Luke 17. 11-19 | Trinity 17C

John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between
Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy
met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus,
Master, have pity on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves
to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he
saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw
himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus
asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one
returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him,
“Rise and go; your faith has made you well.

Luke 17:11-19

The Gospel of the Lord
17 chapters into Luke’s Gospel lots of bits and bobs are stacking up. This
morning’s healing scene is the second time he’s featured a dreaded skin disease
(5.12-16) and a dreaded Samaritan (10.25-37).


In the last few years Americans have experienced disease circumstances never
known to them before. And in typical American style words/phrases have been
created to control everyday life: shelter in place, flatten the curve, social
distancing and that sign on every door – masks mandatory.
Along with Lennon/McCartney, Sting, and Bob Dylan, Paul Simon is one of the all
time great songwriters. For songwriters a satire of one of their songs is one of the
all time great tributes. Simon wrote “50 Ways to leave your Lover” in 1975. I don’t
have one of my guitars or amps this morning so I’ll read you just a few lines from
a wonderful satire of his song making the rounds. “The problem is all inside your
head”, she said to me. “The answer is easy if you listen carefully, I’d like to help
you in your struggle to be free, There must be 50 ways to catch the virus: Stay
away from the pack, Jack; Don’t visit your gran, Stan, Wipe down every toy, Roy,
Stop touching your face, Grace, Keep back six feet, Pete. I’ll repeat myself at the
risk of being rude, there must be 50 ways to catch corona in your food”.


You catch the point. Well to the text.


Let’s start with this first bit of information before we get into the scene itself “On
the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the border between Samaria and
Galilee” (vs. 11). That’s about 57 mi. or the distance from Tustin to Six Flags
Magic Mountain. But six chapters ago near the same Samaria/Galilee border
Luke told us “… as the days were being fulfilled for his ascension, Jesus set his
face toward Jerusalem” (9.51-52). Jesus seems to have taken zero steps of
those 57 miles. On the other hand, in contrast to Jesus, Luke has taken some big
theological steps since Ch. 9. First, Luke has edited small stories into a “final road
trip” to convey Jesus’ determination to go to Jerusalem to suffer, die and be
raised from the dead. These recorded events happened. They were done for us
and were given to us. The Gospel’s saving healing is a gift. Turn around and
receive it. Second, Luke also edited the “ final road trip” to convey discipleship,
its commitment, its choices. God has acted in Jesus’ life, crucifixion and
resurrection. But there’s a difference between the crowds and the disciples. Do
you trust Jesus enough to build your life on Him? Will you choose to follow Him
as a disciple?


Now Luke, like all good writers such as Melville, Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, C.S.
Lewis, knows how to weave together the final threads of his story into a cord. So
Luke’s not writing a travelog for Rick Steves. But skilled writer that he is, he will
slide geographical landscapes into social and spiritual scenery down the road. As
he brings the “road trip” to an end, it’s important for aspiring disciples to deal with
the ideas he’s edited. In other words, there’s woven threads in the stories. We
call them themes. And it’s important for me/us to take hold of the woven cord if
we’re going to be a disciple.


Well back to the text.


Jesus is coming down a path about to enter a village when Luke blocks his path
with “10 men who had leprosy” not “10 lepers”(vs. 12). Why not 10 lepers?
Because for Luke their humanity is the issue; leprosy is merely a skin condition.
Apparently the 10 didn’t listen carefully and are now in quarantine, sent away to
live on their own for more than 10 days. In the Biblical dictionary the word for
leprosy is like a long hallway of high school lockers. It refers to skin conditions –
everything from acne, to psoriasis, to actual leprosy. Skin diseases are
considered contagious. The basics for quarantine are found in the Sinai Covenant
(Lev. 13-14). The fine print moves the 10 men to the margins of cities, towns and
villages away from social/religious life. Once insiders they’re outsiders.


Beneath this disease scene lies another sickness. After some time in Israel’s
history, dreaded skin diseases became parade ground examples of sin – the
distortion, the violation of the Lord’s will and well being for the proper ordering of
human life. Real suffering is not from diseased or crépy skin, most certainly not
from Covid-19 but from sin. Sin is a rebellion, a moral violation, separating a
person from the Lord and others. Like but unlike some sickness it spreads totally
through us wreaking havoc. It spoils our life. Sin is serious. It’s never fashionable
with iPhones, skinny jeans and tattoos except in American media and
entertainment. And in this Gospel, there is only one cure – seeking forgiveness,
mercy from the only person who can make you whole physically and spiritually –
Jesus walking the road to the cross.


