— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~18th Sunday after Pentecost~~~
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
Then Jesus asked, “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?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well (NRSV).”
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”
When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.
Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you (CEB).”
One of the commentaries I read about this story relates this thought – Dr. David Lose, a Lutheran professor and pastor, wrote: Amid the various ecclesial, ethical, and liturgical reforms of the 16th century, Martin Luther was once asked to describe the nature of true worship. His answer: “The tenth leper turning back” (as quoted by David Lose in workingpreacher.org, 10/10/10).
The gospel reading is a story about gratitude. The gospel reading is a story about one man who finds both physical healing and spiritual healing. His body is made clean by Jesus and his heart is set right by his compulsion to turn to the one who made him whole and express his great thanksgiving! As Martin Luther said, the gospel story is about the nature of true worship and it encompasses far more time that what we do here on Sunday morning! It is about what some of my friends in the addiction recovery community call an “attitude of gratitude.”
C. S. Lewis once observed that the Bible insists that we praise and thank God; this is particularly evident in the Psalms. C. S. Lewis also observed the connection between gratitude and personal well-being. He wrote in his book entitled Reflections on the Psalms – “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most; while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible” (as quoted by John M. Buchanan in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, p. 165).
The tenth man turning back to give thanks, praise, to Jesus is an invitation to us all to seek in our own lives to live in a state of thanksgiving for the gifts of life, love, health, healing, friendships, family, food, this valley, this church, our nation, our world, our neighbors – those like us and those different from us.
This story is about cultivating an “attitude of gratitude.”
The story is about something else as well. I’ll get to the main thing about the story that makes it about more than gratitude in just a moment. What I’m about to point out eases us into the second part of this sermon.
The reason I used two translations of the story – the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and then the Common English Bible (CEB) is the way the translators referred to the ten who were healed. In the NRSV the translation is – As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. The CEB translates the same short sentence this way – As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him.
Hear the difference? I think the CEB makes the same point – beyond the point about gratitude – Jesus was making in the story by calling the men “ten men with skin diseases” as opposed to calling them “lepers.” The men should not have been placed into a box where they were completely defined by their physical ailments. They were not lepers; rather, they were men! They were men with families, social connections, homes, religious convictions, friendships, etc, etc who happen to also have a skin disease. The CEB makes this point, I think, by changing the word “lepers” to the phrase “ten men with skin diseases.”
The story moves from being just about gratitude when we discover that the one who came back to offer his thanks was a foreigner. According to the story the one person with leprosy, a Samaritan, turns back praising God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at the feet of Jesus giving him thanks. Being a Samaritan made him, in the eyes of the orthodox Jews to whom Jesus was speaking, the one who went to the wrong school in the wrong part of town and did not even make good grades there. It was the foreigner, the Samaritan, who became the hero of the story. This story undermines the assumptions people made about Samaritans – they are up to no good, impure, stupid, an enemy. The story blasts open the box about who demonstrates righteousness and who doesn’t.
A story out of the news that makes the point of the value of seeing one another outside the box….if I was a user of twitter I start by saying – “Don’t tweet me about the evils of football; I recognize the problems. I feel a little guilty that I still enjoy watching. Don’t tweet me about the evils of Penn State football; I know all about the horrible things that happen there several years ago. I trust the program has learned its lesson and that the new coach, who used to coach Vanderbilt, James Franklin, is bringing a new attitude to Penn State. Don’t tweet me about any of this, it’s just that Franklin made a good point this past week that I want to pass along.
Penn State coach James Franklin opened his weekly press conference with an emotional response to a letter disparaging one of his players — a letter viewed as racist by team members and social media followers.
He never actually mentioned it or the Penn State fan who sent it. The letter condemned the long, flowing dread-locks of junior safety Jonathan Sutherland, who is black. Franklin spoke for nearly three minutes about the values of diversity and togetherness created by college football at Penn State and then about Sutherland. Only after that did he take questions and discuss the big upcoming game at Iowa.
“The football that I know and love brings people together,” Franklin said, starting. “It embraces differences, black, white, brown, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. Long hair, short hair, no hair. They’re all in that locker room together. Teams all over this country are the purest form of humanity that we have (coaches, like preachers, are a little given to hyperbole). We don’t judge. We embrace differences. We live, we learn, we grow, we support and we defend each other. We’re a family.
PSU football brings people together like very few things on this planet.”
Sutherland is a team captain as a sophomore and a Dean’s list student. He told reporters earlier this season that he’s worn his long hairstyle since he was about 10 years old and it has become part of his identity. A fellow teammate, Shaka Toney, said “I’m pretty sure whoever wrote that letter,” Toney said, “if they met Jonathan Sutherland, they’d want their kid to be like him” (York Daily Record, 10/8/2019).
So, on this day I say…
Let us do our best to nurture within us
an attitude of gratitude and
let us do our best to extend our gratitude
to celebrating diversity.
Let’s let gratitude out of the box!
Let us let one another out of the boxes
in which we place one another.
Jesus did. Maybe we can too.