Monday, July 20, 2009

"Now he was a Samaritan."

I spent a good bit of brain time last week thinking on this passage too -- Luke 17:11-19.

Ponder slowly through this scenario. Ten leprous men have been hanging out together because of necessity. Nine of them are Jews, but one is a Samaritan, a hated, reviled Samaritan. Since the Jews had returned from their exile, and rebuilt their temple and city walls in spite of the Samaritans' evil tricks to prevent them, the Jews had rejected these half-blood cousins. By the time of the events in Luke 17, Jews and Samaritans had hated each other for centuries.

And we know from other NT passages that it was actually against the law for a Jew to visit in the home of a Samaritan or to eat with him. As John says, "For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans."

But leprosy changes all that, doesn't it? When all ten of these men are reviled by all of humanity, the old hatreds break down, and the Samaritan is accepted. He is allowed to live among some of God's people, he who was once God's enemy.

Jesus is stopped by these men, and they plead for his mercy to heal them. He gives them an odd instruction. He says, "Go to the priests (the priests you can't go to unless you're healed), and present yourselves to them." His implication is, that they'll be healed along the way.

But they have to step out in faith. They will be healed in the process of their obedience. And that's a cool idea for us to consider in itself.

But what about the poor Samaritan? How much help will he get if he goes to the Jewish temple and asks for a declaration of cleanliness from the Jewish priests? If you read in the OT, you find that a person asking to be declared cleansed of leprosy had to make a number of sacrifices and offerings -- would a Samaritan be allowed to do that in the Jews' temple in Jerusalem?

Can you see this man gradually slip to the end of the line, slowing down as his buddies hurry south toward to Jerusalem? As they stumble along, they examine their arms; are they healthier? They feel their faces; have their noses and ears healed? They smile at each other in amazement, and run faster.

He is SO stuck. If he stops, and doesn't walk toward those priests who hate him, he is disobeying Jesus, and he knows he won't find healing. But if he keeps going, he's not going to get what they ALL want: legal acceptance into the community again.

But he obeys anyway - the man for whom the obedience makes absolutely no sense. And he's healed. Have you ever obeyed God, even when it made no sense to do so?

Only, he kind of DOESN'T obey. He runs toward Jerusalem just far enough to see that he is clean -- his skin is healthy and smooth. His nose, ears and fingertips have grown back. But does he proceed to those priests and demand that they help him?

No. He goes to the priest who really matters. The priest who cleanses the heart. He returns to Jesus and offers the best sacrifice: a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. And Jesus doesn't revile him for turning back. The man could hardly help but turn back - he needed to see the Savior who had done this amazing deed. He had to thank him first -- he can deal with those priests later.

This event in the gospels has layers of importance for the Christian. To obey? Yes. To step out in faith? Yes. To wait for God to fulfill his promises? Yes. To move in a direction that seems to make no sense, just because God has called you to do so? Yes. To turn always to Jesus, in thanks for the clean heart He gives? Yes.

Jesus tells this man that he has faith -- saving, healing faith. This hated Samaritan had a heart of gratitude that the nine Jewish men did not have. Perhaps the double rejection of both his ethnicity and his disease had worked grace in his heart and faith in his soul.

"Your faith has made you well," Jesus says. Did faith heal the bodies of the other nine, or simply Jesus's words of command? This man experienced the deeper miracle.

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