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Proper 23C, Tr 2 (19 Trinity, 10.10.10)
2 Kings 5.1-3, 7-15b: Naaman the Syrian and Elisha.
Ps 111: Great are the deeds of the Lord.
2 Tim 2.8-15: avoid wrangling over words.
Luke 17:11-19: healing of Samaritan leper(s) (982)

Faithful Lord, whose steadfast love never ceases and whose mercies never come to an end: grant us the grace to trust you and to receive the gifts of your love, new every morning, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Luke says we are to give thanks, rejoice at others' good fortune, and reach out to those unlike us.)

          As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we learn about him from the writings of the New Testament.  It is unlikely that any of the authors of the writings knew Jesus personally.  They were all drawing upon the knowledge of what Jesus had said and done that had been handed down by word of mouth from those who knew him, the original band of disciples.  So when any of our writers began, he would be drawing on the traditions that he had received. But what he had to draw on would probably vary a bit from one community to another.  And also he might see that certain parts of the tradition would have a special significance for his own understanding of Jesus and with regard to the needs of the community he was addressing.

          Now we are nearing the end of Year C of the RCL in which we have focused on the Gospel according to Luke.  We might pause for a moment to highlight three of the particular concerns that Luke has emphasized in the Gospel, not to mention the Book of Acts.

          One is the outreach to foreigners, with special mention of Samaritans as in today’s gospel.  A second one is on rejoicing at the good fortune of others, and a third is on giving thanks -  again, as in today’s gospel.

          Both Matthew and Luke have the parable of the lost sheep.  When Matthew tells the story, the shepherd himself rejoices over having found his lost sheep, but Luke tells the story with a difference.  In Luke’s setting the scribes and Pharisees are grumbling about the kind of company with whom Jesus consorts.  In this setting Jesus then tells three parables, the first being the shepherd and his lost sheep.  When he finds the sheep he does not rejoice by himself as in Matthew’s telling of the story.  Instead he calls in all his neighours to rejoice with him.  Luke then adds the story of the woman who loses a coin, and she, in turn, calls all her neighbours to join her in rejoicing when she has found it.  Finally he then tells what we call the story of the prodigal son, with the invitation to the dutiful son to join everyone else in rejoicing at the other son’s return.  We can reasonably turn this slightly around, so to speak, and say that in Luke there would be no room for what the Germans call Schadenfreude, that is glee at the discomfiture of others.

          In today’s gospel we have encountered a Samaritan.  Who were the Samaritans?  In short, they were roughly to the Jews as the Shia Muslims are to the Sunni.   The Samaritans held only to the Five Books of Moses, that is, Genesis through Deuteronomy, and they claimed that Mount Gerizim was the proper site of the Temple , not Mount Sion .  Hence the Jews and the Samaritans regarded each other as heretics, and as having nothing to do with each other.  This is reason why Luke says that the people in the Samaritan village will have nothing to do with Jesus when they see that his face is set towards Jerusalem .  It also explains why in today’s gospel Jesus calls the Samaritan a foreigner.  Incidentally, the same word for foreigner is used in the inscription on the wall of the Jerusalem temple that forbade any non-Jew from entering, and warned that if he did so, he would be stoned to death.

          Apart from the story in John about Jesus and the Samaritan woman by the well, the only stories about Samaritans are the two that are to be found in Luke. In each of them the despised Samaritans are shown in a better light that the Jews.  We have heard one of them this morning in which it is only the cured Samaritan leper who returns to give thanks.  The other is Jesus’ story told to the Jewish lawyer who wants to know who is the neighbour whom he must love.  Jesus then tells what we call the story of the good Samaritan, after which the lawyer is forced to admit that the Samaritan is the one who had been neighbourly.

          And Luke has more to say about foreigners.  We have heard this morning the story in the Second Book of Kings about Naaman the Syrian. It is Luke who picks this up in what we might call Jesus’ mission statement when he visits the synagogue in Capernaum at the beginning of his ministry.  He reads the passage from Isaiah about being anointed to bring good news to the poor, etc.  He ends it with the words ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ but carefully omits the last part of the verse, namely, ‘and the day of vengeance of our God’.  According to Luke Jesus then says there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s day but he was only sent to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon , and there were many lepers in Israel in Elisha’s day, but it was only Naaman the Syrian who was cleansed.  This reaching out beyond Israel enrages the people of Capernaum , and they drive Jesus out of town and attempt to cast him down over a cliff.

          If we are following Jesus, then these are three of the things that Luke would have us remember and ponder.

          How ready are we to give thanks?  Do we sometimes take too much for granted, almost as if it were ours by right?

          How ready are to rejoice with others at their good fortune, perhaps especially those people whom we do not find it easy to like?

          How ready are we to reach out to others who are not like us?

          I think that these are three simple questions that Luke has posed for us and would like us to remember and consider more than once in our lifetime journey with Jesus.