10 October 2010
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 23 (RCL)
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
2 Timothy 2:8-15
The passage from Jeremiah must have been tremendously troubling for those who received it. Jeremiah had been a bit of a pest to the establishment in Jerusalem — all his gloom and doom predictions. And, of course, things came out just as he had said. Now, here they were in Exile (the elites, at any rate), and Jeremiah is telling them to build houses, have families, settle down — to accommodate, after excoriating them for accommodating while they were in Jerusalem. He is encouraging them to mingle into the population in Babylon, to do like immigrants have always had to do, live in the host culture, without making too much of a distinction. Take wives, have sons, take wives for your sons, give your daughters in marriage. Really?
The passage in Luke concerns the ten lepers, only one of whom turns back to give thanks to God. They cry out “Have mercy on us,” the correct address to a king. Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priest, in order to be declared clean, allowed back into ceremonial purity. While they are going, they are in fact cleansed, without the priest. The skin disease presumably clears up. The one turns back, and Jesus says, Go your way, your faith has saved you. This is something deeper than just a cleansing or a healing. And, he is a Samaritan, in foreigner (in Greek, allogenes — other born). He is one of those half-breed, northern misfits. When Assyria conquered the northern kingdom, the brought in other conquered peoples to populate the region. They had mixed with the locals, and made a mess of the whole region. They might worship on Mout Gerizim, but even the northern kindgom’s worship was idolatrous according to the southerners. So, this fellow is a leper, and a foreign born. But, he gives thanks to God.
We are very good at drawing lines and making sure the people we don’t like are on the other side of those lines. When the ten have leprosy, nothing separates them so much as the leprosy brings them together. But when cleansed, the Samaritan can’t get into the Temple in Jersualem to show himself to the priest. Another line. To Jesus, it doesn’t matter. He worships God.
The very points of our exclusion of one another (and our own points of greatest vulnerability — they’re the same, aren’t they?) are the points at which an awareness of God’s goodness can enter.