Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Luke 17, The Grateful Samaritan Leper.
October 13, 2019
Recently I have been reading a historical novel called Echo by Pam Ryan. This novel is about a German boy Fredrick. He was born with a birthmark and had genetic disease. The setting of the novel is Nazi Germany. On July 14, 1933, the Nazis issued a law for the prevention of progeny with genetic disease. His family was against Hitler's fanatic policies, which endangered their lives. Fredrick was afraid to get sterilized or send to orphanage Nazi institutions. Nazis believed that Aryan race must remain healthy. Epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and severe alcoholism were considered an offense against German society. The Nazis treated children and adults like Fredrick as subhuman. They did not want them to be part of their community. Nazis considered them to be a burden on Germany. So, they considered them unworthy of life. As a result of this law, thousands were murdered through starvation or lethal overdose of medication.
In antiquity, Jews treated lepers as dangerous to the safety and well-being of the Jewish community. The evangelist Luke tells us that 10 lepers begged Jesus to heal them. These lepers did not live among Jewish community or Samaritan community. They were social outcasts and had to live in isolated places. The Jews perceived lepers as unclean and cursed by God. A leper had to cover his upper lip and cry, “unclean, unclean” so that nobody comes close to them.
Those who are shunned by their society, Jesus healed and welcomed them. What is interesting about that 10 lepers is that one of them was a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans were bitter rivals. They did not interact with each other. In Jesus’ time, hostility towards Samaritans was strong. However, the nine Jews accepted a Samaritan leper among them. They shared their lives with him. Above all, Jesus praises the Samaritan leper’s faith not the nine Jews.
The evangelist Luke presents Samaritans positively. In his gospel, he tells us about the parable of The Good Samaritan and The Grateful Samaritan Leper. In the book of Acts, Luke shows that the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit after believing in Jesus Christ. According to Luke, the grateful Samaritan leper is a model of a person who is a subject of godly love. Despite being a Jew, Jesus healed a Samaritan leper. He saw them as equally important in the eyes of God.
The Jewish audience of the gospel of Luke (Luke wrote to Gentiles, but I believe that Jews also heard his gospel, too) was shocked to hear about Jesus praising and healing a Samaritan. Let me explain what I mean using a contemporary example. Imagine 10 persons living with HIV. They meet Jesus and beg him to heal them. Nine of them are American Christians, and one of them is Iranian Muslim. Jesus heals all of them, and only the Iranian Muslim comes back, and he prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet and thanks him. Jesus praises the Iranian man’s faith and questions the nine American Christians' behavior. How are you going to feel?
Through this story, the evangelist “Luke is building a case for indiscriminate love and radical inclusion” (Ira Brent Driggers, Luke 17:11-19, working preacher). In like manner, the author of 2 Kings 5 presents Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram—Syria today and enemy of Israel as a subject of God’s love. The grateful Samaritan leper and Naaman, the leper, are subject of God’s grace. God’s love and grace are available for everybody even those we might think do not deserve it.
As the story of the grateful Samaritan leper provokes the Jewish audience, the story of Naaman, the leper, provokes the Israelites. Remember when Jesus preached in a synagogue in Nazareth that Naaman was subject of God’s grace and the Jewish worshipers were angry and tried to throw him off of the cliff (Luke 4). It is hard on any person or any group who is prejudice against another group to believe that the disliked group is part of God’s grace and love.
Us versus them creates barriers between people. Prejudice and discrimination prevent us from seeing our neighbor as a subject of God’s love and grace. The story of the grateful Samaritan leper and Naaman, the leper, invites us to look on the inside of a person whom we believe is fallen from God’s grace. God does not think as we do. God’s plan is different than ours. We look on the outside of a person, but God is looking on the inside. A person whom we think has fallen from God’s grace is subject of God’s grace and love.
Prejudice against any person is part of our sinful nature that we need to resist. Jesus’ ministry was revolutionary. He pours out the love and grace of God abundantly on the most unworthy people. Being a Christian, white, and American does not qualify you to sit at the Lord’s table in heaven. Only your faith in Jesus and sharing his love with your neighbor, particularly the one whom you do not like, will grant you a free ticket to his heavenly feast. None of us is worthy of God’s grace. None of us is worthy of God’s love because all of us are sinners. But Jesus Christ made the unworthy worthy of God’s love and grace. We are only made worthy in God's sight by Jesus' sacrificial act of love on the cross.