On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’f feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
We are exactly one week away from my second favorite holiday of the year. Behind Easter, Thanksgiving sits as a highlighted and circled day on my calendar that is marked with a gold star. From turkey and stuffing, sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes, to the cranberry sauce (the homemade kind) and pumpkin pie, I look forward to Thanksgiving each year. And who wouldn’t?!!Regardless of where you are, or who you are with, this is the one time a year that we are all allowed to over-eat and then retire to the living room to watch football, take a nap, or go back for a third serving of pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving is a time of year when we all pause to give thanks to God for the blessings we have enjoyed over the past year. It is a time of year when we can look back on the blessings God has given to us and look forward to what those blessings will mean for us in the year to come. No matter where you are or who you are celebrating with, it is next to impossible not to give thanks.
Over the summer this group gathering for worship welcomed me and allowed me to share in worship with you. And a lot has happened since the last time I was here. Last time I was with you all my wife, Allison, and I were expecting our first child. I am happy to report that Camden James was born just before 9:30 AM on August 10th. Since the moment Camden was born he has been the pride and joy of our family. His grandparents, aunts, and uncle rearrange their schedules each week just to spend time with him. Every morning when Allison or I walk into his room, he greets us with a big smile. He is the happiest baby on the planet. And even though I get to spend everyday of the week with him, because he comes to the office with me, Camden is a momma’s boy.
At first glance, our Gospel reading this evening may seem like an obvious Thanksgiving reading. On the surface it is a healing story. At first glance it is a story of Jesus healing ten lepers while on a road-trip with His disciples. But if we peel back the layers of the story there is more.
The backdrop for this story in Saint Luke’s Gospel is Jesus and his disciples moving towards Jerusalem (v. 11), and as they made their way towards Jerusalem Jesus and His disciples moved through a part of the region where Jews would have lived in close proximity with Samaritans. They could have taken a more direct route to Jerusalem, but instead they took the long way.
In this healing story, there are a two key points we need to remember. One, this group of lepers was quarantined in exile away from the temple. They were not allowed to participate in any form of communal worship. As prescribed by Leviticus 13 of the Hebrew Bible, lepers were ritually unclean outcasts within Jewish society.
The second point to realize is that nine of the ten lepers were Jews, and only one was a Samaritan (v. 16). Samaritans and Jews did not mix well. These two groups had been at odds with one another since the split between the northern and southern kingdoms, and the homecoming of the Jewish exile. Samaritans did not adhere to the Jewish laws in a way that the Jewish people agreed with and also had a history of worshiping pagan gods. Because of this, Jews would have gone out of their way to not only avoid contact with a Samaritan but also to avoid land where Samaritans would have lived.
For these nine lepers to be living with one Samaritan leper would imply that they too were on the fringes of Jewish society. They too were the lowest of the low. The fact that Jesus was moving through an area where Samaritans would have been present foreshadows for us that something big is going to go down.
When the ten lepers approached Jesus Saint Luke writes, “When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.” When we think of a New Testament healing we typically imagine Jesus laying his hands on a person or like in Saint Mark’s Gospel a young girl grabbing Jesus’s robe (Mark 5.27). But in this instance Jesus did not place his hands on the lepers to heal them. In typical Jesus fashion, He does what we least expect Him to do. He simply told the ten to “go and show yourselves”. Their faithful obedience to his command of “go and show yourselves” was enough to be healed.
When Camden was born, after being awake for over 24 hours, Allison and I were both filled with happiness, joy, thankfulness. The excitement overtook me. I must have jumped 100 feet in the air. These feelings of happiness, joy, and thanksgiving were enough to re-energize us after being awake for so long. We were happy that Camden was healthy and safe. Filled with joy over the gift that had been given to us. And filled thanksgiving towards God for trusting us with his precious life and for allow us to be his parents. We were so focused on breathing and pushing that when Camden was finally born the feelings of happiness, joy, and thanks came upon us quickly.
I would imagine the sudden emotion of thankfulness that Allison and I felt would have come upon the ten healed lepers in a similar manner. Just like Allison and I waited and waited for Camden’s arrival, wondering if he would ever come, the lepers in Saint Luke’s Gospel must have waited and waited, wondering if they would ever be healed, knowing their chance were low because they had been exiled from their community. Filled with excitement the ten rush off to the temple to show the priests that they had been healed. One stopped. A Samaritan.
The one who was a stranger or allogenes (al-log-en-ace’), which was a term used for a foreigner, alien, or a person from another tribe who was prohibited from entering the temple, stops and turns back and “prostrated” (v. 16) himself. Being reduced by his overwhelming of thanksgiving, the man fell onto the ground, with a “loud voice” the healed man gave thanks and glorified God. The one who would have been barred from the temple stops, drops to the ground overcome with gratitude, and worships Christ.
Jesus tells the man that he is now made well (v. 19), meaning that his faithfulness has fully reconciled the man before God. It was not that the man ran to the temple, telling everyone of how he had been healed by the Son of God that reconciled the man, but instead it was his faithfulness and gratitude expressed towards God. The man’s thankfulness was directly tied to the man’s faithfulness, and ultimately to being reconciled with God.
This year, Thanksgiving is a little more special for Allison and I. A wise retired, tattooless, Lutheran Navy Chaplain told me that a child, our Camden, is a “gift on loan from God”. The emotion of being healed that the Samaritan leper must have felt is the same emotion that I felt when Camden, our gift from God, was born and is the same emotion of thanksgiving that I feel every morning when we start a new day together as a family.
The healed Samaritan had a new lease on life. No longer was he an unclean outcast (Lev. 13). Each new day for this healed man had new meaning. The same is true for me. Each new day is a another day to watch Camden grow and learn new things. Each day will be a chance for me to teach my little momma’s boy how to be a man. Each day is a new day for me to play with him, to care for him, and for us to grow together as a family. Each day is an opportunity to give thanks to God for the gift that has been entrusted to Allison and I. This year, Thanksgiving is a little more special for my family.
My hope and prayer is that each of us will pause over the coming week and give thanks. Giving thanks to God for the blessings entrusted to us. Giving thanks to God for healing and strength. Giving thanks to God for another year with friends and family. But most of all, giving thanks that it is through the healing offered to us through Jesus that we might be fully reconciled before God. Amen.