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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thanks, but no thanks

Today we read from Luke 17. It is a familiar story. Jesus is "on His way to Jerusalem" though He is traversing an indirect path. I think Luke's point is Jerusalem is the final destination. No matter where He is going, that is where He is headed. (Sort of like being behind in a game doesn't mean you are losing, the victor is winning the whole game long, even if it is not obvious from the score at every moment!)

Along the way, Jesus enters "a village" (unnamed) and ten lepers, standing at a distance, cry out to Him for help. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" They kept their distance because that was the theo-legal protocol; the ritually unclean/impure are not to infect the ritually clean/pure. It is a different way of seeing things from us. We tend to think in terms of morality (right/wrong) or hygiene (clean or sanitary v. unclean/germs) The words they use are a variation of the Jesus Prayer, which many Orthodox saints repeat upwards of hundreds and thousands of times a day. In a sense it is a complete prayer, honoring Jesus, entrusting our needs to Him (without listing) and crying out for His covenant loving kindness and mercy. Try repeating it a hundred times a day while breathing slowly and focusing on the Savior's love!

Unlike many healing miracles, Jesus does not immediately cure them, rather He sends them on their way with a command "Go and show yourselves to the priests." So off they went, in acts of trusting faith. Along the way, in response to that faith, the healing happens. Only one man returns, and Jesus is startled that it is a Samaritan. He is also disappointed. He bemoans that a foreigner comes to thank Him while the other nine were also healed. He tells the man, "You were saved/healed by your faith." An interesting point, this man was alone because the priest he went to see was not at the Temple in Jerusalem. He had a different priest at Mount Gerizim. Crying out for mercy in need is much more pressing than saying thank you, isn't it? Try to say 100 thanks a day to the Lord...

The man who thanked Him was not part of the in-group. We do like our in-groups, don't we? The Jews had them and so do we. I often wonder what Jesus thinks of Muslims praying seven times a day while Christians, who talked about being saved and all that, are hard pressed to show up once a week on Sunday. I am sure all the blather about "works righteousness" and "empty rituals" and whatever else we come up with can be made to sound theologically correct. But I also wonder if we are thanking Him like we should. I am wondering if "the foreigner" is getting it right. I wonder if we assume that we are deserving and so not feeling grateful and He is dismayed by us!

Gratitude is a challenge, especially for people suffering from entitlement, envy and resentment...

While this story has lots of meanings and many things can be drawn from it, based on Luke I know one meaning is that God's Kingdom is effective in unexpected places (like the lives of people we consider foreign). Grace is amazing after all. Something to ponder on our journey of faith.

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