The Good Samaritan – Oct. 13, 2019

The Good Samaritan

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Luke 17:11-19

October 13, 2019

Main Idea:  Gratitude and blessing are connected.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

If you noticed the sermon title before I read the Scripture, you were probably surprised by this text. This story is not the one we think of when we hear Good Samaritan. Perhaps you were unaware that there was another Good Samaritan story.  Who knew that there was more than one? Did you know that Samaritans still exist today?  The Samaritan community numbers 800 people who live in 2 cities, one near Tel Aviv and the other in the Palestinian West Bank.  They worship on Mount Gerazim, the same as those who lived in Jesus’ day and before.  They are neither Jewish nor Palestinian and yet they are deeply connected to both.  Their community near Tel Aviv speaks Hebrew while the West Bank community speaks Arabic and yet they retain their ancient traditions and connections. Politically, they remain neutral in the Isreali/Palestinian dispute which allows them to coexist peacefully with both communities.  The complexity of their life reminds us that life in community is never simple.   The Samaritans’ lives act as a border or a bridge between two bitterly divided communities.   As we explore this story of a Good Samaritan we will look beyond the surface to recognize the connections between blessing, gratitude, and faith.

This morning’s text has some peculiar details which alert us that there is more to this story than is apparent at first glance.  First, Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem moving “through the region between Samaria and Galilee”  These places share a border so there is no region between. Somehow this border crossing is important to the story. Second, the lepers shout to Jesus for healing but instead of saying Jesus heard them, the text says ‘Jesus saw them”.  Seeing and recognizing is important to the story.  Thirdly, Jesus gives specific instructions to the lepers and nine of them do what they are told.  It seems strange that Jesus then questions their behavior and rewards the one who seems not to follow instructions.  Moving beyond blind obedience seems to be important to the story.

The 10 Lepers from this border region were a mixed group of people who were joined together as outsiders by their common affliction. Lepers were the ultimate outcasts; feared for their dreadful skin disease and completely rejected by their villages and families.  They joined together to comfort and care for each other because no one else would.  In our text today the Lepers follow common custom (and probably the law) by not approaching Jesus or getting too close but by calling out to him.  They acknowledge him as “Master” and ask for his mercy.  They have faith that he can heal them.  Jesus sees them and says “Go and show yourselves to the priests”. In addition to their religious duties, the priests served as health officers.  It was only by passing the priests’ inspection that these lepers would be allowed to return to their lives.   The lepers listen to Jesus’ instructions and do exactly what he told them to do. It is while they are following Jesus’ instructions that they are made clean. They are lepers no more.  They are healed and restored to their community. 

Up to this point the story is a pretty typical healing story much like many others in the gospels.  But the story continues!

One Leper sees that he is healed and turns around.  He recognizes his blessing and turns around to express his gratitude not only to Jesus but to God; “praising God with a loud voice.”  He recognizes from whom his blessing has come. He falls down at Jesus’ feet and thanks him.  It is at this point that the story takes the surprising twist.  Luke tells us that he is a Samaritan. 

Now, while Samaritans and Jews get along pretty well today, this has not always been the case.  In fact, Samaritans and Jews have a long history of hostility and strife dating back to the days before the Babylonian exile, when the northern kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians.  Samaritans are mentioned three times in the Gospel of Luke, in stories not found in the other gospels. The first time is in chapter 9 when a village of Samaritans refuse to host Jesus and in response his disciples want to rain fire from heaven down upon them (9:51-55). This would have been understandable by those who believed that the Samaritans were their enemies.  Jesus rebukes them for this idea and they go on their way.  The second mention of Samaritans, is the parable of the Good Samaritan from chapter 10 (v. 30-36) which would have shocked and scandalized the original hearers of that parable.   Here too, the original hearers would have been shocked to learn that the only leper who showed gratitude was a heathen Samaritan.

When this Samaritan and the other lepers were still sick, they were united in their outcast status but after the healing, those who went to the priests were obviously Jews (as the priests would welcome only Jews).  They are outcasts no longer but this person, although healed, would remain an outsider.  The Samaritan returns to Jesus with humility and gratitude and Jesus says to him. “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well” (17:19). This phrase “made well” in the Greek means more than just a  physical cure.  The Greek word “sozo” implies wholeness and salvation from danger.  The Samaritan’s action of recognizing his blessing and lifting up thanks and praise to God for it, leads to his wholeness and salvation. He, a despised outsider, is lifted up as a model of faith.

Now the other main character in this story of course, is Jesus.  His actions reveal to us our God to whom we give our thanks and praise.  Jesus cures all of 10 of the lepers without asking them anything about their faith.   Our God loves everybody regardless of their faith or lack thereof.  Jesus crosses borders to help people.  We set up borders of who is in and who is out but God disregards our boundaries and welcomes everyone, especially those who are on the outside of society.  Jesus works miracles at a distance for people who do not know him.  The Spirit of Christ is active in this world whether it is recognized or not.  Jesus values the Samaritan’s gratitude.  God invite us to see, acknowledge, and experience the blessings with which we are showered everyday.  The questions Jesus asks in this story highlight the wisdom of the Samaritan while pointing out the cluelessness of the 9 others. 

The first nine lepers received a blessing of healing from Jesus, but it is only the tenth leper, the Samaritan, who recognizes the source of his blessing.   Because he stops to express gratitude and praise, he receives a second blessing of wholeness and salvation.

In our lives, do we stop to recognize the source of our blessings and lift up our gratitude and praise? This past Thursday I was at my son’s cross country race in Jericho.  The temperature was perfect, the foliage was gorgeous, and I thanked God for the beauty which surrounded me. When I visit with people in their homes or at the hospital I am aware of the privilege of being welcomed in to other people’s lives.  All of us are surrounded by such blessings but do we really see them?  Do we recognize that they are gifts to us from God?

In a world is filled with challenges, can we live lives of gratitude?  “Gratitude, like faith and hope and love and commitment, are not inborn traits that some have and others don’t, but rather gratitude is more like a muscle that can be strengthened over time.”  (David Lose,  When we practice giving thanks we come to see more clearly the blessings around us; the easy ones like a beautiful day and the more challenging ones such as being a community of faith.   For First Baptist, will we, like Jesus, cross borders to reach out to folks who seem like outsiders to us? And can we see those outsiders as blessings? In our wider society, there is much too much demonization of others.  Jesus’ love and respect for the Samaritans models for us how to relate to those who are different from us.  In our personal lives, do we see our glass as half full or half empty?  If we only see the negative, our life will be sad indeed.  But when we can recognize the blessings around us and we can give thanks and praise for them, our life is deeply enriched.

Martin Luther once described the nature of true worship as the tenth leper turning back.  Everything that we do here on Sunday morning is to align ourselves with God’s purposes; to help us see God at work in our lives so that we can recognize our blessings and give God thanks and praise.  When we see all that God has done and is doing, we can express our gratitude by sharing our blessings with others, not just our money or our time but also by sharing our hope, our joy, our love.  This is living the life of faith; “a faith that has made us well.” 

Let us pray,

Gracious God, we thank you for the countless blessings which constitute our lives.  Help us to recognize and value them.  Embolden us to sing your praises in all circumstances and to reach out across borders to share your love.  Remind us that you are with us, blessing us, even in the hardest of times.  We ask this in Christ’s name, Amen.