September 1, 2013 Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity
A Pint of Praise
Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 19, Galatians 5:16-24, St. Luke 17:11-19
Jesus makes His way toward Jerusalem. St. Luke tells us that his Lord and
ours stops in a village along the border between Galilee and Samaria, where 10
lepers await. “Jesus, Master,” they cry out, “have mercy on us!”
Of these, one is a Samaritan. Jesus heals all 10.
The last two weeks, I caught one or two of you awake during the sermon. Don’t try to deny it. Insomnia, no doubt. Those one or two may recall that two Sundays ago we encountered the first
of a half-dozen passages on healing in this Trinity season; last week we met a Samaritan.
We are up to our gunwales in Samaritans and healings. Dr. Cranmer is pointing us somewhere.
Let’s think for a moment on Samaritans. When the Assyrians herded the 10 northern tribes of Israel into exile eight centuries before Christ, they populated the vacated territory, known as Samaria, with strangers.
These intermingled with the smattering of Jews the conquerors had left behind because they were too wretched to be of any use in captivity. From this humble stock came a race known as Samaritans. When the Jews to the south looked at Samaria, they saw a field planted with bad seed. They despised the Samaritans as half-breeds.
When these pure Jews of the south returned from their own captivity in Babylon, they set about rebuilding their temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans offered assistance. When the Jews spurned them, we learn at the close of the Old Testament, the Samaritans menaced them during
The Samaritans went on to build their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. In 128 B.C., the Jews destroyed
it. Historians tell us the hatred played out over even more centuries. In an age without a calendar on every laptop, the Jews lit a fire in their capital to signal the Passover.
More Jews lit more fires to the east until the announcement had traveled all the way to the River Euphrates, hundreds of miles away. Samaritans bedeviled this system by starting fires of their own on nearby dates to confuse the timing. Imagine celebrating Easter on the wrong Sunday and you have a sense of the skullduggery at work here.
When Jesus’ Jewish revilers summon the most venomous insult they can hurlat Him, they snarl, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Oh, there is no love lost
between Samaritan and Jew.
But near one unnamed village on the border between Samaria and Galilee, one Samaritan lived among nine Jews. Perhaps their desperate existence as sufferers and outcasts bound them
with a tie stronger than their racial animosity. The evangelist provides no detail on the point.
One other point, however, he makes more than plain. In the original, St. Luke uses an emphatic construction: “And he was a Samaritan.”
With this story of a grateful Samaritan, no doubt, St. Luke is reminding us of the Good Samaritan. But I suspect he is doing even more.
If we walk just a mile or so into the hills outside this village and sit and reflect, we might hear an echo. The Prophet Isaiah relates God’s words as He reveals His ancient plan to redeem Israel.
But at the beginning of chapter 49, the speaker changes. He is no longer “the Lord” but the Lord’s Servant – that’s with an upper-case ‘S.’ This Servant reports that God the Father has told Him:
“It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be My salvation to the ends of the earth” (v. 6).
Is St. Luke, the only gentile among the gospel-writers and the only one of them to record this episode in our Lord’s life on earth, recalling Israel’s past to point us to the church’s future?
Because in his next book, the Acts of the Apostles, he gives one episode after another in which official Israel tramples the gospel of our Lord and those who proclaim it. But not the hated Samaritans. In chapter 8, we see that devout Jew Saul persecuting the Lord’s church, dragging off men and women alike and casting them into prison.
But when St. Philip arrives in the city of Samaria to preach the good news, “the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken” by him, “and there was great joy in that city.” In chapter 15, Paul and Barnabas travel from Antioch back to their capital to attend the Jerusalem Council.
As they pass through Samaria, describing God’s harvest of gentiles for the church on their journey, “all the brethren” greet the news with “great joy.”
While the rulers of Israel and most of her people are spitting on God’s good news of salvation for sinners, despised gentiles and Samaritans are gobbling it up. The divine plan has included them from eternity past. The rescue of Israel alone was always “too small a thing.”
