Sunday, August 28, 2016
Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 17:11-19
Something rather odd has happened last Sunday and today. Last Sunday in the Gospel lesson we heard Jesus tell the parable about the good Samaritan. Today in the Gospel lesson we hear about the thankful Samaritan. Two weeks in a row the Gospel lessons have described a Samaritan in a very positive way.
Now this is odd for a couple of reasons. First, the Samaritans are only mentioned in seven places in the entire New Testament – and in these two weeks we have heard two of them. And second, both texts describe the Samaritans in very positive ways. That only happens in four places in the entire New Testament. And yet, on back to back Sundays in the Gospel lesson we have heard half of those.
This is not what we should expect. And it certainly could skew our perception of the Samaritans and how they related to the Jews at the time of Christ. From a historical perspective we would be better served if we heard Jesus instructions to the apostles in Matthew chapter 10: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” We need to hear the Jews say to Jesus in John chapter 8: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” We need to hear about how in Luke chapter 9 a Samaritan village refuses to receive Jesus and the disciples because they are Jews travelling to Jerusalem.
The Jews and the Samaritans despised each other. And in part this was because they shared so much in common. The Samaritans descended from the foreigners that the Assyrians had brought into northern Israel in the eighth century B.C. when they conquered the northern kingdom and took the people away into exile.
The Samaritans ended up creating a strange form of Judaism. They adopted the first five books of the Old Testament which are often called the Pentateuch – Greek for “five books.” However, they built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria and changed the text of the Scriptures in ways that focused on Mt Gerizim. They created what is now known as the Samaritan Pentateuch.
In many ways, the Samaritans lived like Jews. Because they shared so much of the Mosaic law, their manner of life looked Jewish – and even Jews recognized this. But on the other hand they had their own temple on Mt Gerizim and didn’t worship at the temple in Jerusalem. And Jews knew for sure that the Samaritans weren’t Jewish.
In the second century B.C. when the Jews had gained freedom the Seleucids they conquered Samaria and destroyed the temple on Mt Gerizim. This cemented and guaranteed ongoing antagonism. Once the Romans arrived, the Jews and the Samaritans tried to play the Romans off against each other. The Samaritans never forgot what the Jews had done to the temple on Mt Gerizim. In fact on one occasion in the first century A.D. Samaritans slipped onto the temple grounds in Jerusalem and strewed human bones around the area in order to defile it!
We should not expect to hear anything good about a Samaritan. We should not expect a Samaritan to do anything good to a Jew. We should not expect Jews and Samaritans to have anything to do with each other.
When the Jews conquered Samaria in the second century B.C., they also conquered the area of Galilee which is north of Samaria. Galilee at the time was not Jewish, but the Jewish leaders forced the area to become Jewish. And ironically, by the first century A.D., Galilee was a very pious Jewish area. It was, after all, the home of Mary and Joseph. However, Samaria was south of Galilee, and this meant that in order to get to Jerusalem in the south, Jewish pilgrims from Galilee had to go around and skirt the border of Samaria instead of heading directly south.
In the Gospel lesson this morning we find Jesus and his disciples making this trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. They were making their way on the border of Galilee and Samaria when they approached a village. As they did so they were met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
This statement is remarkable for two reasons. First, you are familiar with the phrase “Lord have mercy” from the Kyrie of the liturgy. It is a cry for help. Yet this is the only time in the New Testament when this cry is addressed to Jesus by name. And second, this is the only time in the New Testament when a person who is not one of the twelve disciples calls Jesus “master.” Clearly, these men had faith in Jesus.
They were asking for help, and the help they needed was obvious. Biblical leprosy included a range of skin conditions. The important thing is that the Torah declared that such a skin condition rendered a people ritually unclean. They couldn’t enter the temple to worship. Mere contact with others made those individuals unclean – a condition that required a lengthy and involved process to reverse. Lepers couldn’t live in a village. They lived outside it where family and friends could provide for them.
These ten lepers cried out in faith, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Our Lord replied, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Jesus sent the lepers to the priests in Jerusalem because they were the ones who could certify that a person was clean. But the thing we can’t miss here is that Jesus’ words were spoken to men who were still lepers. The lepers set out to Jerusalem because of Jesus word; because of faith in Jesus’ word. And then we learn that, “as they went they were cleansed.” It was as they travelled to Jerusalem in faith that they received healing.
Jesus healed the lepers. This was an action that showed how Jesus was bringing God’s reign to uproot Satan, sin and death. When John the Baptist was in prison he sent words to Jesus and asked, “Are you the coming one, or should be look for another.” Jesus responded with the words of Isaiah by saying, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Jesus came to free us from sin, and he was about to do it in an unexpected way – a way that could cause offense. Our text begin with the words, “on the way to Jerusalem.” In chapter nine Jesus says to the disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And then later in that chapter we are told, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to die for you. He goes there to win forgiveness of sin for you by dying on the cross. He goes there to defeat death by rising from the dead on the third day. Through his word and baptism Jesus has called you to faith in him and his saving work for you. Because of Jesus you are forgiven. You are a child of God. You have the assurance of eternal life.
The ten lepers who were told to go to Jerusalem and show themselves to the priest went in faith, even though they had not received healing yet. Like the lepers, you too are called to go in faith, even though you have not yet received the complete fullness of salvation – even though you still struggle against sin and all of the hardships of this world.
But it is Jesus the crucified and risen Lord who calls you to walk in faith. Because of Jesus’ cross and resurrection you already now have forgiveness and salvation. And because of Jesus’ resurrection you have the certainty of knowing that you will receive resurrection life in the new creation.
The lepers left for Jerusalem believing in Jesus’ word, and as they went they were healed. We learn in our text that one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.
And then we get a surprise as Luke tells us, “Now he was a Samaritan.” Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Nine others had been cleansed. Presumably, they had been Jewish. Yet the only one who returned to give thanks was the Samaritan.
Our text reminds us that it is easy to take our status for granted. If you have lived in the Church your whole life; if you have even been a Lutheran for a long time, you can begin to over look what you have. You can fail to give thanks for the blessing of forgiveness and the Means of Grace. You can start to over look them and use them less as you focus instead on other things. You can be slow to live a life of praise and thanks – a life that responds to Christ’s love by loving and serving others.
It’s not the Jews – God’s covenant people – who returned to give thanks to Jesus. It was the Samaritan. In this event we see foreshadowed the movement of the Gospel in Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts. For it is in Samaria that the Gospel will first be proclaimed and believed outside of Judaism. And then the Gospel will move on to pagan Gentiles, even as many Jews reject faith in Jesus.
A person is not saved because their parents were faithful Lutherans. A person is not saved because their name is on a church roster somewhere. A person is saved because of a living faith in Jesus Christ. Such a faith clings to the Means of Grace and regularly receives them. Such a faith responds in praise and thanksgiving to God. This happens in prayer. It happens in worship – in fact in a few moments we will do this in the Service of the Sacrament. It happens in acts of loving service directed toward others. This is the faith we see in the Samaritan this morning. We are called to live daily in this faith because as we do we have the assurance that Jesus’ words apply to us when he says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you.”