The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ
October 9, 2022
“Do We Walk On?”
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
Luke 17:15 & 16[i]
There are four important messages contained within this reading from Luke. First, if there is anyone who desires to be healed, note that the ten leapers received their healing while going to the priest. Second, they did not need to be physically touched by Jesus. Indeed, they simply yelled their request. Third, the healing took place in the border lands where the disempowered live. Fourth, the one leaper who returned to give thanks to Jesus for his healing was the one least expected to recognize Jesus as a source of divine power.
First, all those who desire healing, note that the ten leapers received their healing while going to the priest. It took faith to set off before the healing had taken hold. The only reason a leaper would go to a priest is because they were healed. The priest served as the guardian of society. A leaper was ostracized by the community, kept at a distance, lest the entire community become infected. A leaper had to be certified as “clean” by a priest. So, to set off to the priest prior to being healed shows a great deal of faith in the One who sent them. You don’t start off if you don’t think you are going to be healed. Perhaps their healing began when they took that first step. They believed they would be healed even before the healing was fully evident.
How often do people live defined by their disease? Their illness becomes their identity and society sets them apart, defines them as less than normal. These ten leapers began to be healed when they were willing to challenge their social isolation before their healing was self-evident. Perhaps we should take Jesus at His word when He says, “Your faith has made you well.” It is in faith that the ten set out to journey to the priest. Perhaps our healing begins with the faith to believe we are already made well. The ten leapers received their healing while going to the priest.
Second, they did not need to be physically touched by Jesus. This is good news. Many of the healings Jesus performs have Jesus touching the diseased — the man whose blindness was cured by Jesus applying mud to his closed eyes, the woman who touched the hem of Jesus garment and many others physically touched by Jesus. But not these ten leapers. Note, however, they are not the only ones who were healed by never being touched by Jesus. The centurion’s servant in Matthew 8 is not even seen by Jesus. The demon possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman is healed without being touched. This must be good news to those of us living in the 21st Century. We are not able to be in the physical presence of Christ. Jesus cannot physically touch us, but it doesn’t mean that Jesus cannot heal us. Indeed, we may not be in the physical presence of Christ, but Christ’s Spirit is present with us. Our healing, like the one granted the ten leapers, does not require us to be touched but for us to trust.
Third, the healing took place in the border lands where the disempowered live. It was the Rev. Francisco Garcia’s commentary on this passage that makes this important point. He notes that the place of this healing is significant because it takes place as Jesus is going to Jerusalem by passing through the region between Samarian and Galilee. This is not where the affluent and powerful live. It is an in-between location, not here and not there. It is the kind of place where the marginalized people of this earth find a home and it’s where these leapers reside. Indeed, of all the marginalized, the leapers are perhaps the most disenfranchised. It is here that Jesus performs a miracle of transformation where the last are made first, where the outcasts find acceptance.
All of that may not be directly important to you or to me. After all, I am hardly one of the least. I am not disenfranchised but live with privileges I am not even aware of. But the importance of Rev. Garcia’s insight cannot be diminished in a time when so many Christians have embraced the gospel of success. They speak of faith as the guarantor of worldly prosperity, of those living in the borderlands of our contemporary culture as unworthy of our attention or care, of the powerless as lacking faith. This contemporary Christian movement is a denial of the ministry of Christ and must be challenged by those of us who know better, who are striving to walk with Jesus and not away from Him.
Will it be popular to identify with those Jesus ministered to? It may not. But it will be faithful. In the end, we won’t be measured by our worldly status but by our commitment to raise the least and the lost.
Fourth, the one leaper who returned to give thanks to Jesus for his healing was the one least expected to recognize Jesus as a source of divine power. Ten were healed. Only one returned to give thanks to Jesus. The one was a Samaritan. He, too, would have been an outcast in the realm of Judaism. Samaritans took exception to many of the tenants of their Jewish cousins. For Samaritans, the Bible was to be comprised of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. The wisdom literature, Psalms, the minor and major prophets all were expunged. Mount Gerizim, and not mount Sinai, was the sacred mountain of faith. Such differences led those traveling from Judah to Galilee to circumvent Samaria and opt for a longer route to avoid the Samaritans. So, for this Samaritan leaper to return and give thanks to Jesus for his healing, is surprising. He is the last of the ten cured leapers one would have expected to give thanks to a Jew for what clearly was a divine power.
But note this. He would not have had a reason to return if he had not been healed. There may be some within Christendom who want to pronounce some “in” and some “out,” who want to delineate and limit the scope of God’s love and care. They have come to think that migrants are less than worthy of human compassion, that those seeking to escape violence in their country of origin do not warrant asylum, that people of color and women in general are to live on life’s margins, that those struggling with their sexual identity are sinful. Such thinking would have made the return of this Samaritan impossible to conceive. Yet return he did and why? Because the one who was the least and most outcast of the bunch had been healed. The affront of God’s love is not its limit but its breadth. It is not limited to those who profess our faith but is extended to those who share our common humanity. God so loved the world…” The inclusiveness of that love must not be lost.
And now the final question for us. Do we walk on or return to give thanks? Do we ignore the love of God for the least or find in God’s acceptance the pathway to broaden our own inclusive spirit? Do we walk on, or return to give thanks?
 The Rev. Francisco García is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theological Studies, Ethics and Action at Vanderbilt University in the Graduate Department of Religion, and a Graduate Research Fellow at the Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
[i] Luke 17:11-19
11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”