October 13, 2019 (18th Sunday after Pentecost)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Psalm 66:1-12

Luke 17:11-19

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

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.’ (Luke 17:11-19, NRSV)

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing unto you. O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I don’t usually spend much time thinking about how I am going to read a scripture passage.  I mostly read the scripture passage as I spend time with it as I write a sermon.  I try to make sure I pronounce the difficult names correctly or at least act like I know how to pronounce them, but that is pretty much the extent of time I take preparing to read the text.  This week was different.

This week Jesus’ response was the real point of my struggle with the text.  I wondered if Jesus is angry: “Were not ten made clean?  Where are the others?” Or perhaps he was curious: “Were not ten made clean?  Where are the others?” Or was he being overly compassionate, or frustrated, or sad?  There were all sorts of options open to interpreting his response.

I am clearly not an actor, but I understand that how one reads something makes all the difference. Inflection here, emphasis there, changes the meaning for the text. So, how one interprets Jesus response makes all the difference in how we hear it.  For example, Jesus could have been angry, couldn’t he?  In my very humanness I would have been.  You do something nice for someone you the least you expect is a thank you.  It is common courtesy.  Always say please and thank you.  But I don’t hear anger in Jesus’ voice.  I think we are putting our own anger into the story, not Jesus’.   I believe that Jesus understood the nine lepers.  He knew what was going on with them.

Jesus is walking on his way to Jerusalem when he is confronted by ten lepers.  Ten men who are suffering from Leprosy, a horrible skin disease that had no cure.  It was painful because the affected person was covered with painful, gross sores that disfigured their bodies.  They also suffered because they were ritually unclean. That meant they were banished, outside the city walls, forced to live with other lepers and told not to go near other “clean” people.  Being ritually unclean also carried a spiritual stigma.  The unclean couldn’t participate in the Temple services and rituals at the center of their faith.  These ten men and other lepers were ostracized from the community, unable to come near their families and friends, the people they loved.  These men stood on the outside of their community, alone, abandoned, and desperate. 

These lepers realize that Jesus is coming close to them, they call out to him.  I imagine that they were calling out for all sorts of reasons, some for comfort or companionship, some pleading for someone to listen to them, and may be one or two begged for mercy and healing.

I am sure they followed the purity laws and kept their distance from Jesus. They called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  And he does.  Jesus does not touch them but instead he heals all ten of them from a distance.  Then he tells all ten of them to go to their local priest to be declared clean.  All ten of them follow Jesus command and go.  All ten of them were made clean and restored to society. All ten of them.

This is where the plot thickens.

When one of them turns back, praising God with a loud voice.  And falls at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.  Jesus sees him, hears him and asks, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”[1]

J        esus response is the crux of the story! Is he confused? Or hurt? Or disappointed?  Angry?   We don’t know for sure.  What we do know is that he shifts his attention to the one leper who returned.   He blesses him, saying, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”[2]

How we understand Jesus response all comes down to how we translate a single word, a Greek word.  That word – σωζω sozo (pronounced more like sod-zo) – can be translated as “made well,” in the sense of being healed.  But it can also be translated as “saved,” in the sense of being brought through mortal danger. And it can also be translated as “made whole,” in the sense of being completed.  The whole person God created you to be.[3]

Ten lepers were healed and made clean, but only one was saved.  Ten were healed made clean, but only one was made whole.  Ten were healed and made clean, but only one recognized it and gave thanks and, in giving thanks, became what God had intended all along.[4]

So, what did the nine healed lepers do?  The text does not tell us exactly, but surely, we know.  I bet that they were busy.  Much too busy running back to their families and friends to hug and hold them.  They were preoccupied with getting their lives back. They were overjoyed to be free.

Jesus understood this.  “Were not ten made clean?  Where are the other nine?”  Well, they are with their families celebrating their recovery.  Makes perfect sense.  Who can blame the nine lepers for scattering like the wind and putting the past in the past?  It makes sense to say that Jesus wasn’t angry.  He understood.  He understood that when life is tough, when the odds are against us, when the disease is running rampant throughout the body, he hears his name called on a lot.  Remember the famous saying that there are no atheists in fox holes.   Jesus knows people call on him when times are rough, but Jesus also understood that when the disease is gone, the odds look better and life is good, we are too busy celebrating and enjoying life to turn back, to remember Jesus.  To give thanks.  He understood.  He may not like it.  He might wish it were different, but he knew where the nine were.

What was different with the tenth leper?  Gratitude.  Pure and simple gratitude.  Not that the other nine were not grateful that they were healed.  Sure, they were overjoyed and in time they probably got around to writing the thank you note to Jesus.  But the tenth leper was different, his gratitude came from deep in his soul, in a way that he simply couldn’t contain it anymore.  He had to see Jesus and show his gratitude.  He understood that he was not worthy of what had happened to him.  He did nothing to deserve Jesus healing him and he knew it.  And his response was pure gratitude.  

The tenth leper’s gratitude is inspiring.  This tenth leper followed his heart and soul.   He accepted his life as a gift, a gift from God, and returned to give thanks that he had his life back.  He allowed his gratitude to come out. As he turned back to give thanks.  For he was whole again.

Living grateful lives means realizing that we are not self-made, that all of life is a gift from God and that none of us deserve anything we have.  Understanding gratitude is understanding that we are not entitled to life, or to any of lives great blessings.  

I think Jesus was being a little playful in his question, “where are the other nine?”  He was not angry, but playful.  He was questioning the Samaritan and in turn each of us as to why the one leper came back.   Gratitude.  He wants us to ponder why the outsiders, the marginalized are often the ones who live closer to praise and gratitude than those of us on the inside.  This is one of those consistencies of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.  It is the outsiders who get it, the prostitutes, the foreigners, the sinners, the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the lame.  They seem to live on the edge, grateful for every breath, every day, every gift.  They are not entitled, No, instead, they are grateful, grateful for the gifts from God.  They are not so wrapped up in themselves so that they forget the God who created them and gave them everything.

And that, it seems, is the secret to life: gratitude. Noticing grace, seeing goodness, paying attention to healing, stopping to take in a blessing, and then giving thanks for the ordinary and extraordinary blessings of everyday life.  It is exactly what we are created for.

Let us pray

[1] Luke 17:15-16, NRSV

[2] Luke 17:19, NRSV

[3] Reverend Dr. David Lose

[4] Ibid