This fall, I did something different. I spent more time outside. (Picture #1 cutting up tree). I have been chopping wood, taking down trees, raking leaves, and cleaning up the yard. On your left in this picture is your council president cutting up one of my trees. Because of Covid, the city is not picking up any brush (Pic #2 branches in tree lawn), so I spent another weekend burning all of it in my fire pit (Pic #3 fire in firepit). Good times.
I have enjoyed being out in nature these past few months. I particularly enjoy working outside and feeling a connection to the natural world. I do yard work, breath in the crisp fall air, and notice the leaves changing color week after week. For me, it’s a spiritual experience of feeling alive amidst the natural world that God created.
(Pic #4 - of trees). I have seen so much beauty right in my neighborhood. (Pic #5 of trees). I have been sending pics like these to our daughter Gabriella in South Carolina and my seminary friend Mary, in Georgia. They both miss these beautiful northern fall days. (Pic #6 of trees). For me, this has been a long and beautiful fall that I have been able to enjoy for a few months now.
Our story today is about seeing. Jesus heals ten lepers and then sends them on to show themselves to the priests. The ten leave, but one returns. (Slide – of one leper returning – can attach verse below) The story tells us that on the way to the priests, the miracle of healing occurred. (Slide - Luke 17:15-16 “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.”
It’s this act of seeing that I am dwelling on tonight. Indeed, the other nine who had leprosy noticed that they were healed. But one of them saw more. Who was this man who saw more? He was unlike the other nine. He was a Samaritan.
A Samaritan can be understood as someone who follows a branch of Judaism. (Slide – map of Mount Gerizim in relation to Jerusalem). Samaritans believe that Israel's original Holy Place is at Mount Gerizim, while the Jews believe it to be in Jerusalem. This has led to centuries of tension between these two groups. Tensions between the Jews and Samaritans led to the destruction of the Mount Gerizim temple by the Jews some 100 years before Jesus's time. During Jesus time, the Jews and Samaritans had a negative view of each other. There was hostility and tension. The audience Luke is speaking too likely had a negative view of Samaritans and saw them at outsiders..
In the beginning of this story we are told of Jesus going through a region between Samaria and Galilee. [Slide – of Jesus in Samaria]. He was in an area of outsiders. Many travelers of Jesus’ day would simply go around this region, but Jesus goes through it. Significantly, the one who returns to thank Jesus is the Samaritan – the outsider.
There are a couple of points to make here. One is that Jesus comes into the world for all people. No one is outside the reach of Jesus. [Slide of the lepers in front of Jesus]. The ten with leprosy are healed, and one happens to be from the marginalized people called the Samaritans. We know Jesus comes into the world to bring into God’s kingdom those whom the world rejects. Lets’ go to another point.
The one with the most gratitude is the outsider. I don’t mean to oversimplify this Gospel message on Thanksgiving Eve as a simple, ‘be sure you thank Jesus tomorrow’ when eating turkey and enjoying a day off work. This story speaks to what this Samaritan man saw. He saw more than just healing. Jesus made him whole, and the Samaritan felt restored. [Slide of Samaritan man at Jesus feet]
Jesus performs not just physical healing but a restoration of relationship. No longer would leprosy keep him separated from humanity. He is brought into the right relationship with his community. Furthermore, Jesus brings this man into a right relationship with God. The other nine with leprosy were heading back to Jerusalem, to their priests and temple, to their crowd. This man’s temple in Gerizim was destroyed hundreds of years earlier. Now God has come to him and made him whole. The Samaritan. The outsider.
Believe it or not, that’s not the point I want to make with this story. I want to make the first point that the Samaritan man goes back to Jesus, and Jesus is there. [Slide of Jesus waiting]. All he had to do was to go, to return…and Jesus was found.
Jesus is there for us too. All we have to do is go to him. The man seeks Jesus, and he finds him. You don’t read that he was interrupting Jesus, delaying him, annoying him. Nothing. Jesus was there. Like Pastor Doug’s experience in the hospital when he was walking with the stranger. [Slide of one person walking with Jesus]. Jesus accompanies us. For me, it is a warm part of the story. I want to know that Jesus is there when I return to him, again and again.
The next point I want to make is what this man saw. He saw something that the other nine missed. Here is where it gets tricky. He had more to gain from Jesus than the other nine. The other nine were outsiders because they had leprosy too, but they were not Samaritan. The Samaritan man with leprosy got a double healing that day. He was healed of his leprosy and brought into the right relationship with God and humanity. Jesus removed the weight of marginalization and oppression and the Samaritan was lifted from deep emotional depths of despair. [Slide of face of someone on their knees praying]. I am sure he never imagined this double healing would ever occur.
I said this is where it gets tricky, and here is why. I am one of the other nine. I am wondering if some of you aren’t as well. [Slide – of the lepers leaving Jesus]. If you are, then we are the ones who may be comfortable in more aspects of our lives than other people are. My prayers to Jesus are for things like safety for myself and my family in their daily lives here in America. I pray for God to be with my coworkers and me while caring for patients in the hospital. I am not praying for healing for myself. I am not fleeing persecution and praying for safety in a foreign land. [Slide of meal on a table]. I have never been handed a meal and thanked God because I expected to go hungry that day. I am not praying to put food on my table.
The greater the need, the greater the ‘seeing’ of God at work in our lives. [Slide – close up of someone’s eyes]. The Samaritan man saw something the other nine did not see – and what he saw made him turn around and shout praises to Jesus. To prostrate himself – or throw himself at the feet of Jesus. It bothers me that I am one of the nine skipping down the road to show myself to the temple priests. So often, I am not seeing what the Samaritan man saw that day.
I want to see as the Samaritan sees. I want to be closer to Jesus and restored to a full relationship with God, humanity, and creation. I desire a thankful heart that makes me stop in my tracks and turn back to Jesus. I want to know our God deeper. How do we see Jesus at work just as the Samaritan does? Well, this story gives us some insight on how to do that.
Remember, only one of the ten returns to Jesus, and the other nine go on their way. In reading this story, we get to hear this conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan. [Slide – Jesus and the Samaritan]. It is as if we are one of the other nine who get to accompany the Samaritan back to Jesus and sit beside him as he heaps praise and thanksgiving at the feet of our Lord.
In hearing the stories of marginalized and oppressed people, we can witness God at work in the world. We may not know the pangs of hunger and starvation, but we can hear the stories of those living in it and are thankful to God for every meal they receive. We may not know what it is like to be a foreigner, fleeing unspeakable brutalities. But we can listen to their heartfelt thanks and appreciation for God accompanying them on their journey to safety.
God’s work in the world has been revealed to me countless times when I have stood at the bedside of someone with a life-altering diagnosis and witness their faith in God, even if they are angry with or questioning God. I have been in the homes of people in severe poverty. In my mind, I am questioning God and humanity about why such suffering is allowed. Then I am interrupted by the patient breaking into thankful praise to Jesus. They see something I do not.
God gives us the ability to see as that Samaritan sees, but we can only do that when we join with him or her. God calls us to look upon each other without judgment. To join and accompany humanity whenever and wherever we can. Sometimes we can find this to be uncomfortable. We can get scared. We get close to suffering, extreme poverty, oppression, abuse, and fear that their darkness will somehow affect us. God willing, it will affect us. It will change and open up our hearts to a depth that we have rarely or perhaps never experienced. It will enable us to see God at work in the world like we never witnessed before. Then we will turn back to Jesus, throw ourselves at his feet, and heap praises on him. [Slide – of someone throwing themselves at Jesus feet]. Jesus will then say to us, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well!”