Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Grateful Samaritan

The Grateful Samaritan
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
October 13, 2013
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 17: 11-19

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

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.” [1]  

So often we talk about the parable of the Good Samaritan. The church I grew up in, in Waldorf Maryland was named after that famous character, who decided to care more about the man lying beaten and robbed in a ditch, after two others, two priests had passed right by on the other side of the road, but in this text, we see another Samaritan, whom I have decided to call the Grateful Samaritan. There are many similarities between these two Samaritans, and I would say that all the well known ideas about Samaritans apply to this guy too. He is a part of a hated race, a people seen as unfaithful traitors, lower than low, to be looked down upon. Just like the Good Samaritan he is here compared with others who act very differently from him, setting him up as the example of positive behavior. Here we have a story about 10 lepers. They come up to Jesus and ask for to be cured. Jesus sends them to find priests. On the way they are healed. Nine of the ten are not heard from again, but the one, this grateful Samaritan, returns to Jesus, simply to praise God, thank Jesus, and to proclaim his gratitude for Jesus for everyone to hear. It says he came back, offered thanks, in a loud voice, and then prostrated himself at the foot of Jesus. Jesus is like, weren't there nine of you? Is the only one to come back and praise God this foreigner? Again a Samaritan, just like his good counterpart, this grateful one, does what nine others don't do, he simply returns to say thanks!
Now this isn't the first leprosy healing that takes place in the region of Samaria. In the Old Testament reading that Paula read for us this morning, we see another one. In this one the commander of the Aramean army, a man named Naaman is healed of his leprosy by the prophet Elisha, which results in Naaman giving glory to God, though like this Samaritan, Naaman was also considered a "Foreigner." There are some other parallels between the two stories. The biggest one is the fact that there really isn't a whole lot to the healing. Basically in the New Testament one, Jesus just says, hey guys, go find a priest, and the next thing you know these guys are healed. In the Naaman one from 2 Kings, Naaman is just told to go wash himself in the river and he will be cleaned. In both you get the idea that the people are skeptical of the process. Naaman is like, really, is this all I have to do. I've been swimming in rivers before and it hasn't helped, and wouldn't one of these other, bigger, cleaner rivers be better? Why this one? He almost doesn't go through with it, but then he does and his life is changed forever. Why is it that we want our healings to be elaborate? Why do we want our life changing moments to be extra momentous? We seem to want to mark the occasion with a struggle, we want our medicine to taste bad. . . Is it because we think that where there is no pain, there is no gain, where there is no struggle there is no reward. If you feel it you know it's working. . . like that Selson Blue dandruff shampoo commercial, it's the tingle that shows it's working, but in that case. . . the shampoo, the stuff that makes it tingle has nothing to do with the dandruff medicine. It's not the medicine it's the menthol. . . Why does that marketing work? Is there something in human beings that makes us want to feel that something is working? Is it because we have a need to earn the healing? That we need to feel we have something to do with it for it to count? Does this have something to do with why we have trouble showing gratitude? Is it at all connected? If we help ourselves, then it is expected that we get the rest of the help on the way. But with Jesus it isn't always like that, and Grace like we'll sing in a minute, is of course amazing, but also free, easy, without struggle, at least for us, the price was substantial, but it has already been paid. Like Jesus says, it's the faith that heals him, not the action. The action comes afterwards, in that prostrate moment of gratitude.
That leads me to my next question: "What happens to the other guys?" We read that they got healed too, but reading it the second time, and pairing it with the Old Testament reading, I started to wonder if it stuck, if they really are healed. I have to admit, that I prefer to think that all 10 are healed, but nine of them seem to show no gratitude, no thanks. Much like needing to feel a healing, gratitude is something that human beings struggle with, especially when it is gratitude directed towards God. The Bible is full of human beings straying from God, though God again and again saves us, heals us, provides for us, sets us free, and so much more, afterwards, we forget, we move on. We pray and pray for God to come, step in, intervene, do something, and then he does, and the problem goes away, and we forget. The biggest example is probably the Israelites being freed from their bondage in Egypt. For hundreds of years they pray for a deliverer, and finally get one in the person of Moses, but they are barely out of Egypt and the ungrateful grumbling occurs, they even go so far as to ask to go back to their chains.  In my own life I can think of times lying in bed worrying about something, praying about it, begging for things to work out, and then it does, and the next night I go right to sleep. I have no trouble falling to sleep after its over. Worry keeps us up at night, but when it comes reprieve and release we fall right to sleep. It happens in my life again and again, so I completely understand the issue and own that it is a part of me, I often forget gratitude, in the wake of everything turning out right.
Now I put myself in the place of these 9 lepers. They have been suffering for years, they have been hurting for some time, shunned by everyone, a major source of fear, denied any physical contact with other humans. And then they are healed. Could you imagine the feeling? Once dead, to be brought completely and instantly back to life. It would be easy to get caught up in the moment, having been given a new chance at life, you can see how people would get caught up in living. And that is what it's all about isn't. You've got a chance at life, you realize how precious it is, and now you get to live. Do you remember why?
It is interesting to me that this passage follows directly last week's in the Gospel of Luke because last week's scripture lesson also included important words about gratitude. Do you remember it: verses 7-10

7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ” [2]  

Do you thank a slave for doing what was commanded, for doing what is expected? Why does this directly precede this story about the grateful Samaritan? Is there something about this idea of it being expected? Do we expect our blessings from God? Do we feel that we have earned them? Are we good enough people? Have we grown so accustomed to living a charmed life that we simply expect for things to go well, expect God to step in and bless us, to set us free, so that when He does, we don't feel grateful. Do you expect the next breath to come? Sure, I think we all do, so we rarely are grateful when they do. We expect the sun to rise each day, so we are rarely grateful when it does. We expect to be healthy, so we are rarely grateful when we feel good. What are the things in life that you just expect as given? Are you grateful for them, maybe? 1 in ten. Do you go out of your way to thank God for them, proclaim in a loud voice to the world that God is great, that God is Lord, that God is good and loves? Or no. . .
Maybe the Samaritan is grateful because he doesn't feel he is chosen. . . he doesn't feel like God cares for him, and then he learns otherwise. I think we are all here because we in some way have felt that God loves us, that God cares for us, that God is a major presence in our lives. Since we see that as an expected part of our lives, many of us church goers since birth, have we lost simply being grateful? Every week we go through the Prayer of Confession and the Assurance of Pardon, is forgiveness for our sins so expected that we just take it all in stride? We say our prayer, we have our moment of silence, we are forgiven, we sing Gloria Patri and we go about the rest of the service. Do we let ourselves lie prostrate at the foot of Jesus, thanking him for being set free? I have to wonder why not. . . what do you think?  Let's take a minute to stop then right now, what we are doing, look at what he has given, and be grateful, truly grateful. There is so much that we can be grateful for. Take a minute to yourself, and then I'll conclude aloud.


[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Lk 17:11-19). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Lk 17:7-10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.