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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost — October 9, 2022

What does it mean to live well?

Pentecost 18C
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19

This week’s lectionary texts from Jeremiah, 2 Timothy and Luke all concern themselves with living well.

Jeremiah writes to the survivors of the sacking of Jerusalem and deportation to Babylon. God spoke a word to them through Jeremiah, and God tells these people that living well looks like building full lives, even if they must live in a foreign land. Living well also looks like seeking and praying for the shalom, the peace and prosperity, of the city in which those exiled find themselves living. God tells these people, likely traumatized and homesick, that their shalom is now tied to the shalom of the city in which they live.

The author of 2 Timothy also writes about living well. Imprisoned and in chains, this author seeks well-being not in worldly comforts but in the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. The writer knows Timothy and his community suffer and struggle, even if they are not in chains themselves, and urges them not to take pride in worldly status but in truth.

In the miraculous healing story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus talks about two kinds of living well. First, Jesus makes the ten men suffering from leprosy “clean.” For Jews in the first century, being clean meant full participation in the life of the community. One had to be ritually clean to participate in communal activities from worship to sharing a meal at a table. By making these men clean, Jesus not only restores their bodies from a debilitating and disfiguring disease, but Jesus also restores them to their community. This cleansing work truly deserves the praise given by the one who returned to thank Jesus. Yet only when he has returned does Jesus speak of true well-being.

The Greek word translated “well” in the NRSV is more often, and perhaps better, translated “saved.” Jesus cleanses ten men, but Jesus talks about only one being saved by his faith. Cleansing from leprosy, a disease of the skin, would have gone skin deep. Salvation enables the recipient to truly live well.

The Samaritan, to everyone’s surprise in the story, returns praising God to thank Jesus for the cleansing healing he received. Jesus declares his faith has saved him because Jesus knows the Samaritan man understands what God has done for him and has responded in the best way possible — with thanks and praise.

“Salvation,” like the Hebrew word shalom, encompasses far more than physical health or ritual purity. Shalom means peace and prosperity, truly living well. Salvation isn’t just about life in the hereafter, as the epistle-writer knows, salvation empowers us to live well now.

In each passage, we meet people struggling and suffering: people in exile, people persecuted for their faith, people suffering from a terrible skin disease that excluded them from their community. And in each passage, God speaks a word of wholeness, a word of shalom and salvation, a word which empowers those listening truly to live well.

Reflection questions:

  1. What does it mean to live well?
  2. What hinders you from living well?
  3. With what struggles or suffering from these passages do you identify? Survivor of a disaster? Exile? Imprisonment? Exclusion from a community? Physical suffering?
  4. How do you seek and pray for the shalom, the peace and prosperity, of your community?
  5. How do you live out the call from the epistle to “rightly explain the word of truth?”
  6. How does knowing you have been saved help you live well now?

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