In our passage for today, this Servant we met in Isaiah, called Jesus, heals 10 lepers. The nine Jews do not praise God, they do not fall on their faces at His feet and give thanks; only the one non-Jew does those things.
Another Samaritan, another healing. When our Lord healed the deaf-mute, one or two of you will recall, He did the strangest thing. He stuck His finger in the man’s ear, and unstopped his hearing. And He spat on his finger and touched it to the man’s tongue, clearing his impediment of
Here He does no such thing. Do you seek the mercy of healing? “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” They turn to leave. And, straightaway, healing happens. In the previous case, Jesus had used His finger and His spittle as His instruments of healing. In this one, He uses the lepers’
According to the code of Leviticus, they must receive the priests’ certification of their cure to return to the community of God’s people. Jesus is a stickler for the law. He has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. During Israel’s wilderness sojourn, the holiest place was the tabernacle, where God dwelt. The holy men, the priests, labored there. Next was the camp, the area surrounding the tabernacle. The Jews, the holy nation of God, lived there.
Outside the camp was the territory of the unholy -- gentiles, sinners and the ceremonially unclean. To be outside the camp was to be cut off from the blessings of the covenant. One sentenced to this outer darkness endured a living death, like the wicked in Sheol.
He was dead in the way Adam and Eve entered death at the fall. God had warned them that if they disobeyed, “You will surely die.” When He cast them from His presence in the garden, He flung them out of the light of His glory, into the outer darkness.
This was their death. When God completed His work of creation, He pronounced what He had made “very good.” It was complete in its perfection, perfect in its completion. Man’s sin changed all that. Banished from God’s presence, His creatures inhabited a dusky netherworld in which they could find no completion apart from their Creator.
In the same way, death came upon one put outside the camp of Israel, where holiness required wholeness. A sacrificial animal must be perfect. A priest must be without deformity. No substance could be mixed with any other but must be pure, thus whole. A man’s behavior must exhibit integrity, which is moral wholeness. Every member’s body must be without blemish of disease or discharge.
Purity of character and body picture the spiritual purity required to dwell in the presence of a God who tells His people repeatedly throughout Leviticus, “Be holy for I am holy.” Sin and disease defile a man.
Our Samaritan today is a man doubly banned from the camp, twice cut off from the blessings of the covenant. He is not a pure Jew and – worse even than a gentile – one of mixed race. And he is a leper, one of the ceremonially unclean.The law afforded no cure for leprosy. The sufferer could only wait for a cure from God.
Now salvation arrives, not only for lepers but for all who seek healing of body and spirit. This Jesus will make men holy by making them whole. Divisions of race that stretch back to God’s dispersion of Noah’s descendants at the Tower of Babel will melt away as the Christ tears down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Greek, creating “one new man from the two, thus making peace.”
He will heal the sin-sick souls of thieving tax-collectors and prostitutes. He will mend the disease-ravaged bodies of lepers and those with bodily discharges. Lepers of all sorts, physical and spiritual, will enter the eternal presence of God through His Christ, in whom is reconciliation for
Those inside the heavenly camp will not be those of unmixed race or unsullied character or unblemished appearance. The mark of membership in the covenant community now is faith.
Thanks be to God!
And yet . . . all 10 lepers are cleansed. But who is saved? Look with me now at a little Greek word, just two syllables of two letters each: sozo. Usually, our Bible translates it as “save.”
And like its corresponding English word, it can apply in more than one context. Ten centuries before Christ, the epic poet Homer got his hero Odysseus sozo’d from death a thousand times or so. Aeschylus and Sophocles also used it to mean “rescue from danger.”
The word has that sense in the Bible, too. In other contexts it means, “save from the penalty of sin” – and there’s one more.
St. Luke (as well as St. Matthew and St. Mark) uses it to refer to Christ’s healings. When the Lord
is on His way to minister to the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, a woman with a flow of blood touches the hem of His garment. He tells her, “Your faith has made you well." He tells Jairus, the ruler, “only believe, and she will be made well.” And life returns to his child.