The 10 men, coming as close as social distancing will allow, call out in a loud
voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (vs. 12b-13), a title used only by the
closest of disciples (5.5, 8.24, 45, 9.33, 49, 17.13). They plead for mercy, that is,
healing. “Keeping their distance” we might expect Luke to write Jesus heard the
men. But instead Luke writes he “sees” the men. Although his face is “set toward
Jerusalem” (9:51), he is not so preoccupied with his own objective he cannot
take time to see others. But what Jesus saw was close enough to be touched by
them. Why? Because the close reader of Luke knows Jesus knows people’s
physical pain, their emotional confusion, the hurt of rejection and sin’s
devastating experience.


How do we know this? Well, because from the very beginning of his public
ministry Jesus has been committed to using Holy Spirit radar to guide him toward
people in pain “Unrolling the Isaiah scroll in Nazareth’s synagogue, Jesus found
the place where it was written, ‘God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach
the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind, To set the burdened and battered free, to
announce, This is God’s time to shine!” (4.17-19). And I will ask you to listen
carefully to the Isaiah scroll again. Listen carefully as the Spirit guides the
Servant Jesus into experiences like these 10 men “spurned and distanced from
human society, he was a man who suffered, pain was his close companion, like
one who must hide his face from us, he was despised, we held him of no
importance, and yet, those were our sufferings that weighed on him, our pains
were the burden he bore, we counted him smitten by God, we counted him struck
down by God, we counted him humiliated by God, but he was pierced for our
rebellion, he was crushed for our misdeeds, his burden was the suffering that
made us whole, he endured the pain that brought us healing (53.2-5)
Pain/sickness united ten men into a community at the borders. Now
pain/sickness unites them to Jesus at the borders. I have and do experience
much pain and heartache in my life. It makes me feel like I’m at the borders, at
wits end. Nothing gets my attention like pain. Nothing opens me up to the need
for hope like pain. Where is your pain today? Is it a breaking heart, a breaking
body? Grief or regret because something was said or done that cost a
relationship with someone? In my/your pain know this: Jesus stands on, actually
blocks the path in front of me/you. My hope is that a church, this church, would
do the same. The mission of the church isn’t a weekly adopt a highway program
but a community walking in the borderlands, looking for outsiders to bring Jesus
the savior, the healer to those experiencing physical, emotional, social and
spiritual pain. Luke says to the disciples and the Church: It might seem awkward
for you to show up, to set aside emotional, social or spiritual distancing and step
in close to another person’s pain. But it’s probably Jesus’ Holy Spirit radar
bringing you in close. Keep your eyes open.


Jesus merely says to the 10 men, “Go, Let the priests “see” (vs. 14, Lev. 14.2ff).
Because not only were priests Temple personnel in Jerusalem and Mt. Gerizim,
they were also public health officials. But here’s the point: It’s taken true trust and
hope in God’s mercy for these 10 marginalized men to let Jesus see them. It will
take truer trust and hope for these 10 marginalized men to let priests see them.
Luke says to the disciples and the Church: It will take even truer trust and hope
in God’s compassion for even one person to let you see them. Keep your eyes
open.


Well back on the road again.


Luke tells us the 10 men did as they’re told. They believed they would be healed.
And, indeed, as they travel they are healed (vs. 14b). Luke sees one of the 10
men, “seeing” he had been healed doesn’t continue on but “disobediently”, so to
speak, turns back to let Jesus see him. He expresses his thankfulness, falling at
Jesus’ feet in an act of worship (vs. 16a). This is the miracle of ‘seeing’ declared
in Nazareth’s synagogue. The man’s eyes have been opened to what God has
for him. He gets it. Can’t you hear him say: Jesus saw me when no one else did.
He saw me at the borders. Jesus the Spirit guided outsider has come for me, an
outsider. He saw me in my pain, my physical, social and sinful separation. Words
I know all too well.


