The 20th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 23C (October 10, 2010)

Changed Hearts, and the Kingdom of God

Lessons: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c Psalm 111 (1) 2 Timothy 2:8-15 St. Luke 17:11-19

Semicontinuous Series: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 Psalm 66:1-12 (9)

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation.  Keep us safe from all that may hurt us, that, whole and well in body and spirit, we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Text

17.11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

St. Luke 17:11-19. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Sometimes the context tells it all. This section of Luke’s Gospel includes numerous parables – parables about the Kingdom of God. Salt (14:34-35). The Lost Sheep (15:3-7). The Lost Coin (15:8-10). The Prodigal Son (15:11-32). The Dishonest Manager (16:1-9). The Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31). The Unjust Judge (18:1-8). The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (18:9-14). Surrounded by all these parables, stands this week’s text: a story about ten men with leprosy. Luke is undoubtedly doing kingdom work here, and this healing story is intended to strengthen his presentation on what Jesus would have us know about God’s kingdom.

“What does leprosy have to do with the Kingdom of God?” you might ask. And at first this parable seems to have more to do with earthly realities than heavenly realities. Until we observe how each of these ten men responded to Jesus’ healing power in their lives. Nine men cry out for mercy. Nine men are commanded to go to the priests (the only way a first century leper could be declared clean, and be restored to family and community). Nine men observe that as they obey Jesus’ command to go, they are made clean. As far as Luke tells us, we never hear from those nine men again. And, frankly, who could blame them? Their greatest desire has been realized. Leprosy would no longer stand as a barrier between them and all that they love. They can return to their homes. They can return to their families. They can return to their neighborhoods. They can return to their jobs. And so return they do. After stopping by the priests to get approval, they enter into life as they used to know it, never looking back at the painful experience that soon began to seem like a distant nightmare. To scorn them for their behavior is to misunderstand their experience. They are restored! All they want to do is immerse themselves in what they so desperately longed to know again.

But for one, it is a different experience. He too cries out for mercy. He too hears Jesus’ command to go to the priests. He too observes that as he obeys Jesus’ command, he is made clean. He too, we assume, can hardly wait to get checked out by the priests and go back home again. But unlike the others, he disobeys Jesus (at least momentarily). He sees that he is healed. (Notice the difference – the nine see that they are clean. He sees that he is healed.) He praises God for what has happened to him. He races back to Jesus, falls at his feet, and thanks him over and over again. Gratitude replaces even his desperate desire to return home. For a moment, it is far more important to give thanks to God than to satisfy his personal longing to be back home again.

In a word, he is changed. The healing touch he experiences from Jesus not only cleanses his skin, but it fills his heart, and becomes all he can think about. Somewhere deep down inside, he leaves that day an entirely different person: someone who knows the grace of God; someone who knows the depth of God’s love; someone whose heart has been transformed by the presence of Jesus Christ. After all, that is what the Kingdom of God is all about, isn’t it? Making a difference in the hearts of those who are touched by Christ.

May we hear these words in all their power. May they change our hearts as well, that we too might know, first hand, the kingdom of God.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How does Jesus describe the Kingdom of God in chapters 14-18?
  2. What are the central aspects of experiencing that kingdom?
  3. What happens when an individual comes to experience the Kingdom of God?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How have I experienced God’s touch in my life?
  2. What kind of difference has it made for me – how has it changed the way I see my life or my world?
  3. How have I acted in a way that demonstrates my gratitude to God?