Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Luke 17:11-19
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[b] approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’[c] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
- Luke 17:11 Gk he
- Luke 17:12 The terms leper and leprosy can refer to several diseases
- Luke 17:16 Gk his
Sermon: “The Other Nine”
Do we have any Game of Thrones fans with us this morning? Does anyone know what, in an episode that aired at the beginning of May, showed up in Winterfell that never should’ve been there? I’ll give you a hint. See it? That’s right, it’s a coffee cup from a local Irish shop.
Game of Thrones cost $15 million per episode, and at least forty people reviewed each episode before it aired. In this case, not one of them spotted what was there in plain sight.
The movie biz calls things like that coffee cup continuity errors, and they happen a lot more often than you might think, as this short clip shows. (Clip)
When you’re shooting a movie and no one sees something in plain sight, it’s not a big deal, really. In real life, though, not seeing can have serious, even tragic, consequences.
FBI officials recently named Samuel Little the deadliest serial killer in American history. He killed at least ninety-three women over some thirty-five years.
How did he get away with it? As an article in The Guardian newspaper put it, “He targeted the women no one saw.”
Though Little never bothered learning the names of his victims, he can still sketch their faces and tell how they died. The article says,
Some were sex workers, or addicts easily drawn into petty crime: women living transient lives, who might not be immediately missed or looked for too urgently, and whose deaths might be shrugged off by the authorities as nothing out of the ordinary because something like this was always half expected to happen.
The last sentence of the Guardian article, by reporter Gaby Hinsliff, explains why the FBI is still trying to put names to the faces.
If people die whenever someone decides that these lives don’t matter—that they are too far away, too difficult to think about, too hard to see in the shadows—there is something both moving and necessary about bringing them into the light.
In today’s story from Luke, Jesus sees ten people most found too difficult to think about and too hard to see in the shadows. Jesus brought all ten into the light of his compassion and the healing power of God’s love.
Notice how Luke describes them. They aren’t lepers. They’re people with leprosy. Jesus didn’t see a disease, but a person. We still sometimes have trouble telling the difference.
When doctors diagnosed actor Elizabeth Allen with early-stage Alzheimer’s, she wrote that she got one of two reactions. Some of her friends told her, “Oh, I forget things, too. You’re okay.” Allen knew she was not okay; she had an incurable disease destroying her brain.
Even worse, though, she wrote, were the friends, some of many years standing, who just disappeared. “Someone close to me even said, ‘Well, why bother talking to someone who has Alzheimer’s? They’re not going to remember anyway.’”
After Allen died in 2006, obituaries mentioned her film and TV careers. None that I found, sadly, mentioned her vocal advocacy for people struggling with Alzheimer’s. People still didn’t see.
Jesus saw, not ten lepers, but ten people with leprosy. As they drew near, they shouted, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us!”
Jesus did have mercy on them. He told them to show themselves to the priests, the only people who could declare them clean. As they made their way to the Temple, all signs of their disease vanished.
One of them came back and fell at Jesus’ feet, thanking him. He was a Samaritan—according to many in Jesus’ day, someone of both the wrong race and the wrong religion. Yet, there he was, giving thanks.
Jesus asked, “Weren’t ten made clean? Where are the other nine?”
They weren’t grateful. The Samaritan was. And gratitude, friends, is a powerful thing. An article on the Harvard Medical School website says,
Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
But that’s just the tip of the appreciation iceberg. Studies have shown that, among other things, being grateful makes people more likable, more optimistic, and less materialistic.
Gratitude also makes people less self-centered, increases self-esteem, and even helps us sleep better at night. Grateful people don’t visit their doctor as often, live longer, and have higher energy levels than pessimists.
The author whose article summed up all this research had trouble with only thing that gratitude does—it makes people more spiritual.
“I am irreligious” he wrote, “and have found gratitude practices to make my spiritual position difficult—those moments when I feel intense gratitude make me want to believe in a benevolent God. My solution has been to redirect my feelings towards Lady Luck.”
While gratitude can open our hearts to God’s presence in our lives, that doesn’t mean we always let it. God can knock on the door, but God won’t kick it in. After all, only one of 10 stricken with leprosy came back.
A guaranteed 10% return on investments would be wonderful. When it comes to faith, it’s not so great. No doubt all ten were glad Jesus healed them. Only one was grateful, though, and acted on his gratitude.
A gracious attitude and lifestyle will set us apart from those around us. So many are so self-absorbed in their own little electronic worlds that distracted walking is now a thing. How often do you see someone with their earbuds in, strolling along in their own little cyberworld, oblivious to what’s going on around them?
It’s not just our electronics, of course. We all gradually stop seeing anything outside of our own wants, needs, and manias—electronic, political, or otherwise. Meanwhile, people die because we’ve decided that lives like theirs don’t matter.
Leprosy was a catchall term for any number of different skin diseases back in Jesus’ time. Today, we don’t see people around us struggling with any number of different issues as well.
Accidents, illness, and death can make people invisible. Friends who don’t know what to say don’t say anything, and gradually fade away. Maybe that’s happened to you, or to someone you know. When no one else sees us, Luke says, Jesus does.
“Your faith has made you whole,” Jesus said to leper number ten. Jesus gave him a spiritual pat on the back, not because he’d come to Jesus asking for healing, but because gratitude had opened his eyes to who Jesus was and brought him back.
Gratitude should open our eyes, too, helping us see those whom others don’t see, those too far away, too difficult to think about, or too hard to see in the shadows.
They’re the brothers and sisters behind the headlines who suffer and die out of sight and sadly, out of mind, for too many of us. They’re the neighbor next door, the family member you’ve cut out of your life, the once-close friend you lost because of an argument you’ve long since forgotten.
Jesus calls us to see, friends, because only when we see can he make us faithful and whole.