Bad things happen. Really bad things happen and sometimes we get caught up in them. That is how our gospel lesson starts us off this morning.
There will be temptations, there will be distractions, there will be all sorts of things that might try to call God’s people away from the way of his son. Jesus says these things must happen, but may it not come from among you. In the community of disciples, our focus, our goal is to help keep each on the way, to together fix our gaze on Jesus and to follow in his ways.
Opportunities to trip and fall abound, the way of Jesus is not a paved road through the world – but for those who place obstacles in the way – it would be better for them to go swimming with a cinder block tie. Nevertheless, there may be times that one among you slips and falls along the way – as good Lutherans we normally recognize this happens quite often.
What is strange about this is that,
We might even be excited about falling down, it sounds strange but that is the nature of this sort of thing. The potholes of the world can seem harmless enough, splashing in them can seem like a small enough thing. Temptations… are bound to come.
If it happens that a brother or sister in the church family slips and falls, it is our, that is each of our responsibilities to warn them to call them back to the way of Jesus – it is our responsibility, when a brother or sister has fallen to reach down and help them back up. If they do return to the way – well, we are to forgive them, to welcome them home and to once again follow Jesus together.
It is straightforward enough, until Jesus anticipates a question the disciples might have.
But Lord, “what if my brother sins against me again, and again. What if I am really hurt by it, and what if it happens even seven times in the same day?”
The question is a reasonable one. Sometimes the pain we cause one another, as people, really hurts, sometimes the things we stumble into are really bad. Is it possible, is it even the right thing to do, to forgive someone again and again?
At this point, it is perhaps worth pausing. Repentance and forgiveness are words we are pretty used to flying by – in church at least. It would be easy to replace them with saying “sorry” and “it’s okay,” but what Jesus is talking about is a lot bigger deal than that. It would be easy to say “it’s okay” 5, 6, maybe even 7 times. Folks do this all the time, working with a novice, in any field, will yield these sorts of conversations – newbies screw up, it is just part of being who they are, we can’t really hold it against them (says the new kid on the block).
When Jesus talks about repentance and forgiveness he is talking about something much more significant. Repentance is a change of heart and life – it is making a commitment to go a new way, it is powered by a whole new way of thinking.
Forgiveness is a welcoming back, it is reconciliation. The hurt that was inflicted, the debt that is owed, that is washed away. Folks often say, I will forgive but I cannot or will not forget – that is, I will say “it’s okay” but I will still hold it against you. That is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is a promise to let go. To let go of whatever it was that came between you and the other – no matter how great or small. It is a promise that says, I will let go – that thing that happened, it will not come up again, and I will not live as if it ever happened in the first place.
That 7 times in a day… well, that is tough.
The disciples pray, “increase our faithfulness.”
“If you had faith like a mustard seed, you could say to this non-fig tree, be uprooted and thrown into the sea and it would happen.”
Jesus moves on quickly to a story – and in doing so, it seems like he is quickly answering their prayer positively, yet at the same time reminding them not to get big headed about it.
“If you are my followers,” Jesus says, “if you are my servants, at the end of the day when you have done all that you have been called to do – remember that you have only done what is required of you. Don’t demand special treatment, and don’t expect an at-a-boy, simply acknowledge that you have done what was asked of you.”
In other words, “you have asked me,” says, Jesus, “to increase your faithfulness – when you are living faithfully, don’t act like you have done anything special – it is simply what is required of all God’s people.”
And then Ten Lepers show up. Though I am not sure why, their story is normally reserved for Thanksgiving Eve. Jesus is walking the line between Samaria and Galilee. Who they are doesn’t really matter – these guys are the lowest of the low, Samaritan or Jew. Who cares, they are unclean and unwelcome. At this point in the story they are together. Perhaps when someone hits rock bottom the old distinctions, stereotypes and labels don’t matter all that much.
Together, at the bottom, they call out for help. It is to the group together that Jesus answers. “Go, show yourselves to the priest.”
They were simple enough instructions, but this is where things get a little tricky. By the end of the story, we find out why. Nine of the ten, make their way to Jerusalem – they are healed and they, presumably go to the priest. The 10th man doesn’t make it that far, on experiencing healing and wholeness he turns around, he finds Jesus, and praises God. He is a Samaritan.
Though it might be easy to think about this text being about thankfulness, it isn’t really. Jesus is not expecting an at-a-boy, he just told his followers that was not what they should be looking for.
The Samaritan, you see, has no where to go. The rest were headed to Jerusalem, a place where a Samaritan would be unwelcome – the priests, who were supposed to impart the presence of God, would not see him, and would certainly not welcome him into their community.
The Samaritan, made whole, at rock bottom, gets it. He recognizes that God is not found in temples made by human hands, he has just experienced the presence of God in the presence in Jesus and so he returns to the Lord to praise God.
The temple, the system, the priests, that was all empty.
It was with Jesus, it was together with his disciples who were called to faithfulness and humility – it was there that healing and wholeness was given to the Samaritan and it was there that he would go to praise God.
May God grant us eyes that see where the Lord Jesus leads us, ears to hear the good news of his kingdom, and boldness to reject the false temples of the world that we might hold together, in faithfulness and humility with our Lord Jesus and on his way – the way of life. Amen.