Sermon October 13 Luke 17:11-17 Why Jesus Matters: Non-Violent Resistance Rev. Betsy Hogan
Have you ever driven over the Confederation Bridge? It’s not the only way to get to Prince Edward Island, of course – there’s also the ferry, which I admit I’ve never been on.
But the Confederation Bridge – driving over it is really quite remarkable. Not only because it’s really really long, but also because thanks to the cross-winds it’s actually walled on either side.
Which basically means that at least at the beginning of the drive over it, you can’t actually tell that you’re driving over water. It’s pretty much just like an ordinary highway, except with no view out the window on either side.
Until you get partway over. And the bridge crests, it’s just a gentle tilt downward, and suddenly spread out before you is what seems like the whole shoreline laid out looking like it was drawn on a map. It really is spectacular.
It’s quite the miracle of engineering, the Confederation Bridge. But what I found myself contemplating about it this past week, rather than its sheer size and the monumental work that went into building it, was this:
When someone’s ON the Confederation Bridge, are they in New Brunswick or in Prince Edward Island? Because I’m sure there’s an actual technical answer, but just on an existential level – it really is kind of the experience of being “in between”.
Not in New Brunswick, not on the Island… Just “in between”. It’s kind of captivating! Like somehow for about twenty minutes, we’ve fooled the laws of geography!
Of course, in reality, the places “in between” are rarely so benign – never mind blessed with such breath-taking views. Instead they tend to be nebulous areas on borders with enemies – or at least, not friends. Sort of no-man’s-lands of ‘not quite’ one place or the other. In which anything can happen. And maybe sometimes does.
It’s exactly this kind of “in between” place in which Jesus and the disciples find themselves in the passage that Craig read for us earlier. They’re on the way to Jerusalem, yes – but where they actually are, the passage says, is in the region BETWEEN Samaria and Galilee.
Galilee -- which is where they’re all from, it’s where Jesus grew up, it’s where they ALL grew up, it’s familiar territory… And Samaria. Home of Samaritans. Loathed and despised and not-quite-our-class and frankly avoided as much as possible by the good folks of Israel because they were considered “unclean”.
There’s a reason why the Parable of the Good Samaritan was shocking to people when Jesus first told it, and it’s not just that so many so-called upstanding citizens cross over to the other side instead of helping the poor beat-up man in need. It was shocking to people when Jesus first told it, because the hero of the story’s a Samaritan.
And for the good folks of Israel who gathered around Jesus to hear those stories? The notion of a Samaritan as anything other than dirty and probably secretly malevolent would have been seriously bizarre.
So this “in between” place that separates Galilee and Samaria, it’s fraught with that Galilean xenophobic prejudice, that loathing of Samaritans just for being Samaritans. But it’s where Jesus and the disciples find themselves that day, when as they’re walking along they’re approached by ten men on the road who are lepers.
Who suffer from leprosy – a terrible contagious disease at that time incurable, that forced them out of their families and away from their communities, and the only thing they can do to survive is beg by the side of the road.
So they do, all ten of them apparently, together. It’s kind of interesting, actually, like they’ve sort of found each other and banded together. Sort of a new family in the dire straits they’re in – even if everyone else has rejected them, at least they can take care of each other. But what’s even more amazing is that IN this in-between place and IN that rejection by their families and communities for being lepers, they’re actually a ‘mixed’ group. Nine are Galilean and one is a Samaritan. But no xenophobic prejudice here – they’ve turned to one another in their need and they’ve banded together.
Because it’s together that they approach Jesus – not too close, they know they’re contagious, but close enough that they can cry out to him.
They’ve obviously heard he’s a healer, they’ve obviously heard about some of the miracles he’s been performing on his way through Galilee – and so they start calling out, trying to get his attention. “Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us!”
And no great surprise, he does! They don’t realize it at first, of course – this isn’t one of those healing miracles that just happens right away – instead what Jesus tells them is to “go show yourselves to the priests”. And he means, at the temple.
Because in order to really be healed of leprosy – it’s not just about getting physically healed of leprosy, it’s also about getting restored into the community. No longer “unclean” – no longer ostracized. And if Jesus could take care of the healing part – which apparently he could – it was the priests of the temple who had to take care of the restoration into community part. Make the healing complete, as it were. Make it official.
So that’s what he tells them to do – “go show yourselves to the priests”. Which is kind of awesome, and so off they go! And presumably pretty quickly they look down at themselves, or possibly at each other, and they realize – it’s actually happened! They’ve actually been cured of their leprosy! And they can’t get to the priests fast enough to get declared clean again – and go home to their families! Rejoin the community!
But what about the one who’s a Samaritan? Go show himself to the priests? He might be cured of leprosy, sure, but of being a Samaritan? As far as the priests in the temple are concerned, ain’t nothing heals that.
