The 21st Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 23C (10/9/2016)
Lessons:2nd Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c Psalm 111 (1) 2nd 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.
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.
We know almost nothing about these ten lepers, yet there are some things we can surmise. They are identified as lepers by the community. They may have had different reputations before this illness struck them. They may have been productive, generous, wealthy, famous, friendly, kind, influential… who knows? But these terms are no longer applied to them. They are now lepers. Simply lepers. As such, they are banned from all community events, and forced to live beyond the boundaries of the town with only other lepers for company. They are obedient to these restrictions, understanding that their presence in town could be quite dangerous. When Jesus arrives they are “keeping their distance.” Yet they cry out to Jesus: “Have mercy on us!”
This is precisely what he does. He sees them, St. Luke tells us, and he sends them to the priests. Interestingly enough, although they are still plagued by this dreaded skin disease (they hadn’t yet been made clean…), they make their way to the priests, who are the ones with authority to declare them clean and restore them to society. And while they are going — perhaps because they are going — they discover that they are made clean. All ten look down at their formerly diseased skin and see that for the first time in a long while there are no signs of disease.
In the Greek New Testament (the oldest copies of the New Testament are written in the Greek language), all ten notice that they are ἐκαθαρίσθησαν, which means “made clean.” Yet one sees something more. He sees that he is ἰάθη, which means “healed.” We don’t know exactly why he leaves the others and returns to Jesus. Perhaps he is the only one who realizes the deeper implications of what Jesus has done for them. Perhaps it is because he is a foreigner, and doubts that the priests would be interested in meeting with him anyway. Regardless, he praises God, returns to Jesus, throws himself at his feet, and thanks Jesus for what he has done.
It is at this point Jesus says something with even deeper meaning. The NRSV misses it with its translation (“…your faith has made you well.”). ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκεν σε is better translated, “Your faith has saved you.”
That’s the difference between the nine and the one. Nine are made clean. Freed from this misery, they are restored to their families and communities. They are given the grace of a new start. Who knows what other blessings they experienced through this experience? But Jesus marvels that only one returns to thank him, and only to one does Jesus say, “Your faith has saved you.”
I wonder how we would read this text if we thought of it as a metaphor for today’s church. Yes, many are blessed by the ministries that we offer. Yes, many are grateful for the experiences they have through church. But how many of us experience healing in our bodies or our souls? How many lives are transformed by the presence of Christ in our midst? How many lives are made new? Perhaps these are the questions we ought to pose as we consider our life together. Perhaps these are the outcomes we ought to keep in mind as we create opportunities for God’s people to gather.
“Get up and go on your way; your faith has saved you.” May we hear these words of Christ as words for us today. May we be stirred to lasting faith in the One who has defeated death. And may this experience of faith be profound enough to save us!
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What pain were these ten lepers suffering before they met Jesus?
- How does the experience of the nine in this text contrast with the experience of the one?
- How must this encounter with Jesus have changed the life of this one?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What healing (physical, emotional, spiritual) has God allowed me to experience?
- How has this affected my life, and my relationship with God?
- What ministries of my church are most likely to help people have a similar experience?