FOR THE Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, our gospel comes to us once again from the pages of blessed Saint Luke. Here we read both of healing and proper thankfulness expressed…
On the way to Jerusalem he (Jesus) was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."
When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.
Then said Jesus, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
And he said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."
For the second time in Luke’s discourse, the beloved physician held up the example of the horrid and disfiguring illness of leprosy before his churches. Our writer related that on his way to Jerusalem and his own crucifixion, Jesus walked on the border between Samaria and Galilee… ideologically balanced on the regions of the acceptable and unacceptable… on territory between the clean and unclean.
As Jesus traveled toward taking stripes of the Roman whip for our healing in Jerusalem, he encountered ten lepers. These afflicted, according to mandate… were not allowed entry into the city. Lepers could only remain outside the city, in the villages. They had to maintain their personal distances from the general populace.
Being so afflicted with a dreaded bacterial disease, the lepers had long received traditional, behavioral admonitions. The rules had been made in order to protect those who were deemed healthy, pure and unaffected. The priests in Israel, however, used them in a discriminatory fashion.
"The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, 'Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45-46)
Often the populations of these ancient times considered those who were afflicted with leprosy as persons who had received rightful punishment for their sins and the sins of others. We read, however, that the group Jesus encountered on the road that day did not declare the traditional and accepted warnings. Instead they expressed faith in our Lord by asking Jesus for mercy. In saying “Have mercy upon us…” they all showed faith that they believed Jesus could help them.
But Jesus, not just as the Son of God… but more so as a rabbinical teacher of the Law, did not provide immediate healing. Here he treated them as indeed untouchable. Jesus administered guidance to them in accordance with the norms of the day. Our Lord simply told them to go show themselves to the priest.
While they were yet trapped in rotting flesh, in faith and obedience they all went. According to this Lukan account, the healing occurred for them on their way… while still in their walk of faith. This is very telling and significant for us. The healing here unfolded differently than some during other occasions reported… such as that told in Matthew 8:2. Here there was an action of faith required of these persons. They were asked to assume that they were healed and walk in that assumption. Indeed they were sent to the priest for confirmation of their healing. As final edict, you see, was the responsibility of the priestly caste. They needed to determine the presence or absence of the illness, as directed in scripture.
"When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests,” (Leviticus 13:2)
Consequently we read that the respondents traveled as Jesus bid them. Each walked with faith in response to the sending. In this we note that Jesus did neither a physical anointing… nor medicinal touching. Yet healing indeed took place in each. Jesus had accomplished such strictly on the power of his Word
We know that according to Jewish tradition, as the priest examined any man having leprosy… when healed the leper were asked to offer a living bird and the blood of dead bird in thanksgiving. Symbolically then, the blood of the offering was poured over the living flesh… consecrating the healing. Then the healed persons were bid to bathe, shave all hair, and wash their clothes. Each motion was likely part of a Jewish purification ritual that had further disinfecting effects.
Once the person was ready to continue the cleansing ritual, two male lambs and one ewe without blemish were to be offered up… accompanied by a cereal offering and log of oil. All of these were to be set at the door of the meeting tent or temple entrance. The blood of the lambs and log of oil was used as a wave, guilt offering before God.
However, if the healed person was of poor means, lest any be left out… a more meager thank offering was made. One male lamb was given, and some flour mixed with oil was provided for cereal offering. Two turtle doves or pigeons purchased in the courtyard of the temple would also be in order. Here we note the pattern which was to come in Jesus’ own crucifixion as the Lamb of God, and the gift of the Holy Spirit we enjoy at baptism.
With these offerings made according to one’s station in life, and the priestly caste receiving the offering as such…, the healed leper would be accepted back into the Jewish community and temple culture. This was all contingent, of course, upon the leper being of Hebrew stock and Jewish faith. Here is where we find contention and disparity. This following of ritual was for the Israelites only! The Samaritan could not participate in the affirmation and thanksgiving. This fact, for the Christian church and Luke’s churches, is possibly the reason that this text looms so large for us today.
