Summary: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. October 14, 2001 Heavenly Father, empower us to acknowledge you, with praise and gratitude, when you work in our lives. Amen. Luke 17: 11-19 Title: “Responding to Grace.”
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. October 14, 2001
Heavenly Father, empower us to acknowledge you, with praise and gratitude, when you work in our lives. Amen.
Luke 17: 11-19
Title: “Responding to Grace.”
Of ten cured lepers only one, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus to give thanks.
“Leprosy” was a cover term for any type of skin disorder from a mere rash to full-blown leprosy, Hansen’s disease as we know it. Ancient people knew that some things were contagious, rashes being one of them. Thus, a person with “leprosy” was ostracized from the community- family, friends and society- until the disorder was cleared up. In Jewish society that alone was not enough. Since any disease was considered, at least, officially, to be a sign of and punishment for sin, the afflicted one had to go to a priest and be declared both “cured” and “clean.” The priests functioned as health officers issuing a clean bill of health. Then, the person had to offer the prescribed sacrifice both in atonement for sin and thanksgiving for the cure. Only after that could he return to the camp and company of his fellows. Consequently, lepers tended to group together for solace and community. In such a state they were not particular whether one was a Jew or Gentile. Even Samaritans were allowed entrance into this sorry society.
In verse eleven, On the way to Jerusalem, Luke continually reminds his readers that Jesus is on his way to his death. Yet, that awareness does not prevent him from being compassionate, from healing others, from teaching all he wants and needs to. These episodes provide examples for his followers as to how they are to behave on their own way to death.
Samaria: Originally, this was the name of a city, the capital of Israel in the north. Later, it became the name of the whole surrounding region or province. In New Testament times it stretched from the Plain of Esdraelon-Jezreel in the hill country to the northern border of Judea.
Galilee: This was the name of the northern part of Palestine or present day Israel, surrounded by the Jordan River, the Plain of Esraelon, Mt. Carmel, Ptolemais, Tyre and Syria.
In verse twelve, Keeping their distance, clustered together, these ten lepers had to keep away from uninfected people for fear others would catch not only their disease but their “uncleanness,” that is, the sin that caused it. Diseases, indeed any violation of the law, made one ritually and religiously unclean, unfit to worship God in the assembly. Anyone who came into contact, even inadvertently, with an unclean person became unclean himself or herself. This would require a ritual of purification on that person’s part. Thus, it was in everyone’s interest to avoid each other “like the plague,” as we now say.
In verse thirteen, have mercy on us! Typically, lepers would beg for alms. They had no other means of sustenance. Such appeals would use this language. However, it seems they were begging Jesus for more then money, a cure.
In verse fourteen, “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” Jesus knew the law and that mere physical cure would not be enough for these men to return to their families. They would need to meet the law’s requirements of a clean bill of health by a priest and an offering of the appropriate sacrifice in order to be considered ritually clean, acceptable both to God and humans.
And as they went, they were made clean. Normally, Jesus would cure on the spot, directly and immediately. These cures happened after a delay and at a distance. The background for this story is clearly that of the cure of Naaman by washing seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman had to trust the word of the “man of God,” Elisha, and obey his instructions. The same is true here. Their going to the priests is a sign of their trust in Jesus’ word and their cure a sign of trust’s effect.
In verse fifteen, “When he saw that he was healed.” The details become fuzzy here. Probably, the Samaritan would have to go to a Samaritan priest. It is hard to imagine a Jewish priest having anything to do with a Samaritan. Moreover, it is not clear whether the realization came after or before presentation before any priest at all. Apparently, Luke wants to present this cure as an awakening, a heightening of consciousness, his understanding of prayer and the results of prayer, an opening of his faith eyes. He would be saying to his readers, including us, that miracles can happen over time, gradually, and not merely instantaneously. So, we should not ask questions of the text that the author does not intend to answer. Nor should we speculate that the man might not have really followed Jesus’ instructions to the letter if he did not, in fact, go to a priest but stopped in mid-journey and turned around and came back. When Luke gets fuzzy on details he wants his readers to stay fuzzy as well.