And here, too, we see that it is the Samaritan’s faith that has “made him well.” But when a woman of the city, a sinner, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair and kisses them and anoints them with fragrant oil, He says to her, “Your sins are forgiven” and “Your faith has saved you.”
The same word: sozo.
In the Bible, rescue from disease and deliverance from sin, salvation from physical death and salvation from spiritual death, come in a bundle. Jesus has come to heal the infirm as an act of mercy and as a token of His power over eternal death. He has come to bring salvation to the outcast and despised, those poor in spirit who cry out to Him as their only hope.
But all 10 were lepers, desperate and rejected, pleading for His mercy. Did not all 10 have
Surely they did. It was not Jesus’ finger but their obedience that activated their cure. Absent coercion, a man will not obey one he does not trust. Jesus used no force. Yet something was lacking in them. It was only the Samaritan who heard those lovely words: “Your faith has made you well.”
Again, the Old Testament instructs us. Proverbs 30:12: “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness.”
The nine lepers see themselves cleansed and . . . and nothing. They race away to the priests to
procure their health certificates so they can return to their busy daily schedules of conference calls and football games and dinners out. They have become pure in their own eyes. What more is
I think of the story of the man who was voted the most humble preacher in the county. His congregation was so proud of their most humble preacher that they presented him with a beautiful
embroidered piece celebrating his humility. On Sunday, he entered the pulpit with this prized embroidery hanging from his neck . . . and the people took it away from him.
Jesus did not use His finger but the Samaritan nevertheless sees in his cleansing the finger of God. One who is poor in spirit knows his need for washing inside and out.
Who is this rabbi? Those temple priests can only certify healing; this One accomplishes it. Must He not be a great High Priest, one who makes God present among men in a way no other has ever done?
One who can turn the putrid flesh of a leper clean as a maiden’s conscience, could He also remove the stain of sin? I must give glory to God for what He has done through this Anointed
One. I must fall on my face at His feet and offer thanks.
And so . . . there’s faith . . . and there’s faith.
Some seed falls on the road, some on stony places, some among thorns. It is only the seed that
falls on good ground that sends down a deep root and bears a bountiful crop.
St. Mark reports on a man who brought his son, possessed of a spirit that threw him into violent convulsions, to the Lord and asked for healing. When Jesus demanded faith of him, the man said, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Are we not all that man?
A faith that does not glorify God and offer gratitude to the One He has sent looks on outward healing and sees inward purity. A pint of praise and a gallon of gratitude would make for a good inner scrubbing, but this faith sprints away to celebrate its owner and does not linger to adore its
God works by means – His word, His finger, a man’s prayer, a man’s obedience. He allows us to make an idol of none of them. The bronze serpent did not cure those who looked up to it; God did. The means of healing are nothing; they merely direct us to God. And the means of healing are everything, for God chooses to use them.
Nine lepers gave not a thought to who healed them or how. One leper looked into the faith God had planted inside him and found in it God’s means of healing -- and his own seedbed for growing a deeper faith.
One afternoon three decades ago, I sat in a coffee shop in a hotel in downtown Los Angeles with a man in his 50s. A former major league pitcher, he was now a pitching coach of long tenure.
He had made the circuit of National League cities more times than he could count. His daughter had moved to the area recently, he said, and since the ballclub arrived in town that week she had been taking him around to see the sights – sights that had been there on his many previous visits but that he had never bothered to see.
Turning pensive, he said, “I guess I’ve traveled more and seen less than just about anybody.”
God provides all we need to see. But He does ask us to open the eyes of our hearts. When healing comes, by whatever means He chooses, do we see the Healer behind those means? How much time do we spend in prayer asking God for what we have not and how much praising Him
for what we have?
Only when we see ourselves as destitute apart from His grace do we know Him as Provider of everything we possess. Only when we know ourselves to be broken do we see our dire need of the wholeness only He can offer. Only then do we give thanks from a grateful heart, glory from a healed spirit.
Nine men looked at their skin and saw their need for healing. One man looked under his skin and saw his sin – and his need for salvation. May each one of us be stricken with the poverty of spirit of the Samaritan leper, and join him in the camp of the redeemed.