Faith Gratitude & Service

Oct 8, 2017 by

Sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday October 8 2017 by Garry Blinch

Luke 17:11-19

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.”

 

Faith, Gratitude & Service

 

We can easily get focused on the gratitude, the thankfulness of the one leper who returned to thank Jesus when we read this passage on Thanksgiving Sunday. It is clearly an important theme. But there are other equally important themes at play here.

This story is unique to Luke’s gospel. Doctor Luke, himself a Gentile, often includes events with Jesus that involve women and non-Israelite and non-Judean  peoples, giving his own unique perspective on Christ’s life and ministry. We would be greatly impoverished without it. He presents Jesus as the Saviour of all peoples.

This passage itself starts with a geographical reference which itself seems to foreshadow the point of the rest of the passage: “Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee”. Walking between two worlds to show that God has come to redeem both with equal love and concern.

This section itself is interesting in that it is walks between, so to speak, many parables, both before and after. Chapter 15 is a series of 3 parables about things lost: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (or prodigal son). Then, immediately before the verses I read Jesus talks about only needing faith the size of a mustard seed to do the impossible and, how a servant does not expect praise or reward when doing the task assigned to them.

This is the context in which Luke presents this meeting between the Son of God and 10 lepers. I see Luke putting this event together with the teaching about faith, gratitude and service, so that the teaching by parables is reinforced or backed up by a real-life event. The lost sheep is one, the lost coin is one, the lost son is one…not the masses, just one. And here,  only one returns to thank Jesus for healing. In a culture of ‘bigger is better’ God still cares for the one. God seeks out the one; God will still heal the ten and if only one returns to give thanks, God will not limit gifts of grace. The healing is not removed from the other 9 but the one, I believe, received something more because of his choice to return and give thanks.

Jesus told his disciples they only needed faith the size of a mustard seed and they could move mountains. They didn’t need great big faith, just a modicum of faith! And before their eyes 10 lepers showed that kind of faith. There was no human help for leprosy and so they saw the impossible- the ‘mulberry tree’ was cast into the sea, the disease was cast from their bodies.

The mustard seed teaching is quickly followed by the hard-working, unpraised servant parable. So many faith healers and large ministries have built huge followings and made extravagant claims in the name of Jesus, seeking bigger and bigger followings and financial support. By modern, western standards, our Lord was a dismal failure! He heals ten people and only one returns! His ministry saw a 90% drop in return! Imagine that report to a large corporate-type ministry…

The servant only does as commanded; there is no praise. Jesus lived his ministry this way; as a servant just doing as his Father directed, not looking for any glory for Himself.

In terms of faith, clearly all 10 lepers believed Jesus could, and would, heal them. Presumably they had heard and believed the stories about the miracle-working rabbi. But the one leper’s faith seemed to see deeper. Not just faith in God’s servant but in God who commanded and empowered the servant. “He returned praising God”. We cannot know the attitude of the other 9. Numerous commentators make much of their failure to return and express thanks, based on Jesus’ remark, “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Perhaps they were grateful for being saved from certain death and they were on their way to rejoin families and pick up life in the community again. They would have told family and friends how this Jesus spoke the word and they were healed. But one was ready to be a servant to God also.

The faith that healed the lepers came by acting on Jesus’ words. Jesus said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” implying that they were healed. If they had done a quick physical check to see if they were healed BEFORE they headed off to see the priest they never would have started. The healing didn’t take place until AFTER they obeyed. The faith here is shown in the going. “Your faith has made you well”.

I don’t recommend throwing away pills, firing doctors, or discontinuing treatment to show faith. That isn’t what Jesus asked the lepers to do. Rather we can turn from a fear-filled faith to an expectant faith. We can turn a corner to a new way of seeing what God is doing and will do. And perhaps we should make an appoint with the doctor- the modern-day equivalent of going to the priests for a physical exam. This, too, can be an act of faith.

“And he was a Samaritan”. The one leper’s gratitude causes him to return and express his thanks. Jesus’ response seems to be calculated to draw attention to the fact that this person was not a Judean, “this foreigner”. The mixed group of lepers is presumably made up of both Jews and Samaritans, their common disease uniting them despite their deep divisions of ancestry, religion, and history. But the only one courteous enough to offer thanks is a Samaritan. Jesus is making a point; he is not being disdainful of the man’s cultural heritage. Over and over in the gospels we see Jesus as breaching ancient boundaries- clean and unclean, Samaritan and Judean, redeemable and irredeemable, law-abider and law-breaker. Walking between two worlds to show that God has come to redeem both with equal love and concern.

What labels might we in the western world hear put at the end of that sentence?, “And he was a Samaritan”? “And he was…non-English.. gay…transgendered…Muslim…?”

This observation concurs with several other indictments of the Judeans living in Jesus’ day. Jesus points out in the Parable of the Tenants (20:9-19) that, by and large, God’s people have rejected his appointed Son. John’s Gospel begins with the sad observation, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).

The man’s thankful response appears to net him something more, something deeper. Jesus says, “your faith has made you well”. “Well” is the Greek word “sozo”, a word that can mean heal, preserve, save, make whole. Some commentators have made much of the fact that the word “sozo” is used for salvation, and conclude that the Samaritan was “saved”, whereas the other nine were not. I think that is an unwarranted and possibly dangerous assumption, especially when kids are taught this alongside the doctrine of grace.

What I do know is that in the collectivist cultures of the east they do not think individualistically as we do in the west; nor do they have the compartmentalized thinking that shapes much of our thinking, where we frequently separate physical, mental, emotional and spiritual as if they each existed in a vacuum for study. When the scripture speaks of being whole it encompasses all these areas; the eastern mind cannot conceive of it otherwise. I believe the Samaritan’s thankfulness made him open to receive the fullness of healing that God intended. He was physically delivered from the disease but the impact was on his whole being. Beyond what he received personally, he could now return to the community from which he was banished. In collectivist culture, there is no wholeness unless one is part of the community.

 

Conclusion

 

The ten lepers is a story about thankfulness and so much more. It is appropriate and fitting when we are thankful for all we receive, recognizing all as from the hand of God. But it is also important to be servants to others, as Jesus was. Even when the recipients do not express gratitude we thankful that we have been used by God in some way as ambassadors of the Kingdom, bringing a message of wholeness to broken lives.

 

Related Posts

Tags

Share This