This sermon was given by our Reader Christine on Sunday 13 October 2019. You can read it again here:
Jeremiah 29: 1,4-7 2 Timothy 2: 8-15 Luke 17: 11-19
Today’s gospel is probably one of the more familiar healing passages known to most of us and follows a number of sayings from Jesus that Luke has recorded, such as the Rich man and Lazarus.
When I first heard the reading about the lepers, or should I say, when I first took it in, I was probably a young teenager and it seemed simple enough to me. There were 10 lepers and Jesus healed them, but only one returned to praise and give thanks to God. Simple! Always remember to give thanks, but maybe it’s not just that simple.
There is much more to this passage than the power of Jesus’ healing ministry. We know that Jews and Samaritans were not the best of friends. In fact, there had been centuries of religious rivalry and ethnic friction between the two. Therefore, they kept their association with each other as far away as possible.
However, here we have at least one Samaritan whom we presume was quarantined with Jews, because of a common misfortune. They were all suffering from a terrible illness and we presume they were all men, but the leprosy had brought them together breaking down the barriers of enmity between the two cultures.
These men would have had to work as a team, possibly building a shelter for themselves, foraging and basically taking care of each other to some extent.
Tom Wright in his book “Luke for Everyone” tells a story of “two explorers who were lost in the South American jungle. For nine months, they wandered about, not knowing where they were or how to get out.” and probably finding food where they could. “Finally, after many adventures and often giving up hope, they were found and rescued. They probably didn’t have enough energy to shout,” and give thanks, “but they will have felt like it. Certainly their relatives back home did”.
I’m sure we have at some time had the experience being lost and not sure about how to find our way out of whatever predicament we are in, whether it is physically or metaphorical. When we do find a way out, there is often relief and a sense of achievement, but do we then remember to thank God?
These ten lepers were physically healed; their sores disappeared and I would imagine they shouted for joy, but it is not just about their illness the animosity between Jew and Samaritan must have been healed. Friendships must have developed between these men and this passage was possibly Luke’s way of preparing people to understand that Jesus’ presence, his mission, was for the healing of all nations, not just for individuals, but to end the hostility between Samaritan and Jew, to heal divisions between nations.
Jesus’ mission was worldwide, not just for individuals and when he commissions the apostles at his Ascension Luke states in Acts, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). A mission to heal a broken world then and now.
The lepers were witnesses to that healing ministry, but only one returned to give praise and thank God. What was Jesus’ response when the one returned to thank him and praise God. “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?’ Then he said to the Samaritan, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ Was Jesus angry, upset or astonished that only one out of the ten returned to thank him and that one a foreigner? Was this an indication of how difficult it would be to convince the world about the Good News of the Gospel?
Maybe the other nine were just in a hurry to see the priest who could give them the all clear so they could return to their families as quickly as possible. Maybe they were rejoicing and shouting loudly when they realised they had been healed, but the main point is that they did not stop long enough to turn round and thank God for their healing.
They may have intended to return to Jesus to thank him and praise God, but by the time they looked for him again, he could well have been a wanted man and they may have been afraid that they would endanger themselves if they sought him out. After all Jesus was heading to Jerusalem where we know, he upset many people.
The Samaritan, however, turned round as soon as he realised he had been healed and gave thanks for what Jesus had done for him, but Jesus also told him his faith had made him well.
Faith and gratitude go hand in hand. Last week we celebrated Harvest and gave thanks for the produce of the land, but how often do we give thanks for the air we breathe, the music we hear, the warmth of friendship and the many other gifts we are given from God that we take for granted. Like the Samaritan we need to stop, turn round and give praise and thanks to God for everything and ask for forgiveness for the many times we have failed to thank him.
The ten lepers can teach us so much, but the Samaritan can teach us so much more about healing, forgiveness, faithfulness and thanksgiving.
The mission for our church this year is the Year of Creation, being good stewards of the earth, but also examples of faith and love to those around us. To share good practice with the local community not just about creation, but faithfulness. If we go from this Church today and talk to ten people about the Gospel, but only one takes any notice, then it is a cause for rejoicing, because that one has stopped to listen and maybe sought God for the first time.
Like Jesus, we shouldn’t be shocked or astonished that only one has turned around to thank God, but we should pray for the other nine and for those who have yet to hear the Gospel for the first time.
Timothy states, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth,” because, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.”
Let us pray the prayer for Creation:
- Gracious God, share with us your heart for creation.
- That we may cherish all life, working together
- to heal the damage we have done.
- Knowing that in all our struggles, you are beside us,
- to inspire, strengthen and transform us.
- In Jesus’ name,
Christine Hardy, Reader
@ St. Margaret’s Holyrood & St. George’s Simister.
Sources used: Commentaries.
The Gospel of Luke – William Barclay
Luke for Everyone – Tom Wright.