In this final qualification, we see that his offering participation quickly became problematic for the Samaritan. While he could receive good news of his healing, because of religious differences… being a Samaritan… he could not fully participate. Thus we can see that the man would most easily be moved in spirit do a complete about face… to return to the place where he needed not the priestly mandates. He simply returned to the Rabbi who had healed him and instructed him.
We see in scripture that this happened precisely as described, that though all were healed only the Samaritan gracefully was caused to return at all. Therefore, his returning to Jesus was not cause for us to give the Samaritan great credit, but simply evidence of God’s grace given universally, and showed an appropriate response to that grace.
We must ask, “Was this an admonition against the traditional, yet isolationistic Hebraic faith expressions, and an endorsement of faithful Gentile simplicity?” I consider it as such. By his being an outsider over against the others that would hold to their priestly traditions, God’s inclusive grace caused this solitary Samaritan to return through spiritual guidance… to be in the right place at the right time. The man went back to find Jesus, and finding him… gave Jesus appropriate thanks. This pattern effectively removed the priesthood functions from the Hebrews, and gave all honor to our Lord.
All persons healed that day did have faith, but a difference was shown as prominent. The difference was in what they were having faith, and what each did about it. Was it belief in priestly tradition, or was faith in Christ the differing factor? Apparently nine persons clung properly to their Levitical traditions, and one healed outsider returned. Was this a subtle message of acceptance to Gentile worshippers in the early church? I believe so.
There is great and ample scriptural proof of Jesus’ healing response to human faith expressed. We find this in Mark 5:23, Matthew 9:22, and Luke 8:48. However, according to the scriptures here the Samaritan was doubly rejected and repulsive in Hebrew society, both because he was not Israel and previously leprous as well. He could not perform the customary and traditional Hebrew religiosities. Therefore excluded in several ways, he gracefully and faithfully turned to the Son of God as the source of his healing. The symbolic salvation and healing of the man was not then a statement of the man’s character, but a profound new sign of God’s grace through Christ Jesus, our Lord.
This message of faith given for Luke’s churches provides us with clear meaning today. It was the Lukan communities that walked gracefully on the new sociological line, like the Samaritan, caught between traditional Hebraic religious expressions and following that which was not acceptable in Judaism. While any sinful Gentile and Jew in the Lukan community surely could receive healing, it is by grace that all followers of Christ were caused to receive healing and return to God regardless of heritage. All properly turned… repented… gave thanks to his Son.
You see, in our poverty of spirit, the Lamb of God is shown both the sacrifice and a new, perfect, priestly mediator. If we today fail in returning to give proper thanks for this healing and grace because of human traditions or medical procedures, we may also find that we suffer from a proper lack of gratitude. We are inflicted with a sort of spiritual leprosy. Secondly, by ignoring God’s gift to all, we may find that we treat those beyond our faith communities as outsiders. We resist their incorporation into traditional church observances. We may even claim that they do not conform to the ethnic heritages of our particular denomination. We may smugly note that they do not even know a proper gelatin dessert recipe. Indeed, we may ostracize these strangers as illegal immigrants in the faith… in our denomination, and in our particular church. We may deem them as beyond healing affirmation.
To the church today, therefore, I say read scripture very carefully and take warning.
“And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:7-8)
The graceful record of scripture surely reveals here that we as outsiders received healing faith through baptism… and this graceful gift was given only by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is good and proper for us, therefore, to pass knowledge of the gift along to others who are the outcast of the world. We the baptized are thus to “return to the Lord our God, who is merciful, slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love.”
As instructed we should though unclean in sin… go to church to be healed ourselves, and to bow the knee in thanksgiving. We need to return to worship the Holy One! It is Christ Jesus indeed who has already received many stripes of the whip for our healing… and suffered death on the cross to redeem us all. Therefore in the Spirit, bowing before the High Priest appointed, we shall all be caused to give thanks to God. So it is… and so it shall be.