a homily for Proper 23C
Text: Luke 17:11-19
If we were to take out a map to look for Jesus, where He is in the gospel, we’d find He isn’t really that far from where He started. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, which is in Judea. Directly north of Judea is Samaria. North of that is Galilee. And so it begins:
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
The route would no doubt take Jesus along the Jordan, just east of Samaria.
The town Jesus is from is Nazareth, which is near the southern border of Galilee. If we are talking about the region between these two, we are talking about a spot not far from home. A spot of two converging worlds.
We know Samaria best from the parable of the Good Samaritan. Samaria was the capital of the kingdom of Israel after the united kingdom was split. It was founded about 900 years before this story. It was captured by the Assyrians and resettled. The population was mixed, and over time became seen as a different people with a different tradition. They were not only the obvious face of “the other,” but they were “the other” in their midst—a people whose land was in the middle of things.
The animosity of the Hebrews toward the people of Samaria is clearly evidenced in both Scripture and tradition. It is that animosity that manifests such rich stories as this one and its more famous cousin: the aforementioned parable. We sense the hatred and disregard. We sense the feeling of superiority—that their faith has gotten lost along the way—that they don’t pray right. We also know that they were seen as violent and oppressive. They deserve their lot.
Galilee is a different world from Samaria. It is in northern Palestine and was a valuable part of the trade route. Much of its build up is on the Sea of Galilee and it was a pretty cosmopolitan place. It was of political and practical importance to the Romans.
This is the space Jesus is from. He is from this borderland. These are His people. To the south are the different, the other, the stranger, the squatter, the immigrant. To the north are traders and travelers. Immigrants, too; we just don’t dirty their name. They are worldly. Different…in “the good way” I suppose.
The author makes it clear where Jesus is for this moment. It is essential to the story.
There is one other place to describe. Nazareth. Jesus’s home. It’s a small town with virtually no historical significance. Truly, it’s only known significance is that it is where Jesus is from. Perhaps it is why many simply called Him the Nazarene. Nothing good came from Nazareth. Of course, nothing bad came from there either. It’s just a small town about which historians know this one thing.
There is a reason Jesus is here, a reason this is home, a reason Jesus is here when these ten people with leprosy approach. This space is where these people are. They wouldn’t be allowed in a town or city. They would be shunned and pushed away to protect the villagers from disease. They have fallen through the cracks, they are living between these two worlds—home to neither. Jesus can only come across them if that is where He is at. He has to go to them because they can’t come to Him. If He puts Himself between these worlds, He will find them.
He is from this space. GOD entered the world in the crack along the seem—the crack through which the crumbs fall—GOD came to us there. Jesus is from there and that is the place from which He is ushering in the Kingdom of GOD. It is as if He has found a hole in the fabric of the world—a slight tear—and he is wearing out that space, encouraging it to break open; that he might reach through and pull the Kingdom in. That this is the entry point for everything. This space. This strange space between two very different worlds.
This is the place where the people are. The place where people who need Him are. The place where people are broken down and tired and weak and sick and maybe a little bit angry at GOD for ignoring their prayers and pleas for help. This place, at the center of everything is full of people falling through that crack.
Jesus finds them, these ten and He tells them to go into town and find a priest and they do. They jump up and go. They listen. And as they leave, they are made clean. Their burden is over after they go. It would be far too easy to cast aspersions on these nine, as we think Jesus does. But look at them. They jump to it. They go. They hear Jesus tell them to go, and when they do, they are made clean. Not just healed, clean. They don’t need to get ritually purified by the priest, for they will arrive and be found to be pure. They won’t be in the borderlands anymore. They will be back in community. They will be restored! And maybe then, when they are back with family and friends, restored to their very humanity, maybe they will raise their hands toward the sky and say “Thank you!” What was once lost has been found! It was me!
This one couldn’t wait. Jesus told him to go, and he did, but he figured it out. He knew it; he saw what had happened and turned around. He rejected Jesus’s command and returned to Him, dropped into the dirt and praised GOD. He came close to Jesus, pulled himself to Jesus’s feet and thanked Him. He came close enough to touch—this man who could get close to no one now can touch another human being and he first goes to Jesus.
The word the author of Luke used for “thank” is the same one Jesus uses over the bread and wine at the Last Supper—the one from which we get the word Eucharist. The man gave holy thanks at the feet of Jesus for this.
Jesus, the man from between worlds, from the liminal space between aliens and immigrants, between the reviled and those who revile, between the oppressed and the oppressors, Jesus walks there—the road to Jerusalem—the road we follow Jesus down—winds its way through that space. It is the only way to find the Kingdom. The only place we’ll find our place in the story.
And sometimes we are the ones in pain and lost and hurt and it is Jesus that restores us and sends us back home. In that moment may we be so thankful—breaking bread in a great thanksgiving of praise.
This is where Jesus is. This the road we walk. This is where we are.
These are who we love. These are who we serve. These are who we become.
Thanks is what we give to each other. Thanks is what we give to Jesus. Thanks is what we give to GOD.
Let us praise the holy name. Amen.