This is always the story about the nine that keep going – straight off to the priests to be restored to their community – and that solitary ONE, the Samaritan, the only one, who remembers to come back to Jesus to say thank you. Even Jesus himself seems to make that the point, grumbling about the rest of them running off.
But I think what’s much more striking about this story than just that quite straight-forward message about the importance of gratitude – not that there’s anything wrong with gratitude – is how it reveals another piece of Why Jesus Matters. Why it matters for us in the church that HIS is the story that we uniquely hold here, as what theologian Marcus Borg calls the decisive disclosure for us of what God is like and what God is passionate about.
Not the ONLY disclosure of what God is like and what God is passionate about, but the one that makes the church the church, in effect. In this whole sermon series my operative principle has been that the world is FULL of disclosures, revelations, wisdom -- God showing humanity what God is like and what God is passionate about, hoping we’ll be shaped and guided by what we see, feel, learn –
But that what’s specific about Jesus – what he said, what he did, his story that we hold here – that its specificity matters. The details, in effect, that are unique in what HE got up to, and spoke about, and embodied.
And one of these details is what we see happen in this passage.
Because what does Jesus do here. He doesn’t just heal ten lepers and one of the happens to be a Samaritan and oo, oo, oo, isn’t that radical. It IS radical, for him to willfully defy the kind of ludicrous dehumanizing prejudice that divides people into us and them – for him to heal the Samaritan leper because Samaritan Lives Matter… But that’s not all he does.
Instead, and this is the only place in the gospels where he does this when he heals people of leprosy, he takes it one step further by specifically telling them, all of them, to ‘go show themselves to the priests’. To be restored into community.
It’s a very deliberate provocative challenge. To send all ten of those men to show the miracle of healing that has been accomplished in them, to the priests. For ratification, as it were, of this amazing miracle of healing that has taken place… in nine good people of Israel from Galilee… and a Samaritan.
Because how will the priests respond? The Samaritan has clearly been cured. And IF the priests understand such miracles as manifestations of God’s power and evidence of God’s regard – which would have to have been their assumption, in the absence of any other explanation –
What are they going to do with their prejudice? When standing right in front of them is real live evidence that as far as God’s concerned it’s an abomination. As far as God’s concerned, Samaritan Lives Matter.
Jesus sending those ten healed lepers to the priests – ALL of them, including the Samaritan – it’s a provocative act of protest against this whole structure of xenophobic prejudice. It’s entirely non-violent but it’s equally-entirely active and deliberately set up as a challenge. To subvert the norms of this dehumanizing system. And that matters.
It matters that Jesus, whose story we hold here as showing us God’s character and God’s passion, doesn’t only identify things that are appalling to God – like xenophobic prejudice that forgets that we share a common humanity – but he also gets creative about ways those things can also be actively challenged and resisted. Ways those unjust norms or defaults or practices can be pointedly subverted. Without resorting to violence.
Because words matter. And identifying wrong matters. And raising voices in protest matters. But in Jesus what we see is that a creative and considered action can also be its own powerful challenge. Subverting unjust norms by forcing them out into the open
When he stands in front of a group of men getting ready to stone a woman to death for adultery and he holds up a rock like he’s ready to hand it to them and says “Okay, whichever of you is himself without sin, you can go first”. It’s not just words. It’s an act of resistance, it’s an act that protests and subverts the abomination of that misogyny by forcing it into the open. Forcing those men to consider what they’re doing.
And it’s the same when he sees Zacchaeus the corrupt tax collector up in the tree trying to catch a glimpse of him. Because it’s one thing when there’s talk and grumbling about how he ‘eats with tax collectors and sinners’ in a sort of vague way that can just be sort of grumbled about – but it’s quite another when he purposefully singles out one of the worst of them who’s abused that power in spades to defraud people, and tells Zacchaeus “come on down from that tree, because I’m going to eat at your place tonight”.
What we see here is Jesus who doesn’t just teach about prejudices or unjust norms or traditions or practices being wrong, but who acts when he can to upend them or defy them or subvert them on purpose. Always non-violently, but powerfully.
And that matters. There’s been much conversation this past week about what sort of protest helps. What works and what doesn’t in communicating that something’s wrong or unjust or dehumanizing, and needs to be changed. And what we’re shown in Jesus, whose story we specifically hold here in the church to show us Godness, is how creativity and careful choices with our actions – and not just our words – can be immensely powerful. We can subvert wrongness not just with words but with direct challenges flouting unjust practices or solidarity with the most vulnerable or public and intentional alignment with those who are being treated unjustly.
We can – and we’re called to. Inspired by Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbour, and inspired by gratitude not only for what we’ve received, but for the great wide view he gives us of what’s possible for us to be part of. God being our Helper. Amen.