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Reflections on the Gospel, Week Before October 13, 2013



Luke 17:11-19

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

What I am Learning:

Taken from its context – both from the latter part of Luke and first century culture – this text appears to be about the virtue of gratitude.  So if we say “please” and “thank you” we are good to go.

As a person who helped to raise twin daughters I want to say that I am a big fan of please and thank you. Such words help us to recognize the dignity of other people and to respect healthy boundaries.

The text is could also be seen as encouraging the deepest gratitude to God for our life and for the healing that God works in our lives. Again, as a pastor I know that this kind of gratitude is the heart of worship – not just worship for an hour a week but the kind of worship that we live and breathe every moment. This kind of gratitude frees us from our complaining and our imagined powerlessness and moves us to an empowered thankfulness for the life we are given each day.

But I don’t think that Luke was really trying to address either of these in this passage.

As I said last week, Jesus is taking on some really challenging themes in these chapters of Luke:

  • Everyone is welcome into God’s way of mutuality
  • God’s way of mutuality includes economic equality
  • People with privilege in the Roman domination culture won’t give up their economic and power advantages easily

This week Luke continues his commentary on these themes. In this one he takes on racism.

Samaritans were the descendants of the Jewish folk left behind after the Babylonians took Jewish leaders to Babylon.

The ancient kings knew a thing or two about taking over an area. They would remove the leaders of the people and then import people from other regions. They knew that if there were no leaders the population would not be able to revolt very effectively. They knew that if they brought in people of other cultures that people would be too busy fighting with each other to fight their rulers. By the time the locals developed leaders and tolerance for each other, occupation would be “just the way things are.”

The Samaritans were the offspring of the Jews left behind and the people of other nations that the Babylonians imported to Palestine.

When the Jews came back seventy years later, they found these people living in the land – many of whom were practicing Jews, but were married to “foreigners.” The writers of Isaiah wanted to accept these folk as members of the People of Israel but they lost the argument to Ezra and others. Ezra commanded them to divorce their “foreigners.” Those who refused were shut out of the temple and they were forced to establish a temple of their own. They were later known as Samaritans. Respectable Jews didn’t go through Samaria. When they did, they were expected to knock the dust off of their sandals.

This hatred between Samaritans and Jews was the result of ancient colonialism. This hatred played into the hands of the Romans, as their police force could always justify their presence by saying, “We are just trying to keep these people from killing each other".

So when Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem but travels “in between” Samaria and Galilee he is not being respectable. He is weaving between “this side of the tracks and the other side of the tracks.”

Ten lepers come to him and he sees them and sends them to the Temple as proscribed by Leviticus 14. But one of them returns and gives thanks to God. The one that returns is a Samaritan.

Jesus acts publicly to confront the racism of his people toward the Samaritans —both by taking this road to Jerusalem and by praising the Samaritan’s faith.

Jesus is willing to go to the “in between” places and take on the racism of his day because the God’s way of mutuality includes everyone. He is willing to praise the Samaritan as a way to expose the sense of privilege that Jews had over their Samaritan cousins. People with privilege don’t give up it up easily.

We often confuse prejudice and racism. Prejudice is the feeling of fear or distrust we experience as persons toward those who we perceive to be different.  Racism is a system of rules, both written and unwritten, which disadvantage one part of our population. We certainly must work to challenge our own prejudices.

But the church is also called to recognize the racism, the written and unwritten rules, that oppress people of other “races.” Seattle is one of the least diverse cities in the nation, in part, because of the practice of “red lining” and “racially restrictive covenants.”

God’s way of mutuality includes everyone, and includes economic equity for all people.

Jesus walks “in between and back and forth” between Galilee and Samaria to stitch these two separated people together. Jesus apparently never wipes the dust off his feet against either of them.

To follow in his way, the church is called to understand and name and work for healing in the racism of our own time. The church is uniquely gifted and called to stitch together separated human communities. Yet Sunday morning remains the most segregated time of the week in America.

Read here an article from James Cone:

Jesus didn’t just study the history of the racism of Jews toward the Samaritans but he studied the effects of that racism in his own time. Why is it that the unemployment rate of African-Americans is so much higher than the rest of the country? Why is that we are so unwilling to grant immigration rights to our Hispanic neighbors?

The harvest is plentiful but laborers are required for the healing, not just of ten lepers, but the hatred between them and the economic consequences of that hatred.