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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before October 9, 2016

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:

Jesus was in a strange place, a place between places, a place between people who distrusted and even despised each other.

To our eyes, 20 centuries later, the first sentence in this passage seems like a throw away. It is anything but that. Jews would often walk for miles and days more to avoid going through Samaria. When they did travel in Samaritan land, they would shake the dust off of their sandals. They considered Samaritans half-breeds racially as they were those who refused to divorce their foreign spouses in the 6th Century BCE. They considered Samaritans as religious deviants who worshipped God on a different mountain, even though they read the Torah.

Samaritans felt excluded by the Jews, their not so distant kin. Exclusion hurts, it leaves a scar, even open wounds.

Jesus walked back and forth between Samaritan villages and Jewish villages as a stitch weaves through each side of a wound to bring it back together, to heal it, to bring the salve of salvation to these separated sides.

As he did this saving/healing work, ten lepers approached him. Lepers were the most excluded of all first century people. Many of them just had psoriasis or other skin ailments, not Hansen’s disease, but that didn’t matter. Not only were Lepers sick, in the view of others, they were unclean. They could not worship in the Temple, be welcomed into the village, be comforted by their families.

They asked Jesus for healing and he told them to go show themselves to the priests so they could be declared clean. As they went, as they trusted in Jesus’ words they were made clean. Now they would be able to worship in the Temple and reunited with their village and their families. After years in exile, they could taste a homecoming of pure joy.

One of them was a Samaritan.

Among those who are excluded as lepers were, perhaps the division between Jew and Samaritan no longer mattered.

When the Samaritan realized he was healed he returned to thank Jesus, by falling at his feet. This was the highest form of thanks to a patron who had given one something.

Jesus was careful not to accept the praise, however. He attributed all the healing to God. The one that the Samaritan was really falling on the ground to was God, the source of all life and all healing.

Then Jesus points out that only the Samaritan returned to give thanks to God.

This would have cut two ways in the ears of Jesus’ own people: first, that a Samaritan was trusting in God and received healing; second, that only a Samaritan gave the proper response of gratitude.

Jesus not only was moving back and forth between Samaritan and Jewish villages, he was willing to challenge his own people for their sense of superiority over Samaritans.

Monotheism, the teaching that there is one God who is the creator of all, was intended to help human beings recognize that we are family. No matter the color of our skin, our language, our culture, we are one family.

But there is a little voice in us that sees differences as danger, that refuses to see the humanity in the other. A voice that calls us to tribalism and superiority over others, to dehumanize the “other.”

This voice is magnified during times of great cultural and economic change, like we are in now. We are not sure how we are going to move forward as a human race. The weather is changing. We are using way more resources than the earth can sustain. We distribute this wealth with vast inequity which drives more emigration which increases the contact between people of different cultures which activates that little voice more often.

How are we going to live on this planet? How are we going to live with each other?

Jesus’ answer to the second question is this: He asks us to spend at least some of our time in the spaces between groups of people who are estranged from one another. He calls us to witness and take part in God’s stitching us all back together. He shows us how to recognize the goodness and faithfulness of the other, and the lack of faith that the voice of fear loudly whispers in our hearts.

Jesus shows us what Paul recognized: that love casts out fear. May we live a little of that love in the many in-between places in our world.

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