Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
It is important for us to remember as we hear this story that we are reading Luke’s Gospel. Luke is keen for his hearers to know that Jesus seemed to have a soft spot for the Samaritans unlike most Jews. When he set his face to go to Jerusalem, as we read in Luke 9, a Samaritan village refused to offer hospitality. James and John were quick to suggest that Jesus should call down fire from heaven upon that village in the same way Elijah had called down fire upon the prophets of Baal. But Jesus merely chose to move onto the next city.
And of course, we know well the story of the Good Samaritan also from Luke’s Gospel. He was the one who was a real neighbour to the man left to die on the side of the road. It was a very confronting story for the Jews of Jesus’ generation to hear.
In our story today, it is only the Samaritan who comes back to thank Jesus, even prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet. Luke’s Gospel is the only place we find this story and the story of the Good Samaritan. John’s Gospel does have the story of the woman at the well. She was a Samaritan and many in the village came to believe in Jesus not just because of what she had told them but because they encountered Jesus because of her words. So Luke especially and John as well want us to know that “outsiders” like the Samaritans hold a special place in Jesus heart. As Christians, we are then to behave as a good neighbour following the story of the Good Samaritan but also to have a deep desire to reach out to outsiders, people who are excluded by the community.
Did you notice that while they were all lepers it was no trouble for the Jewish lepers and the Samaritan leper to hang out together? They all felt excluded by their communities. They shared a sense of community together because of the exclusion from “healthy” communities. The commentators I read seem to think the other nine lepers were ungrateful. I suspect they were rushing off to the temple to show themselves to the priest. Once given the tick of approval by the priests, I imagine they would be singing and dancing in the streets giving thanks to God. But the Samaritan man could not go to the temple to see the priest as he was a Samaritan. He came back to Jesus to give thanks. Let’s rejoice that all are welcome in the Church.
Though, even as I say that, I am conscious that many have felt very unwelcome in the Church. Four or five decades ago divorced people felt very unwelcome. Women have felt excluded from the ordained ministry. LGBTIQ people still often feel excluded. Generally, the church has very consciously said no to these people. But there are others who have also felt excluded perhaps because of poverty in a well to do church or by the colour of their skin. New comers sometimes also feel unwelcome especially if we make them move out of “our” seat. I dare say, that my role as Rector/Parish Priest contributes to some feeling unwelcome. When my interpretation of the Scriptures stands in direct contrast to their interpretation, they feel unwelcome. We all need to be careful in the words we use and even our body language. You don’t always have to say anything to convey a message of displeasure. Scowling at a noisy child or rolling your eyes when another person suggests a new idea can be very off putting. If Jesus has a soft spot for the outcast and the unwelcome, then we are called to welcome them like he did.
Before we look at the last point I want to raise about the Samaritan who came back to thank Jesus let’s have a quick look at 2 Tim 2:14.
Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.
That sentence jumped out at me each time I read our passage from Timothy for today. Most of us have had experience from work, or groups we belong to, or just from listening to politicians. Wrangling over words comes easily. The church does not escape this tendency. As Paul says to Timothy, it ruins those who are listening.
I don’t want to suggest that we should never disagree with one another. We are all human, we all have different experiences of life and that means we will all disagree with each other from time to time. In the church we usually feel very passionate about our beliefs so our disagreements can be volatile and ugly. How do we stop wrangling over words? Is it possible for us to choose something greater than tolerance? Can we choose to love and have a deep respect for each other? Is it possible to embrace humility? I believe, if we choose to love and respect one another from a position of humility we will discover the joy of learning together. We won’t learn what we expect to learn. At times what we learn will be completely confronting and will be hard to take on board. But even in that profound challenge we will discover great joy. There is nothing more discomforting to most of us especially when we are new to a church to hear wrangling and fighting in the Church community. Let’s choose love, respect and humility and trust that God will bring growth to the church.
Now last but not least, the Samaritan, the outsider, who comes back to Jesus to give thanks for healing hears even more good news. Jesus says, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ This phrase is echoed four times in Luke’s Gospel. The phrase made well could be translated as healed, made whole or even saved. The woman in Luke 7 who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil was told ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ Lk 7:50. The woman who touched Jesus clothes seeking healing for her haemorrhaging was told ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’ Lk 8:48. And after our passage we have the blind man coming to Jesus. He is told ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’
Healing and salvation are intertwined. It seems the Samaratan alone saw something more than healing. He saw that in Jesus he had encountered God. He came back and bowed to the ground and thanked Jesus. Each individual who came either seeking forgiveness or healing could see that they encountered a person more than a healer and teacher. They could see God in Jesus. Their faith came from this capacity to see. Their faith through this insight made them well, it made them whole, it brought then salvation.
We come to worship because we too can see God in Jesus. We come to eternal life I him. I wonder sometimes if we are a bit like the blind man who comes to Jesus for healing. But when Jesus prays for him, he sees people, but they look like trees walking. (Mk 8:22ff) Remember the list I had at the beginning, do we see people and only see their differences from us and see them as people to be feared. Hebrew tradition has a saying,
“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” [i]
We can come to Jesus again and again for healing so we can see with his eyes, the eyes of deep faith. It seems to me that salvation is an ongoing project of the Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus help us to grow in our relationship with you. Deepen our capacity to see with eyes of faith. May we grow in our capacity to welcome the outsider, to proclaim Good News to those overwhelmed with fear. Speak into our lives that we may know in ourselves that we have been made whole. Amen.