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 Epistle: II 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. Michael Kreutzer
A Samaritan? Why does it always have to be a Samaritan? Actually, it isn’t always, but even two times – in the parable of the Good Samaritan and in the story we just heard – even two times might have been more than some people wanted to hear.
Mark never mentions Samaritans at all in his gospel. Matthew (10:5) distances himself from them even further; he has Jesus instructing his disciples not even to go into a town of the Samaritans. But Luke, in his version of the gospel, holds Samaritans up as positive examples twice, in two different contexts. He does that despite the fact that Jews and Samaritans had long been enemies.
The Samaritans seem to have originated after the Assyrians had destroyed the northern kingdom, the kingdom of Israel, over 700 years before Jesus was born. The victors followed their normal pattern by deporting many of Israel’s people and scattering them around the Assyrian empire. That practice made it very unlikely that the people who had been conquered would be able to reunite and start a rebellion. The Assyrians then transported other victims of their military victories to Israel and settled them there. The result was a mixed population, known as the Samaritans, which incorporated elements of pagan cultures and religions into the traditional faith of Israel. They had their own version of the Torah or Pentateuch. They had their own temple. They had their own priests.
The Jews who lived in the south, the kingdom of Judah, never accepted the Samaritans as real Jews. And, over the centuries, members of each community attacked and killed members of the other group. To each people, the others were feared and hated enemies.
To some of Jesus’ followers, it would have been a shock that, in this particular group of lepers, one of them was a Samaritan, while the other nine presumably were Jews. Why would these ten ever have been together in the first place?
But, on second thought, maybe that made perfect sense. Even with all the history and hurt that divided them, there was now part of their horrible personal experience that united them. All of them, Jews and Samaritan alike, were suffering the same physical and mental pain and the same social isolation brought on by leprosy. And in their misery, they may just have discovered the deeper humanity that united them at a more profound level.
Isn’t that the way it is with us and our fellow human beings? So often in our history it seems that it takes a crisis or even a tragedy to bring us together. Look at the way that the gaps between various ethnic groups and between the rich and the poor were bridged during the common crisis brought on by World War II. Or think of the way that people of different races and religions and economic groups pull together when all of them endure the aftermath of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, or of humanly caused disasters, such as those of 9/11. At least briefly, they are able to bridge the divisions that otherwise tend to separate them from one another.
On the opposite side, we know all too well the way that certain political movements and certain political figures use lies and baseless charges and ethnic slurs to divide people: to stoke their insecurities and to stir up their fears about those who differ from them in one way or another. Seeking to build walls between people, psychological as well as physical, they try to separate “us” from “them” for their own partisan gain.
Yet the story told in the gospels is the story of an initiative by God to build bridges, joining people together with one another. St. Paul, in his letters, emphasizes the joining together in Christ of Jews and Gentiles. John, in his gospel, focuses on the fundamental unity between his church, with its unique characteristics, and the church associated with Simon Peter and the other apostles. And Luke, both in his gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, dares to assert the unity in Jesus even of Jews and Samaritans.
But that unity does not mean that they all somehow become the same: that their different nationalities and cultures and perspectives dissolve in some ecclesiastical melting-pot. When Jesus sent the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests in order for them to declare that they are now healed and ritually clean, they wouldn’t all have gone to the same place. Those who were Jews could have gone to any of the Jewish priests who lived in various places in Galilee and Judea, not necessarily in Jerusalem. And the Samaritan would have headed for the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim. Here was a true unity in diversity.
They were still different from one another, and each would probably have continued to live and worship in his or her own tradition. But perhaps the common experience of their illness and exclusion, and then their healing by the prophet from Nazareth, would have given them a deeper awareness of the common humanity that they shared with one another. And that, in turn, might well have enabled them to live with a greater respect for one another, recognizing the unity that they shared even within their diversity.
Does it have to take a crisis or some dread disease or some natural 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 words that follow just two verses after the end of this story, the great, good news that the kingdom of God is already among us.