Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: community, fellowship, inclusion, insider, Jesus, leper, outsider, race, samaritan, welcome
As I come to this gospel text from Luke, I’m confronted with the fact that I have very rarely been the outsider. Sure, there have been awkward times, when I haven’t quite fit in, or showed up in the right clothes or makeup. I remember the first community bridal shower I went to at my church in North Dakota. I wasn’t quite sure if I was expected to go since everyone was invited and it was at the church. I had never met the bride, but her parents were active at the church. There was a community event outside that morning, so I went straight from that casual outdoor event to the church for the shower. I didn’t realize that most people went home in between, and changed into dressy clothes. I felt rather inappropriate in my jeans.
There are other times when I know I’ve stuck out. Like when I’ve travelled abroad and realized I was the racial minority for once. And there have been times when I’ve been told point-blank that I don’t belong, like when I dared to try to sit in someone else’s pew when I visited a church where Jeff was preaching.
But for the most part, doors open for me, mall security guards ignore me, and people haven’t taken one look at me and sent me on my way. Some of you don’t share my experience of privilege, but I’m willing to wager that many of you do.
For those of us who come into society from a place of privilege, of belonging without even recognizing that right, this text from Luke can be a challenge. It’s a challenge because it’s another example of Jesus welcoming and uplifting the outsider, and calling us to consider what kind of prejudices and closed communities we support.
In this text we meet a group of characters, identified by the only marker anyone in that society would care about: they are sick, they are lepers. In the Bible, when we read about lepers, that might mean any kind of skin condition, but you can be sure that it would be obvious. What makes it even more obvious is that these people are obligated to shout out their presence so that everyone can avoid them. No one wants to get near to them, or touch them. Now, the idea of germs wasn’t exactly understood at this time, but the idea of purity and pollution was really big. This was a big part of religious understanding that affected social life. Really simplified, some people, or actions, or diseases, or bodily fluids, or states of being, like being dead, were dirty, polluting. Depending on what or whom you came into contact with, you might not be able to participate in things like worship until you went through cleansing rituals. These lepers are labeled as dirty, polluting people, people to avoid.
When they approach Jesus, we see that they do so in the way they have been trained, keeping a distance. So they have to shout at him: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus notices them. Jesus instructs them to go to the priests, and as they do so, they find that they have been cleansed of their leprosy. They are made clean. Jesus has restored their lives.
But only one of them seems to really notice. To notice who it is who has healed him, and notice what that must mean about this man Jesus. This one turns back from the other nine healed lepers and approaches Jesus, praising God and thanking him, casting himself before Jesus in humility and worship.
Then we learn another detail that digs into our self-assured status: this one is a Samaritan. Jesus is travelling the region between Samaria and Galilee. Now, being a Samaritan is another strike against you if you’re looking for community among the Jews, people like Jesus and his disciples. Samaritans are considered outsiders, who don’t worship God correctly.
So here we have a Samaritan leper, who not only is cleansed of his illness by Jesus, but is an example of faithful insight, because he was the only one to recognize Jesus as more than a healer- as someone identifiable with God, someone to whom one could praise God. Jesus commends his faith, declaring, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” This Greek word for well also carries the meaning of salvation. This outsider’s faith in Jesus has saved him.
All ten received healing and new life from Jesus. But the text makes me think that only this Samaritan received the transformative gift of faith that recognizes Jesus as God’s presence on earth. This is an awesome story of God’s work among those outside the bounds of welcome society, of properly religious people. It can also be a word of judgment for those of us who live every day comfortably welcome everywhere we go, or who have been lifelong faithful members of a church, and know the right way to worship and live a Christian life.
Maybe the other nine went so quickly to the priest because, not only did Jesus command it, but they had been taught that’s simply where you experience cleansing and how you get back into relationship with God and the community. They knew the way religion was supposed to be, and weren’t ready to see Jesus as anything more than a great healer and teacher from God. Their ways of thinking about God were so set, they were so eager to be rejoined with their community and their worship life, that they were blind to God enfleshed right in front of them.
There’s a real challenge in this text for those among us who think we’re good Christians, who have inherited a sense of what church life is like. We may find it more difficult to follow Jesus as he pushes us towards reaching out and welcoming those who don’t share our life experiences. God is at work and being revealed to those outside our churches. Those of us inside can find that threatening.
The church today is at a real tipping point. Attendance and participation in church life has gone down across the board. Many people look back fondly at the church of the 1960s, when pews were full and Sunday Schools teeming. This was a time when it was expected that you be a part of a church and everyone knew what that meant. This is not the world we live in today. We live in a world that is closer to that of the disciples and the early church: when we have to recognize God working not only in our buildings, but in our wider communities. We are at a time when we have to point to and celebrate signs of Jesus, explaining to others who this Jesus is and what he is doing, so that they can join us in praising God.
When I think about this Luke text, I wonder if it might be easier to know and trust Jesus from a place of less privilege than I experience. Maybe there’s something about being outside the tradition, not being so formed by the rules, that makes it easier for the foreigner to stop and recognize the one who restored his life. It’s scary to consider that those of us who have been lifelong members of a church, formed by what we’ve learned in Sunday School, might have a more difficult time recognizing the new things God is doing. But that realization is also a beautiful place for many of us to begin. Our God is so awesome, that God is at work in ways we never realized before. Our God is not confined to our expectations, but is breaking out expectations apart so that more and more people can be welcomed into the healing community Jesus is creating.
There can be some growing pains, and some stumbling, when community is formed among people who aren’t used to being together as equals. I know it’s difficult to worship with those who don’t behave as we do, or join at a dinner table where the scripts are different than those we know. But there is a great gift to be had when we live into the diverse community Jesus is forming, not waiting until the resurrection to experience the wideness of this community, but seeking it out right now.
Your challenge this week is to notice where you are uncomfortable. When are you among people you’re not used to interacting with? When do you shake your head at the inappropriate actions of another? When are you confronted with someone whose life story is so different from your own that you have a hard time relating or even believing it?
Notice that time, and consider how God is at work there. Can you see Jesus bringing life to that outsider? Can you hear Jesus calling you to welcome that person in? Or perhaps calling you to break apart the barriers that have separated you?
God welcomes each one of you through Jesus. Jesus gifts you with his saving life. This salvation comes from Jesus alone, and not through your own work. But my hope is that you can join me in praying: “Jesus, make me open to your gift of transformative faith, a relationship that will change me, and help me to recognize you in the many places, even unexpected places, where you can be found.” Amen.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment