Learning from the Samaritan
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
May 19, 2019
Let us begin this morning by taking a moment to “center down” – to calm our hearts, our minds, our lives. I have a query for us to ponder that I hope will bring to mind some happy and joyful thoughts.
Who are you the most grateful/thankful for, today? Why?
Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
I love the following story…
A pastor in Dallas, Texas was once teaching Sunday School with a group of children. They were reading this story of the ten lepers. “What do you think about this story?” the pastor asked after she read it to them. One little girl answered, “Jesus must have been so happy that somebody thanked him!”
What a great attitude that little girl had and what insight to realize that Jesus probably didn’t get thanked that much. If you think about it, this story is often looked at from the other direction. We often ask, what happened to the other 9? Why did only one come back grateful?
But let’s be honest…in many ways, this is reality. This is what we do. Our world today is often short on the thanks. We have become a world where expectations are high, privileges abound, and rights come first – and the thanks and gratitude are forgotten, turning to assumptions and critiques instead.
With this Sunday being about recognizing our volunteers, we had to swallow some humble pie and realize we too neglected in the past to thank all of you for what all you do. Sadly, it is too easy to skip the thanks and just be satisfied with what was done. Maybe that is how the 9 others healed by Jesus felt. They were satisfied. Happy with the results and simply caught up in the moment of their joy. Thanks was not a priority, there were bigger things to celebrate.
All this had me thinking about the role and point of gratitude in our own lives.
How often am I satisfied with what is done, but never take the time to thank the individual(s) for what they have done?
I try hard to send thank you notes or emails, or at least say thanks to those deserving it, but many times I too get caught up in the moment and miss the opportunity.
Let’s be honest, I have to assume that we all like to be thanked, right? I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t appreciate a thank you note or being acknowledged for what they do. It makes you feel good. It makes you realize you are worth something - that the efforts and work you have put forth has been beneficial.
This all had me thinking about why gratitude is so important.
In the bible, thanksgiving is key or a natural response to our faith. 2 Corinthians 4:15 reads,
All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Or again in 2 Corinthians 9:11.
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
Thanksgiving seems to go hand-in-hand to God’s grace. But in our text for today, there is something even more going on. Alyce McKenzie points this out in her commentary/reflection on our text. She says this about those 10 lepers,
The purpose of visiting a priest after a cure (Luke 5:14; Leviticus 13:49; 14:2) was so the cured person could officially resume his place in society. The nine lepers, presumably Jewish, had their minds on the future, on resuming the life they had left behind with the onset of illness. Their minds were full of scenes of reunion with wives, children, with reentry into market and synagogue. There is no indication that their goals and future actions were anything but respectable and legal.
But they were lacking something. The one leper, the “foreigner,” who returned to thank God, was “made well,” (sozo- “to be healed of spiritual disease and death”) whereas the nine were merely “cleansed” or “healed” (tharizo- “to be made clean or healed of a disease”). Physical cure (tharizo), the verb used twice and translated in the NRSV “made clean” (14) and “healed” (15) is not the same as “made you well,” or “made you whole” (sozo), a condition often referred to as “salvation.” When Jesus says, “your faith has made you well,” sozo is the verb he uses.
In Luke’s account he points out the foreigner – and not just any foreigner, but a Samaritan.
Now I have taught this before, but it is worth a review. It is important to remember Jesus was a Jew from Galilee. So, this means, his family would have most likely raised him with a racist bias against Samaritans.
Yet, it is Jesus, who wherever possible shows us a sensitivity toward racial justice as it relates to the Samaritans – which would have been unheard of and actually problematic for him. Actually, this time, he differentiates between Jews being healed and a Samaritan being saved. Oh my, that is blasphemy! Every Jew in the room would have been up in arms that Jesus would highlight the Samaritan’s gratefulness. Folks, it is historically documented that by the time Jesus was on the face of the earth, the Jews and the Samaritans had hated each other for at least 200+ years.
Remember the Jews and Samaritans had been involved in an internal family war. Violence, hatred, horrific discrimination, had been dividing factors among these two people groups for quite some time.
But Jesus crossed the border, which he did on several occasions. Sometimes to the displeasure of the disciples and those watching him.
Yet, with all we know of this non-existent relationship between the groups, Jesus had the audacity to often mention Samaritans, talk to Samaritans, heal Samaritans, and now bring “salvation” to a Samaritan. Oh, that rebel Jesus.
It seems for this Samaritan, to be made fully well took being thankful or grateful to God. Usually, we thank someone else for what they have done for us, but what Jesus was noticing was the posture or attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving coming from the heart of the Samaritan.
When the Samaritan acknowledges this thankfulness, he experiences a salvation that goes beyond the merely physical cure of death we often think of as salvation.
In a true and Quakerly sense it could be considered a reorientation of his inner life. What happened to this Samaritan was something more than proving he had good manners, or that he took the time to write a thank you note or simply say thank you. It wasn’t something on the surface of his life, but rather something deep down – a real change. He was transformed by the grace and healing of God and gratitude was the mark of his change.
His eyes were opened to a much bigger grace. The Samaritan for the first time had been accepted, acknowledged, no longer a foreigner, no longer one of those outcasts and marginalized people. He was not only healed by a Jew (Jesus), it was approved by a Jew (the priest). Think about it…this Samaritan was changed so dramatically that he risked it all as a Samaritan to go before a Jewish priest to get a blessing – a priest who would have thought just being in the presence of this man would make him unclean (whether a leper or not).
He was changed. He had experienced salvation.
When we help the marginalized, when we extend grace, when we serve our neighbors, when we accept, acknowledge the foreigner, the outcast, we too are offering salvation to our world.
And you and I know when that truly happens, you can see it on their face, in their eyes, in their posture – it radiates from them. Thank you for accepting me. Thank you for acknowledging me. Thank you for healing me. Thank you for extending undeserved grace to me. I am so thankful.
John Pattison and Chris Smith, who were with us in the fall, have a chapter in their book, Slow Church, titled gratitude. They point out in this chapter that,
“Researchers have found that the happiest people also tend to be the most grateful. But while this might seem obvious at first, there’s an interesting twist. These folks aren’t grateful for being happy, they are happy because they have been intentional about cultivating a life of gratitude. We have a hunch that something very similar might be true of our faith communities: the most joyful churches (meetings) are probably the ones that have been intentional about making space for gratitude.”
So this morning, let us continue to learn about having a grateful heart from the Samaritan. Let us also be like the girl in the story I shared at the beginning of this sermon, that saw how happy, thankfulness made Jesus. And let us also be a meeting that continues to be intentional about making space as we have this morning for gratitude – because our thankfulness is changing us…or just maybe it is saving us.