Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Gospel Reflection

Image by James C. Christensen
Gospel: Luke 17:11-19It happened that as Jesus made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Let us begin by pondering the question: How are the Pilgrims of the first Thanksgiving and the lepers in our Gospel similar? Well, both groups were “outsiders” and “insiders.”

The historical events leading to the first Thanksgiving celebration can sound like a mini-series for a television drama. In the early 1600s, persecution, imprisonment, and death were the punishments awaiting those who separated themselves from King James’ rule of the Church of England.  The Pilgrims found corruption and practices that were in conflict with the Bible, and they desired to escape from England and find a place where they could worship freely.  They would become “outsiders” of the Church of England.

After two other attempts, they set sail on the Mayflower in September of 1620. There were approximately 41 of these Separatists aboard, who called themselves the “Saints,” – they wanted complete separation from the Church of England.  There were others, whom they called the “Strangers.”  These were hired men, servants, soldiers, and others who wanted to start a new life in a new land. 
After sailing for 65 days, the ship arrived in November of 1620 at what would become known as Plymouth Colony. The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims.  Many had died during the long, difficult winter.  Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less than 50 survived the first winter.

In the following year of 1621, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. The colonists celebrated it as a traditional English harvest feast, to which they invited the local Wampanoag Indians.  Now, the Pilgrims could be considered the new “insiders,” and we could possibly view the Wampanoag Indians as the new “outsiders.”  And so, as we say, the rest is history.

In our Gospel, we have “outsiders” and “insiders” as well.  Today’s Gospel is from Luke – which is often called the Gospel of Mercy and Forgiveness.  Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem – and in a few Chapters, we will read that he is in the final months of his life on Earth. He knows all too well what it is like to be an “insider” and an “outsider.”

In this middle place between Galilee and Samaria is a borderland where lepers dwelt. Here, Jesus encounters ten men - all lepers, who, with their weakened voices, call out to him, “Master” and beg for mercy . . . they desire human compassion and dignity.
As lepers, they were rejected from society, and they could not participate in worship. They were treated as outcasts and were required to live outside the city in leper camps, forced to ring a bell or shout “unclean” to warn others to keep away as they walked the streets. These lepers were the most miserable of all people, believing that they had been cursed both by God and humankind. 

In this time, leprosy was a permanent and external condition of shame, clearly evident in the disfiguring lesions covering the victim’s skin. Because lepers could not participate in worship, most people believed that the disease was due to sins that the individual had committed. The Jewish people couldn’t imagine a worse torment than not being able to worship God – for it was the most holy act of their lives. 
These ten “outsiders”– were a band of nine Jewish men - and one a foreigner, a Samaritan – who was even more of an “outsider” – a double outcast, because he was a leper and a Samaritan.  These men would normally not be in relationship with each other, but the fate of a terrible disease forced them to band together. 

When Jesus saw them and heard their faint cry for mercy, he doesn’t tell them to go and wash in the Jordan seven times; He doesn’t touch them as he did for the single leper earlier in his ministry. No, Jesus asks them to turn toward Jerusalem and sends the lepers on their way, knowing that his word will do its work. The faith-filled lepers, who will soon be “insiders,” are cleansed as they travel to meet up with the Jerusalem CDC! (Center for Disease Control).

To understand the reactions of these healed men, we must first consider that the Law of Moses provided that someone who was afflicted and then healed of an unclean disease was to go and show himself to a priest to verify the healing. This “presentation” was, in essence, his ticket of re-admission into the Temple and restoration of his place within the community of God’s people.
The nine who presented themselves were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do – but, Jesus had a dual purpose: when the priests verified that these lepers were healed, they were unintentionally affirming the divine authority of Jesus - the one who had healed these men, and the priests would not be able to deny that. For in the cultural world of Jesus, it was believed that God alone is the one who heals.  How clever of Jesus!

So, the ten head off to see the priests. Except for one of them, who turns around and goes back. It’s the Samaritan who returns to Jesus.
As a Samaritan and an outcast, he knew he couldn’t follow the others. Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerazim, and Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. He had no need to be officially pronounced clean and welcomed by the priests; so instead, he confides in Jesus, giving his best offering of gratitude for Jesus’ gift of divine mercy.
The Scripture states that he is shouting his gratitude . . . his loud voice signifies his complete healing and the intensity of his praise. Jesus pronounces him healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

He is restored to wholeness – and no longer seen as a foreigner but in God’s merciful eyes is accepted, welcomed, and loved unconditionally. Truly, Jesus’ mission was to be in towns, villages, and in-between spaces to proclaim that God is a God of mercy and compassion who loves us totally, tenderly, tenaciously!

It is written that in the ancient Middle East, to say “thank you” is to end or complete a relationship. The Samarian knew he was in the “wrong” place at the “right” time. He would not be able to be in relationship with Jesus again – the boundaries were clear.   Yet, his heart was in the right place at the right time! This Samaritan is no longer an “outsider” – now, he is blessed to be a “near” sider – he is near to God’s heart of mercy – he is near to God as disciple and friend  . . . the God of forgiveness, healing, and compassion.

This would seem like a good place to end the story. However, there is more to this story.  But what of the faith-filled nine? 
Perhaps we can find them in the final chapters of Luke’s Gospel – living their newly restored lives with their families and friends; worshiping at the Temple; having a place to call home – and no longer being “outsiders;” and, forever aware of the God with the gaze of mercy who restored them to health, to society, and to the Temple.  They now live lives of generous gratitude.
Therefore, when it came time to obtain a colt for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and the owners were told, “The Master has need of it,” these owners, once the outsiders, give in gratitude to the Master.
When the time came for the Hosanna Parade through the streets of Jerusalem, these once outsiders, now walk and run in gratitude among the people with shouts of Hosanna happiness.
And, when the time came for Passover to be prepared, the man with the water jar, once an outsider, now generously gives his upper room in gratitude to the Master.
And the rest is history, and more, much more. . .

So what is the Good News for us today?
• For Luke - Jesus is the God of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy for all people whether rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, slave or sinner, winner or loser, saint or stranger. With Jesus there are no boundaries, borders, barriers, boxes, or biases.
• Let us pray for all whom this day experience being an outsider in our church, in governments, in society, and in nations throughout our world. May the God of mercy bless them with courage and integrity to shout forth their message and find meaning in their suffering.
•  For ourselves – our community, families, friends, may God’s grace, mercy, compassion. and wisdom accompany our lives as we strive to live with purpose and in gratitude day by day.
• So let us pray:  “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melodie Beattie

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