Old Testament: Jeremiah (29:1, 4-7)
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
The Response: Psalm (66:1-12)
1 Be joyful in God, all you lands; *
sing the glory of his Name;
sing the glory of his praise.
2 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! *
because of your great strength
your enemies cringe before you.
3 All the earth bows down before you, *
sings to you, sings out your Name.”
4 Come now and see the works of God, *
how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.
5 He turned the sea into dry land,
so that they went through the water on foot, *
and there we rejoiced in him.
6 In his might he rules for ever;
his eyes keep watch over the nations; *
let no rebel rise up against him.
7 Bless our God, you peoples; *
make the voice of his praise to be heard;
8 Who holds our souls in life, *
and will not allow our feet to slip.
9 For you, O God, have proved us; *
you have tried us just as silver is tried.
10 You brought us into the snare; *
you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
11 You let enemies ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water; *
but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.
12 I will enter your house with burnt-offerings
and will pay you my vows, *
which I promised with my lips
and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble.
The New Testament: 2 Timothy (2:8-15)
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
The Gospel: Luke (17:11-19)
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.”
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
It has often been noted that the reason that Jesus commanded his followers to love their neighbors and to love their enemies is that the two of them are often the same people. That was certainly the case for centuries with the Jews living in Judea and Galilee, on the one hand, and their neighbors, the Samaritans, on the other.
The Samaritans emerged as a separate people after the Assyrians had taken control of the ancient northern kingdom, the kingdom of Israel, in 721 BCE. The new rulers deported the leading people of that conquered nation to other lands; and, in their place, they imported some of the people from other conquered nations. This policy helped to prevent those who had been subjugated from uniting and rising up against their Assyrian rulers. In this instance, the mixed population who lived in what had been Israel soon developed somewhat different customs, a somewhat different culture, and a somewhat different religion from those who lived in Galilee and Judea.
Over the next seven centuries, up to the time of Jesus, there were periodic conflicts and even outright hostilities between the two peoples. That is the reason that Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan would have shocked his audience. A “good Samaritan” seemed to them like a contradiction in terms.
In today’s gospel passage, Luke once again provides us with the example of a Samaritan who turns out to be the “good guy” in the story. But one unexpected aspect of this narrative is that, when it begins, the group of men calling out to Jesus is comprised apparently of nine Jews together with one Samaritan. Many people at the time might have been surprised to see them together.
But, on second thought, maybe that is not so surprising. It could be that their common suffering had led them to recognize their common humanity: to realize that what united them was more important than what divided them.
We see that experience played out today in times of emergency. Think, for example, of the way people of many backgrounds and points-of-view came together this year in response to the tornadoes and the mass shooting here in our own greater-Dayton community. Or think of the many other examples that continue to take place around the nation and the world in times of common suffering and of common need. Such shared crises tend to break down the walls that we build to separate ourselves from one another and to remind us of the bonds that unite us.
But that doesn’t mean that our differences do, or even should, disappear. In our gospel story, Jesus tells the ten men who were suffering from some sort of skin disease, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” The word “priests” is in the plural. First of all, this encounter with Jesus apparently takes place far from Jerusalem, so the Jews among them would probably not have gone to the temple. Instead, they would have gone to Jewish priests who lived in the same area that they did, very possibly to different ones. But more significantly, the Samaritan would have gone, not to any Jewish priest, but to a Samaritan priest, probably at the Samaritan holy site on Mt. Gerizim. Even in their unity, they maintained and exercised their diversity.
That is one of many aspects of this brief account that are worth our reflection. Often, important teachings from the scriptures come, not in explicit commands about what people should and should not do, but in more subtle ways, in marvelous stories like the one we heard today. Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, p. 27) explains: “The Bible is, you might say, God telling us a parable or a whole sequence of parables. God is saying, ‘This is how people heard me, saw me, responded to me; this is the gift I gave them; this is the response they made … Where are you in this?’”
That’s the important question to which narratives like this one lead us. Where are we as we listen to this story of healing, of gratitude, and of our unity in diversity? Do we allow ourselves simply to go along with those leaders in our world who make baseless accusations and bigoted generalizations about those who disagree with them and about people of other nations, in order to rally their supporters and engender fear in those who listen to them – all in support of their own political ambitions or their own egos? Or are we willing to enter into this gospel story and walk with those ten men as they encounter Jesus, recognizing that we all are suffering, that we all are in need of the healing power of God, and that, even if we come from different nationalities and backgrounds and religions, we all are members of the same family, children of the same God?
Does it have to take some crisis or some dread disease or some natural or human-made disaster for us to recognize our oneness with all the other people in our greater-Dayton community and in the world beyond, to get us to treat one another with dignity and respect, to accept and embrace one another as fellow children of God? Can we, with God’s help, look beneath the surface, the cultural and ethnic and economic and social issues that divide us, and recognize our common humanity?
Maybe, if we can, then we will finally be able to do the work that God has given us to do: to proclaim in our actions, along with Jesus the great, good news that the kingdom of God is already among us and to commit ourselves to live even now in that kingdom.