Don’t Samaritan Lives Matter?

Luke 17:11-19 – The 21st Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, October 9, 2016

“No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18)

ten-lepersFirst it was ten men in Luke 17:11-19

Then, as Luke continued the account of this healing, the reader’s informed that the ten men had skin diseases. “Skin diseases” is how the Common English Bible translates leproi from the New Testament Greek. Other translations use leper or leprosy. We now know anyone with a “skin disease” could be labeled as a leper during Biblical times. Regardless of accuracy, they were considered unclean; to be avoided, scorned, and isolated. Their outward appearance served as an obvious clue to their inner sins.

Next in the passage, after instructions from Jesus, and after departing to become clean—healed and acceptable to society—one of the ten returned. He was a Samaritan.

How could Jesus do that!

Why would Jesus do that?

Those two phrases would likely describe the first century listener’s reaction to this tale when one of the healed men is revealed as . . .

The enemy.

The hated.

The other.

If you were a Jew in Jesus’ time, there was—to politely describe it—no love lost between Samaritans and Jews. Being a leper was bad enough, but having that disease afflict a Samarian? That’s the bad married to the worst. However, from a first century Jew’s perspective, didn’t Samaritans deserve to get leprosy? It would be like finding out that all of the surviving terrorists who’d plotted the heinous September 11, 2001 attacks were infected with the Ebola virus and soon experienced miserable deaths.

Other than being men and healed, scripture revealed nothing about the non-returning nine. Were they Jews or Samaritans or . . .? Were they young or old? Did they have families to welcome them home? All questions remain unanswered.

And then the fourth and final label was given to this singular Samaritan who returned to thank Jesus. Wondering why no one else came back to offer appreciation, Jesus sent the newly clean Samaritan on his way (“Your faith has healed you.”), but asked,

No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?

The Common English Bible translated the Greek allogenes as “the foreigner.” Other translations (like ye olde King James Version) instead declared, “stranger.” Interestingly, in the New Testament, allogenes only occurred in Luke 17:18.

Whatever translation is used, I’m disappointed in Jesus’ response.

A foreigner? A stranger?

Why not “child of God?”

Why not “beloved?”

Why not, returning to the story’s first label, “this man?”

Don’t Samaritan lives matter?

This tale echoes Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). She too was a “foreigner.” When she asked Jesus to heal her daughter, the Nazarene insulted her by comparing her to a dog. She deftly turned the tables on the Prince of Peace, with his insult becoming a clever response that led to her daughter’s healing and—I think—Jesus’ change of heart.

If you believe Jesus was perfect from birth to death and that, from his baptism to his resurrection, everything he did (or was done to him) was a divine, infallible, preordained plan, then you’ll likely dismiss my next thoughts. Because I believe that the Gospels provided occasional glimpses of Jesus encountering the “other” and unexpectedly discovering the endless depth and infinite breadth of God’s love. Each of Jesus’ bold, vulnerable steps toward Jerusalem caused him to see Creator and creation with new eyes.

For all of our hale and hearty preaching about the rarity of living a grateful life (only one in ten returned to thank Jesus!), of having an “attitude of gratitude”, I’m more challenged by the labels Luke used.

I discern a Jesus struggling and striving to fully grasp God’s Realm of Love . . .

Is everyone welcome?

Jesus was the healer, the miracle worker, the preacher, the agitator, and became the Christ. He was continuously learning because of his relationship with God and with all those pesky people he met. Did his God-blessed ministry change lives? Yes! A resounding yes then and now! But weren’t there also those who transformed his life?

I write these words in the midst of angry protests in Charlotte, North Carolina over the killing of a black man by police. I write these words not long after a cop in Tulsa, Oklahoma has been charged with first-degree manslaughter for shooting a black man. In those terrible news accounts (along with others that have come before and others that will occur after these words are published), we have endless examples of still being on a journey to understand that none are “foreigners” and all are “beloved.”

We are not there yet.

Our labels continue to divide us and they are more than skin deep.

(Image is – Ten Lepers by Bill Hoover. Used by permission of the artist.)

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