Saturday, October 9, 2010

Luke 17:11-19

Look who "gets it"!
10 October 2010

Is anyone here a Canadian?

If you were Canadian you would know that tomorrow is Canadian Thanksgiving.

In the States we have Thanksgiving on November 25th this year.

The Chinese had their Autumn moon festival a few weeks ago. The Koreans had their three day harvest festival, Chuseok, just a couple of weeks ago. The Korean festival coincided with the Jewish Sukkot or festival of booths.

All of these are harvest and thanksgiving festivals of sorts -- although none are quite like the American version. Perhaps the closest is the Canadian celebration tomorrow -- where many families will actually sit down to a turkey feast complete with pumpkin pie. And they’ll watch endless football. Calgary plays Monteral and BC plays Winnipeg. Go Lions!

Even the countries that don’t have Thanksgiving value thankfulness. Parents everywhere attempt to teach their children the value of gratitude.

When it comes to thankfulness one of the stories that Christians often turn to is that of the lepers in Luke 17.

Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by a couple of bacteria. It affects the nerves and the skin. About 95% of us are naturally immune to the bacteria and the disease is easily treated in the modern world. But in the ancient world it was devastating.

Because it is infectious, if you started to show signs of the disease you were expelled from the community. You had to leave your family and your friends to live in poverty in leper colonies on the edge of town. You were not allowed to approach healthy people -- not that healthy people wanted to be around you because you were often grossly disfigured during the advanced stages of leprosy.

Luke 17:11 -- “As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’”

It’s not clear what they wanted -- perhaps a donation -- most likely a healing touch. Somehow from a distance they had heard about Jesus and his miracles. So they are looking to get in on his action.

But Jesus doesn’t heal them -- at least not right away.

Verse 14 “He looked at them and said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’”

For a bill of clean health you had to go show yourself to a priest who would officially recognize the healing. He was the community health officer. And once you got that recognition you could return to your neighborhood, your family, your old job. You got your life back.

“And as they went, (vs. 14) they were cleansed of their leprosy.”

That is, while they were on the way to see the priest they were healed of their leprosy. Only as they stepped out in faith and followed Jesus’ brief instructions -- does the disfiguration begin to disappear. The feeling returned to their fingers and their feet.

You can imagine the swelling emotions and the joy. A father would once again be able to embrace his children. A farmer would be able to return to raising food for his family. The death sentence of leprosy was reversed.

Verse 15 -- “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, ‘Praise God!’ 16 He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done...”

17 “Jesus asked, ‘Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?’”

Now, over the years we’ve had a little fun at times trying figure out what happened to the other nine who didn’t return to give thanks.

I suspect that:

One ended up at the mall trying to figure out what he needed in order to return to fashionability.

Another took his family for a weekend away up at the lake.

One man, so jazzed bout having feeling back in his legs, went dancing.

A single guy decided to make up for lost time and started calling all his old girlfriends -- and it was work convincing each of them that he didn’t have some communicable disease. They had obviously heard otherwise and were at times a bit worried about themselves.

You get the idea. They were enjoying their good fortune and looking forward to making up for time lost away from their families. And really, when you think about it you can't blame them.

But one man was different -- his faith was different. He came back to Jesus shouting “Praise the Lord” and Luke says that he fell at Jesus’ feet in gratitude.

This is the man that we usually hold up as an example -- a model during our thanksgiving celebrations -- whether it be in Canada or the US or wherever the gospel is preached.

But I want to let you in on a secret. When we preach about the one who returned while nine didn’t -- we’re not really telling you the whole story. I won’t say that we’re not telling you the truth. It is the truth. I mean, yes, this story is about about thankfulness -- something which everyone already assumes is important. But it is only indirectly and somewhat secondarily so.

There is a little line in the story that we usually gloss over but which makes the point that the gospel writer is trying to make.

It’s at the end of verse 16 -- “He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done.” (And here it is -- ) “This man was a Samaritan.” Let me say it again -- “This man was a Samaritan.”

The story is not as much about the importance of being thankful as it is about WHO was thankful.

You see, in the ancient Jewish worldview -- the world in which Jesus functioned -- there were two kinds of people. There were Jews -- the children of Abraham and Moses -- those who by birth inherited the benefits of the Covenant.

And then there was everyone else. And the worst of the everyone else were the Samaritans.

You see, the Samaritans had at one time been a part of the mainstream of Hebrew life. But then when the Assyrians took over the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC they deported most of the people.

