October 06, 2010

Unchained Word

by Brian Volck
2 Kings 5; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19

Mark’s Jesus is in a hurry, John’s Jesus is in control, and Matthew’s Jesus does parables. Luke’s Jesus forever crosses borders. This time, the border lies between the boondocks of Galilee and the enemy’s homeland, Samaria.

Nathanael – or any right-thinking first century Palestinian Jew – needn’t ask if anything good comes from Samaria. One might as well spout nonsense about a “good Samaritan,” or a “good Al Qaeda.”

This week, the border also divides clean from unclean. Unlike the encounter in Luke 5, this text doesn’t mention Jesus touching lepers, but the precedent’s set, he’s in unclean territory already, and now there are ten of them.

When they beg for mercy, Jesus says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests." One of the ten, it turns out, is a Samaritan, whose reception by priests might be compared to CIA headquarters welcoming Osama bin Laden. 

It just so happens that, as the ten leave, all are cured. Nine continue on their way, presumably to see priests who will declare them clean and welcome them back into community – a community in which, at the time, Samaritans had no place. The Samaritan turns back and makes a spectacle of himself, like a Holy Roller in a church of smells and bells.

“Where are the other nine?” Jesus wonders, “Why just this foreigner?” Then comes an offhanded punch line about the Samaritan’s faith making him well. It makes one wonder if the other nine are well too, or are they merely clean?

Like Naaman in this weeks’ first reading, it’s the outsider, the one from across the border who’s not only cured, but shows gratitude for an act of pure grace. (Read further in 2 Kings 5 for Gehazi’s counterexample.) 

Jesus is always crossing borders, breaking the rules, messing with the order of things. He meets with tax collectors and sinners, touches lepers, greets Samaritans, enters women’s homes. The Word isn’t chained by borders, categories, or convention. In the end, even death itself can’t chain Him. 

In an uncertain world like first century Judea or twenty-first century America, Jesus is dangerous. What if everyone started welcoming foreigners, ate with sinners, preached grace and gratitude? Paul did just that and lost his head.  Francis of Assisi (whose feast was this past Monday) embraced a leper and preached peace to the Sultan, and died visibly wounded.

Isn’t that precisely what happens when the Word’s not chained, borders aren’t policed, categories aren’t enforced? Isn’t that why we killed Jesus in the first place? Isn’t that why we crucify him still?  

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