeness. Really.
Go and present yourselves to the priest, Jesus said. Enter back into your community. You will be able to attend synagogue. You will be able to be a fully functioning member of society. You are healed. You are whole.
In a border town, in the midst of ethnic strife, ten men were healed. One came back and told the man who was on his way to death, ‘thank you.’ It doesn’t seem to us like a very good return on Jesus’ investment of healing energy. But when we consider how many people are made whole every single day by Jesus’ love and mercy and healing power of spirit and soul, who also never say thank you. Who never even realize they were healed… it was probably a typical day in Jesus’ life.
Yet, Jesus continued on his way towards Jerusalem. To his death. A death that would heal thousands and tens of thousands who will live and breathe and have their being in him daily. Moving towards their own deaths without a thought about how they no longer have to fear their journey because Jesus walked it before them. Moving towards their own deaths without a thought about how they have been healed and made whole.
No wonder Jesus didn’t get discouraged when only one turned back. It was why he was going to Jerusalem. So that all could be made whole, whether we say thank you or not.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to say, “thank you.” once in a while.