Some, however, were able to stay -- and they intermarried with some non-Hebrew people and set-up their own religious practices -- including an alternative Temple at Mount Gerizim. When the Jews of the south returned from their Babylonian exile there was a lot of tension between two groups -- with the Samaritans claiming to be the true descendants of Israel -- even though they had married some pagan women.

During the Roman era there were about a million Samaritans living in the area just to the north of Jerusalem and Judea. (By the way, today there are only about 700 Samaritan descendants living in that same area.)

A first century Jew would have considered these people -- these Samaritans -- to be despicable unorthodox heretics -- not even worthy of a conversation.

And likewise, the Samaritans despised the Jews.

It was not a pretty situation.

So when Luke, the gospel writer, notes that the man who returned to Jesus to give thanks was a Samaritan -- he is throwing a loaded statement into the conversation. He is attacking a whole set of social and religious assumptions.

Then in verse 19 when Jesus says to the Samaritan, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” Oh my, oh my... talk about trouble.

There are two kinds of people in the world. First century Jewish leaders would have said that there are Jews and non-Jews. The Jews had the true faith and the Samaritans were religious deviants -- people with messed up theology and bizarre religious practices -- thus they were not Jews. They were outside.

How is it, then, that Jesus tells a Samaritan “Your FAITH has healed you”?

Luke, echoing Jesus, is saying that indeed there are two kinds of people in the world -- except the normal labels are wrong.

There are two kind of people in the world -- those who get Jesus and those who don’t. And ironically, in Jesus’ ministry it is the non-Jew who gets it while the ancient Jews, in spite of their privilege and background, in spite of their blood connection to Jesus -- don’t get it. They don’t respond in grateful faith.

Foreigners -- outsiders -- getting it, is a bit of a pattern in Luke’s presentation of the gospel. Luke himself is a religious foreigner who has embraced Jesus. And, according to chapter 1, he is writing his gospel to someone named Theophilus -- a non-Jewish Greek name. Luke is very interested in this foreigner angle.

In Luke 7 it’s actually a Roman Army officer, a member of the enemy occupying force who gets it. He asks Jesus to heal his slave but then saying that he isn’t worthy to receive Jesus in his home he sends word to Jesus that he can heal him by distant command.

Jesus says of the Roman officer “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel.”

In Luke 10 -- the story of the good Samaritan -- it’s a despised foreigner -- once again a Samaritan who acts more in accordance with the intention of God’s law -- who “gets it.”

Two Jewish leaders, on the other hand, who are acting in accordance with the cultural and religious practices of their time -- people who needed to avoid defiling themselves through an encounter with human blood and possibly death -- doing all the right things to uphold the rules -- don’t “get it.”

But the surprise in the story is that it is a despised Samaritan, with all of the wrong religious ideas and practices, who does “get it.”

This is becoming a real pattern in the gospel accounts.

Back to Luke 17 -- “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “‘Praise God!’ 16 He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

17 “Jesus asked, ‘Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’” (Implying that the others were Jews.)

Verse 19 “And Jesus said to the man, ‘Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.’”

Does that sound at all outrageous to you? If you had heard all your life that yours was the only true faithful way of serving God and that God had singled you and your people out for special privilege -- if you considered that the only faith worth considering was faith that kept all of the Jewish laws and rules --

But then comes Jesus, the one whom everyone seemed to think was the Jewish messiah -- the ultimate Jew on special assignment from God -- who was going to save his people from their humiliation. And this Jewish messiah tells a Samaritan that HIS faith has healed him.

It almost seems like Jesus is saying is that the only thing that matters is if someone has faith in him and that all of the previous labels and categories are somehow irrelevant.

“This man was a Samaritan.”

As far as Jesus is concerned it’s not so much religiosity and background but practiced faith in him which counts. (Key Point)

I’m not suggesting that religious background is totally irrelevant or unimportant -- but that when you cut to the chase -- when you get to the bottom line, it’s about faith -- trusting in Jesus -- who was sent by God to heal the world.

It’s possible to have a head full of good theology but lack faith. And likewise, it’s possible to have a head full of faulty theology but still have faith.

I’m not saying that theology is unimportant. As you get to know me you figure out pretty quickly that I’m a theologian by call -- I deal well in the world of ideas. Theology is important but actual faith in Jesus is more important.

