Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19
Ordinary 28C; Proper 23
God traverses all manner of boundaries this week, debunking human codified standards of behavior, long-held assumptions and previous religious rules.
The exiled Israelites are to look to the welfare of their captors. Jesus gets close to lepers, a Samaritan leper no less. Timothy is reminded of the wild word of God that goes where it wills. Every text the lectionary offers this Sunday pushes us out of our comfort zone and into realms we would rather not traverse, let alone buy homes and settled in.
There is a frenetic urgency to both Jeremiah and Luke, a piling on of instructions and events. Jeremiah tells those remaining in Babylon: build houses, live in them, plant gardens, eat what those gardens yield. Further, get married, have children, celebrate the marriages of your children and their children, too. Seek the welfare of the city where you find yourself but did not want to go. Pray for it as if it were your own land and your own people. Invest everything you have in the place where you are now, regardless of how you got there, despite how desperately you did not want to go. Each admonishment gets the Israelites more deeply embedded into the strange culture of which they are now a part.
Then in Luke we get that kai over and over again. And, and, and. I think of it like a child wanting to know the rest of the story: And then what happened? And then what happened? Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem and he was between Samaria and Galilee and he entered a village and then 10 lepers approached him and then then they cried out and then he said, “Go show yourselves to the priest.” And then they were made clean and then one turned back, and, and, and. Each event unfolds into the next with an unstoppable, domino-like impact on what follows. Until we get to the part in the story where Jesus notes that 10 were healed and only one turned back, praising God and gave thanks to the source of his cleansing, his reconciliation to community, his restoration to relationships. That’s where there is a break in the inevitable chain of events. That’s where there is often a disconnect with us, too, as we fail to stop, praise God and voice our gratitude to the One who brought us back from a living death and gifted us with wholeness.
God’s Word is unstoppable, unchained, uncontrolled by people, undeterred by earthly divisions, unconcerned with human boundaries, whether those of Babylon or Samaria, lepers or wrangling believers. Jesus brings reconciliation, restoration, healing, wholeness, to the outsiders regardless of their attitude or willingness to acknowledge the source of abundant new life. God works through exiles in captivity, willing welfare even for those who persecute the chosen people. Jesus cleanses Samaritan lepers, even after a Samaritan village refused to welcome him. The Spirit speaks despite the limitations of the ones tasked with proclaiming the gospel. The rub for us is whether or not we participate in this tsunami of grace and goodness or not.
Do we seek the welfare of those vastly different from us? Those we fear and do not like? Do we recognize that our welfare is wrapped up with theirs because all of creation is the Lord’s? Do we realize the restoration, the healing, the cleansing, the reconciliation Jesus gives us and respond by giving God praise and glory? Do we live this newly gifted life with such outward gratitude and joy that others are drawn to us and, through us, to Christ? Do we do all in our power to proclaim the gospel, putting aside our petty wrangling in the hopes of rightly explaining God’s word in what we say and what we do? The good news is that God’s word is unchained. Jesus grants mercy to Samaritan lepers. God cares about the welfare of the Israelites and the Babylonians. Nothing will stop the earth shattering, boundary breaking, assumption upending, religious rule bending, human comfort zone shattering Word of God. The question is: How will we respond when it runs counter to our rigid expectations and treasured beliefs?
If we can set aside our wrangling, our need to be right, our vindictive urges and our unspoken hope for karma rather than grace for others, we will discover abundant, good, beautiful community for all people. Our welfare is inextricably linked to the welfare of others. Our cleansing witnesses to God’s will to restore even the most unclean to right relationship with God and others. Jesus came that we might have life and life abundant and that “we” encompasses the entire world he came to save. Why do we refuse to be thankful for this expansive love? Why do we so often begrudge it?
No doubt we find ourselves in places and with people we did not choose, sometimes in our own household, let alone in our congregation and city. And yet, Jeremiah tells us to be all in, right where we are, with those we did not select to be our neighbors. How might we do that in tangible ways? Building homes and relationships, planting gardens and eating together, trusting that somehow is this undesired arrangement of proximity to foreigners, God is offering life, good, abundant, beautiful life for everyone.
Surely, there are times when despite our apparent cleanliness and godliness and got-it-togetherness, we feel utterly isolated, judged and marginalized. Sometimes we know this is of our own making. Even then, Jesus has mercy on us and we discover we have been made clean through no effort or merit of our own. The “yes, and” of God refuses to be blocked by our “buts” and “nos” and “not nows” and “if onlys.” Could we stop and recognize what God has done for us, remembering the power of the Gospel, turn and give thanks? Thanks for forgiveness. Thanks for redemption. Thanks for the awesome appointment to be witnesses for Jesus Christ in this world God so loves. Thanks for being made whole and being told of our belovedness and being valued and valuable by virtue of being made in God’s image.
God’s Word will not be chained. Jesus will not turn back from Jerusalem. Redemption, upending, boundary breaking, division bridging, breach repairing reconciliation will come. How will we respond?
- When have you been in a place and with people you did not choose? Were you able to live fully in that unwanted space?
- How can you seek the welfare of the city where you live?
- Who are the outside, outsiders in our culture? How do you imagine Jesus responding to them? How then ought we treat those on the margins of society?
- When have you experienced Jesus’ cleansing and healing? How did you respond?
- Look at the other biblical texts where lepers are mentioned. Notice how they are treated. How do those texts inform you understanding of this story in Luke?
- When do you stop, praise God and give thanks for what Jesus has done for you?
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