Proper 23, Year C, Luke 17:11-19
Get up and go! This is what Jesus tells the Samaritan after the Samaritan offers Jesus praise. Mary, likewise, gets up and goes to Elizabeth to tell her what she has experienced after the Annunciation, when she is told that she is pregnant and carrying the Messiah. The shepherds, at Jesus’ birth, give praise to him. Then they get up and go to tell the world all of what they have heard and seen. Get up and go seems to be a common narrative in the Bible after we have offered praise and thanksgiving for what God had done in our lives.
In today’s narrative we have a leprous Samaritan who returns to the Lord, with praise and thanksgiving. Then he moves forward; gets up and goes on his way with new life in Christ. It is a mystery to us, as much as it seems it was to Christ, as to why the other 9 lepers did not even say thank you. It is generally thought that the other 9 were traditional followers of Judaism and maybe they were too excited or impatient with their renewed life. They just couldn’t wait to go home, to be part of society again. It is even possible that in their excitement they didn’t fully recognize what had just happened. They didn’t realize that God was somehow involved in their restoration. The Samaritan, on the other hand, couldn’t have gone to the priest, at least not the same one as the other nine, for he was still an outcast, an untouchable.
As is often the case when reading the Bible there are more questions than answers. But in this case there are some details that I think are important to flesh out. We know that Christ tells the Samaritan that he has faith and faith is something that the others apparently didn’t have. The second thing we know is that Christ is Love. Though this isn’t stated directly in this passage, it is none the less abundantly clear.
Martin Luther says that “it is a characteristic of faith to presume to trust God’s grace.” For all the men in this passage acknowledged Jesus as Lord. Luther says faith “forms a bright vision and refuge in God, doubting nothing.” “It thinks God will have regard for his faith, and not forsake it.” All 10 of the lepers cry out in faith, “Have mercy on us!” None of them have any assurance as to what Christ will do, they just cry out in faith. Luther also points out that there is nothing that these lepers have done to deserve good favor from Christ. Actually, according to Jewish law, Jesus should have just walked on by, avoiding them to prevent defilement.
As we know this is not what Christ does. He meets the lepers who are truly the poor and marginalized. They are exiled to the borders of their communities. None the less, the men turn to Jesus and because Jesus is love, he meets them and heals them. Some would say that this is an example of how Christ showers love and healing on all those who turn to him, but I believe there is more to it than that. This is a story of turning to God, but it is also a story of Acknowledging God in our lives.
There is no doubt that when we turn to Christ we are changed by his love for us. These signs can be physical healing as Christ did for the lepers. But they can often manifest themselves in other ways such as inner peace, loving your neighbor as yourself, and generosity. Because we have free will, we have the ability to run off and live our lives like we did before we met Christ. I think this is what we see with 9 of the lepers. We can go off without giving God any credit for the blessings he has provided us in our lives. It is also through our free will that we can return to Christ much as the Samaritan did. We can return over and over again, thanking him for all that He has done for us. Acknowledging the blessings we receive directly form him and from those around us who are living example of Christ in our lives.
We can show our gratitude in many ways. One way is to offer thanks and praise using our voice. This is what we teach our children. When they are little we tell them to thank others for complements, or when they receive gifts, or even an invitation. We as adults sometimes have a harder time doing this. I’m not only talking about thanking God throughout the day but with the people we meet. Do we thank the person taking our order at a fast food restaurant? Do we thank the garbage man when we see him taking our trash?
Another way we can offer thanks is by action. We can offer our skills, our labor, to serve or take care of another person. This can be seen as repayment for good deeds or some other kind of act, but not always. For example, an adult child who takes care of their elderly parent; is this out of repayment or just out of thanksgiving for having them in our lives. Either way this action is a common way to offer thanks. We can also offer thanks by giving of what we have; giving gifts such as a ring to your intended spouse, a Christmas gift to a coworker, or even money to the church. Tangible gifts can make a lasting impression on a person or an organization; allowing the person to remember you every time they see or use the object you gave them.
All forms of thanksgiving, when truly offered as such, are acts of generosity; signs of our appreciation for another. When we do not say thank you to people we interact with in our daily life we are withholding our generosity, our appreciation for that person; no matter how mundane the work they are doing. In most cultures, including ours, offering forms of thanksgiving are considered a responsibility. Something we are to do whether we really want to or not. In western culture we clearly see this in the writing thank you letters. From what I have seen not many of our young children really enjoy writing thank you letters. But as we mature we understand how appreciative people are of them. We enjoy receiving them. When we say thank you to someone who has given us something we are closing a loop by giving something of ours back to that person; even if it is simple words.
When someone is generous to us we have the responsibility to be generous back. The Bible if full of examples in which this is true, from acts of hospitality in the Old Testament to the passage we read today, in which the Samaritan thanks and praises God for what he has done for him. Christ’s healing of these men took no effort on his part. Christ wasn’t out anything except possibly a moment of his time. What the man received was priceless. There is no way that he could repay Christ for what he had done for them. But Christ clearly found that the recognition he received from the Samaritan was a very important part of faith. Christ even admonishes the other nine, even if mildly.
We are asked throughout the Bible to be generous not only to each other but to God. We are told that this isn’t just something we should do but a responsibility we have in living in a relationship with God and the community at large. In two more weeks we will be collecting the pledge cards during the service. I ask that you prayerfully consider how God has been generous to you in your life. Even though there is no way we can repay God for what he does for us. I would ask you to respond through generosity, in such a way that demonstrates your praise and thanksgiving for our Creator, Sustainer, Lord and Savior.
It is after we have offered thanks to God, as the Samaritan did; as Marry and the Wiseman did, that we will have the impetus to Get up and Go into the world rejoicing for all the things that God has done for us.