Now this is fascinating. Both Luke and Jesus want us to sympathize with the
man. Right? But notice how they do it. Put yourself in his cloths, bandages for a
moment. See your skin freed of disease. But listen to what you hear? First,
there’s Luke’s jaw-dropping “he was a Samaritan”(vs. 16b). Followed
immediately by Jesus’ equally sharp “Were not ten made clean? But the other
nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God
except this “foreigner”? (vs. 17-18). Naming him “Samaritan” and “foreigner”,
pushes him even further out toward social/religious borders. Because of his
heritage, he was already across the border even without his sickness.
Samaritans lived on the other side of the border. They should keep out of the
country. No path to citizenship for these folk. But these ‘brand name’ borders
erected by cultural/religious builders are pretty porous. This is not a battle for
borders. Jesus isn’t interested in the divisive nationalistic politics about borders
or immigration. What Jesus is interested in is the “seeing” of men, women,
children in the dire conditions and desperate circumstances of borderland life.
Jesus is interested in the radical, transforming compassion of the Spirit healing
anyone found in borderlands.


Luke has woven threads into a cord “at the border of Samaria and Galilee”. Any
borders between who might be healed – leper, Samaritan, Jew or Gentile, have
been crossed by the saving mission of Jesus. But there’s this also. There is no
doubt something to be understood about people who live at the margins of
communities, who are treated as invisible or unlovely because of how they look
or who they are or where they come from. Perhaps, we could insert here the
chronically ill, the chronically disabled by war, the working poor, the politically
correct ‘migrant’ for Hispanic or the homeless. Any of these will do. But in a rush
to “brand name” we too often overlook Luke’s identification: 10 men who had
leprosy (vs. 12). We too often forget there are men and women, human beings,
in those names. Men and women, who have hopes and fears. Men and women
who, in the dark of night, in the loneliness of the night, shed tears on pillows over
the future of themselves and their children. I suppose Gospel scenes like this led
MLK to formulate his hope that the day would come when men and women
would be judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin or
ethnicity. So I would suggest to you Luke says to the disciples and the church:
Jesus clearly “sees” them, cares about them. Sanctity of life and wellbeing are
most important. Get into the “borderlands”. Behave like him. Keep your eyes
open.


The Samaritan’s return allows Jesus to demonstrate, to teach no one is beyond
Jesus’ sight. In the words “Your faith has freed you from disease” Jesus acts with
the authority of the Temples (vs. 19). We too often use “faith” to mean
“intellectual agreement” and “saved” to mean “saved from sins/hell so you can go
to heaven”. But it’s better to think along biblical lines. “Faith” means entering the
full healing Jesus offers; “freed” is acknowledging a spiritual, physical, emotional,
social wholeness. Anyone can experience this kind of healing. There’s depth to
healing because it’s the touch of Jesus’ Spirit . And the man’s return for an act of
worship heals his soul. The Lord, in the borders of Samaria and Galilee, has
healing. And the depth of that healing is available to anyone who calls out for
mercy at their borders. Luke says to the church: Keep your eyes open.


And, in the end, Jesus tells him “go home”, return to your family, work, village …
your life. Whenever you come to a Gospel scene like this you should consider
where it fits into your life. Maybe like me, you’ve realized recently we’ve let
ourselves go in a way that pushed us to the boundaries of relationships or that
we shouldn’t have given ourselves over to people, things, ideas that have taken
us to the margins where spiritual resources are scarce, barren cold places. At
some point we’ve realized we’re in pain, sick, lost and lonely far from where we
should be. And we don’t know our way back. But Jesus the healer stands before
me/you. He’s come looking for me/you. He has healing equal to our cry for help,
to our confusion. He knows about all the wrong choices we’ve made to get us
where we are. Don’t be anxious about the wrong turns we’ve made, the ridiculous
foolish things. He knows the deep disease of sin and how to cure it. The Gospel
has platformed confession, reconciliation, hope and forgiveness. It’s real. It can
bring diseased, sinful people to Jesus, the healer. The Spirit power of the Gospel
absolves, heals the impact of sickness and sin raising me/you to new life.
Jesus saw us from the cross. And he will act for our healing because of the
resurrection/ascension. He brings us healing, making us whole. Through the
“disobedient worship” of the Samaritan, we are invited to reflect on how the
fullness of what “saved” or “freed” might mean for us. And there, may it be that by
acknowledging him as Master and experiencing his healing, we will find in
ourselves an outpouring of worship. There are many here in this morning’s
service who have walked in the borderlands. Many have acknowledged him as
Master and been healed. Ask most anyone. We do ‘see’ you and we do rejoice in
healing.


May the Lord richly bless you my beloved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s