Even though poor theology can ultimately hinder faith, we are not saved by right doctrine or theology. “For it is by grace that you are saved by faith...” (Ephesians 2:8)

And this is good news -- because a lot of us have some pretty messed up theology or religion in our backgrounds.

I keep running into people reacting against it all -- people who say: “You know I’m not religious but I’m spiritual.” And I appreciate the attempt at authenticity in that.

Others of us are living the modern equivalent of a leper’s life. Maybe you have HIV or you’re hooked on coke or beer or whatever. Maybe you don’t have the right documents to be living here and you’re thinking that you’re too much of a Samaritan for this Jesus stuff to really mean much for you.

Hey, the good news in the story isn’t that one leper returned to Jesus with grateful faith but that he was a Samaritan -- an outsider. The guy voted by his class as least likely to succeed got it.

We’re all familiar with the church slogan -- NO PERFECT PEOPLE ALLOWED. What that means is that Samaritan lepers get it best.

They have no pretense of being religiously correct --
or being able to score points with God. It doesn’t work that way.

I was reading this week about Jerry McAuley, who was born in Ireland in 1839. He was raised by his grandmother because his mother couldn’t or wouldn’t care for him.

He was such a trouble maker as a kid that his grandmother eventually put him on a boat for the US to live with relatives in NYC.

You can imagine how well that worked. He ran away from home and survived by stealing. Eventually he ended up in the infamous Sing Sing prison. Talk about immigrant problems!

Through an encounter with another prisoner he became interested in spiritual matters. And one night, while he was in prison, he said that a supernatural presence appeared in his cell and a voice seemed to say, "Son, your sins which are many are forgiven."

I wish I could say that suddenly everything got better for Jerry McAuley. It didn’t. It took time for McAuley to start to live into his conversion. Even after getting out of prison he still drank too much and got into fights. But eventually, after numerous failures and lapses, the faith started to take hold in significant ways.

He saved money and October 8, 1871, 139 years ago this past week, he opened the Water Street Mission in New York City -- the first rescue mission in the US.

Another impossibility -- a least-likely to succeed Samaritan somehow got it -- and he gratefully began to reach out to the other lepers who were living on the wild side.

And that can happen to you if you return to Jesus -- and fall at his feet in faith.

I sometimes wonder what exactly happened to the leper in Luke 17. Luke says that Jesus sent him on his way -- verse 19 -- “Stand up” (the word here is actually same as the word translated elsewhere as resurrection. In other words, “be resurrected and go. Your faith has healed you.”

But then we don’t hear anything else of this man in the Bible. I’m pretty sure, though, that his life was totally different from that point on. You see, his gratitude -- his thankfulness was faith-driven.
He had set out on a journey directed by Jesus.

90% of the people didn’t get it -- but 10% -- one man did. And this man was a Samaritan.

The fact of the matter is that most of us are more Samaritan than anything else. And while most of us are not literally lepers -- we’re in need of healing. So we join the leper chorus -- “Jesus, master have mercy on us.”

Hey, you may feel like you’re not the right kind of person -- that you’re not good enough or that you’re not religious enough -- that you’re too Samaritan -- too much of a foreigner -- AND that you’re the outsider surrounded by all of these people who deserve the attention of the Messiah.

That’s okay -- ask anyway. Jesus didn’t come for those who were healthy and who had it all together, but for those of us who are spiritual foreigners -- for Samaritans.

I love the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15-19 (Message) “Here's a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I'm proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off—evidence of his endless patience—to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever.”

This morning I want to invite you to begin to trust Jesus Christ and to receive his mercy -- to begin the transformation journey -- to begin the resurrection walk -- regardless of how Samaritan you are.

Let’s pray:

Take a moment to be silent and hear what God is saying.

I would invite you to silently pray after me -- perhaps mouthing the words yourself -- if this is your own desire.

God -- I know that I’m not such a perfect person.// I acknowledge that I’ve got issues that are beyond my ability to fix.// I’m a Samaritan leper of sorts.// I know, though, that if you can heal a leper that you can heal me, too. //I am trusting in you -- in your sacrificial death on behalf of all people -- in the resurrection life that belongs to all who trust you.// So, even though it isn’t Thanksgiving I’m thankful for your grace and mercy. Amen.

Affirmation of Faith:
We acknowledge and confess that you are a God on a mission. You receive with open arms all who respond in grateful faith — regardless of race, status, upbringing, background, — or even level of sinfulness. As Jesus, God entered into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn — not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. For this we are thankful and we are ready to lay our lives on the line.

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