Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Luke 17:11-19
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 23–Sunday Between October 9 and 15 Inclusive)
analysis by Jim Squire

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

DIAGNOSIS: Critically Ill

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Ingrates
The ingratitude of nine-out-of-ten lepers (clearly the majority, and more often than not, where we are 90% of the time) is not without some legal precedent. If healed, then they needed to observe the proper ritual of showing themselves to the priest. And, please note, they did follow Jesus’ directions in part. Their healing took place “as they went” (v. 14). But none of those nine come back to thank Jesus as the source of their healing, which means that any gratitude they have is still locked in old ways.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: No Faith in the Healer
The spiritual problem with the nine is that their trust was not in Jesus, the healer. Their belief was still rooted in the pharisaical thinking that prostrates before the priests rather than before Jesus. All ten may have been healed, but nine were not saved by their old belief system. For us, the malady may be something along the lines of the distinction between saving faith and “mere historical knowledge” of Jesus. We are like Luke’s pharisaic audience, who took what Jesus dispensed as mercy to be merely what they had coming to them. We recognize that life is fragile and even though we might live right, bad things can still happen. Our faith is thus shown to be in ourselves, rather than in God.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Distant
A foreigner, one whom we might view with disdain, is the one who is told that his faith made him well (v. 19). We are not told this, because our faith was not operating on the right level. Our faith still points to ourselves. In return, we get shut out from his pronouncement of a cure. Though we may go on feeling “well,” this feeling is an illusion. In fact, we become spiritual lepers, ones who are without mercy and are kept at a distance from God. Refusing to give praise to God, we are expelled from his fellowship. Unable to cure ourselves, we are not healed, not cleansed, not well.

PROGNOSIS: Gratefully Restored

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Jesus–Our Close Benefactor
While we were yet helpless, however, Jesus is the one who closes the distance. While we were all foreigners from God, Jesus has come to be present in our midst. All the lepers were helpless, and that is Jesus’ cue. He approaches them and gives them what they don’t have: mercy. In drawing near to them and bestowing upon them kindness and generosity in the gift of healing, Jesus restores them to fellowship with God. God’s mercy is the kind that comes without being earned, without being deserved. It has the power to restore us to a new and right relationship with God. Jesus actually gives us more than our health. He gives us himself. For those who find themselves shut out from God’s mercy, the really good news is that God’s mercy takes human form in the person of Jesus and finds us so that he can restore us.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Faith in the Master
Such restoration brings about in us a true sense of gratitude. Like the Samaritan, our eyes are opened and we recognize our Great Benefactor for who and what he is: Master (v. 13; cf. v. 16). The Samaritan, the symbol of our divinely foreign being having been healed, prostrates himself before Jesus, and gives the only response he can make in light of God’s mercy: praise and thanks to God, and to his Lord and Master. The temple priests could wait. Jesus approved of his priorities. “Your faith has made you well” (v. 19). The same verse that sealed our fate when we were stubbornly self-confident, now has the capacity to render us pleasing in the eyes of God. What gives faith its power is not the faith itself, but faith’s Object. The Samaritan knew well (pun intended) that the One in whom he trusted, Jesus, made all the difference for his life and world. The same is true for us. It is still very much our faith. But our faith puts all the eggs into the One basket–our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of what he brings about for us–making us well, bringing us close to God–our faith is great as well. We recognize our Great Benefactor and the effect he has on our lives. We see our own health as an undeserved gift from Him, which we hang onto precisely by letting go and trusting Him.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Giving Praise to God
Like the Samaritan, we are moved by the grace bestowed upon us by our Great Benefactor, our Lord and Master, to give praise to God. You can imagine what kind of stories the Samaritan must have told after Jesus commanded him to “Get up and go on your way” (v. 19). Surely, like the shepherds in Luke 2, he continued to praise God for his boundless mercy everywhere he went. Maybe he even ran across a few fellow lepers with whom he must have shared his Good News. Jesus’ generosity gives us all we need to take with us as we run across others who have been shut out of God’s mercy. We no longer have to worry about maintaining our distance from those who are considered to be unclean. Instead of saying, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” we can say, “There went I, until the grace of God found me and rescued me.” With this kind of brand new perspective, nothing or no one we encounter can provoke the same kind of reaction of disdain it once did. Owing our health entirely to God, we close the distance and bring the mercy of the Master to bear on our leprous world.


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