A Provocation: Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost (October 9, 2016): Luke 17:11-19

Luke 17:11-19

17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.

17:12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,

17:13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.

17:15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.

17:17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?

17:18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

17:19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

A Question or Two:

  • Why would you get all excited that the Samaritan came back to Jesus and did not go to show himself to the priests?  He was a Samaritan.  The Judean priests are of no interest or use to him.  Sending him to them would be like sending me to a tree surgeon to get checked out.
  • And, while we are at it, why would you imply that the others were somehow doing it wrong?  They are doing exactly what Jesus told them to do.  When did that turn into a bad thing?

Some Longer Reflections:

This little story uses an outsider as an example of gratitude.  Though his roots in the local region were as deep as those of anyone else in this scene, Samaritans were outsiders, reminders of the divergence of faithful practice that happened when the Jewish community was separated into exiles and non-exiles under Babylonian domination.  When the exiles returned from Babylon to the land of promise, they found communities that seemed (at least to them) to have blended themselves into pagan culture.  Odds are that the Samaritans thought the same of the strangers from the east who had lived so long in the midst of another dominant culture.  One result of this divergence is that this particular leper has no reason to get too excited about being checked by a priest belonging the other group.

To be sure, this outsider was grateful, and that is always good and admirable.  

And it is notable that it is his gratitude that is singled out for special honor.  

Outsiders are thought of in predictable ways:

  • They are strange.
  • Their food smells bad and is made with strange spices.
  • They are inscrutable.
  • They take our jobs.
  • They are a drain on our health care and educational systems.
  • They might be enemy terrorists.
  • They are just like that.

We divide the world into Us and Them, and members of Us do it right, and are much put upon, and are pushed out of what we deserve, and it is always Them that does it. This is true in any century that I have studied.  That is even part of the reason we create groups of Them: it makes us feel better about being Us.

And if it occurs to you that we are seeing this played out again in American politics, give yourself a star.  

So this scene sets up a revelation of one of Them acting admirably.  

And that is useful.  This is not a critique of the nine who followed directions, it is a recognition of one of Them who did something that we usually find a way to ignore.  Somehow we imagine that only one of Us could be opposed to neighborhood violence.  Somehow we have convinced ourselves that only one of Us could be frugal, or kind, or committed to raising kids correctly.  

So perhaps this is an eye-opening scene?  

“Look!,” says the storyteller, “One of Them acting admirably!”

At which point someone, not so helpfully, says, “All lives matter.”  Or “Judean lives matter.”  Or starts to tell a story about how Samaritans are dangerous, usually armed, and not to be trusted.  

So perhaps it’s not quite as eye-opening as one might hope.  

Oh well.  

Pushing back against racism maybe wasn’t as important as we had imagined.

And it is easier to keep your eyes shut.  Tightly.



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