In Misery: Luke 17

In Summary:

As Jesus is headed to Jerusalem in Luke 17, he continues teaching the disciples. (It’s worth noting that Luke, like Mark, uses the “on the way to Jerusalem” for heading to the Cross. Neither have a casual trip to Jerusalem for Jesus.) First, he issues a warning against those who cause others to stumble. This is coupled with commanding the disciples to be forgiving toward one another—and this isn’t just between the Twelve, but for all the followers of Christ. Is it possible that our unforgiving attitude causes others to stumble? We need to consider this.

Further, Jesus speaks of the need for faith. I find it telling that Jesus responds to the request to “increase” the disciples’ faith with a statement of “if you had faith.” The implication is not that they have too little faith. It’s that they have none at all. They lack trusting obedience in Jesus, based on the following statements about what their lives should look like in response to God’s commands.

The ending section of Luke 17 is why I choose not to get worked up about anyone’s prediction of timing of the return of Jesus and the end of the world. He assures his disciples that he is coming back. He assures that this will bring the final judgment. And he describes it as quite unexpected by many. We should take this in this manner: there are signs, just as there are signs that allow prediction of weather. But our ability to predict is imperfect, so we must live as if it will be any time. Stressing about blood moons or any other nonsense is just that: nonsense. Do what needs doing.

In Focus:

We’ll put the middle story, Luke 17:11-19, in focus today. Jesus encounters ten lepers. They call out for mercy, and Jesus commands that they go show themselves to the priests. As they go to meet that ceremonial need, they are healed. Nine of them continue on, but one returns to give thanks to Jesus and glory to God. That one? A Samaritan, typically an outcast in that society.

Three key ideas in this passage:

First, misery knows no ethnicity. The average first century Israelite would not have stuck around a Samaritan. When the misery of being a social outcast, a leper, hit them, the other lepers welcomed the Samaritan. Or perhaps he welcomed them? The backstory is unknown, yet from the current events we can tell that what had divided people pales in comparison to misery forcing them together.

Second, mercy restores. Lepers had to show themselves to the priests, who would pronounce them as clean and restore them to society. Given that differing skin diseases all fell under “leprosy,” it’s possible that these lepers were not afflicted with the rapidly fatal form. Instead, their misery was social rejection and the slow approach of death. The mercy of Jesus restores them to the community.

Third, there’s always time for gratitude. This event raises a question: why is the tenth leper praised, and the other nine criticized by implication, when the nine were being obedient? The issue is this: there would always be time to handle the details of going to the priests, but Jesus was on his way somewhere…the nine will not find him there when they come back. They should have taken the time to express gratitude and then continued in obedience. (One could also argue that Jesus knew they’d never try, but that idea does not seem like the point here.)

In Practice:

First, misery knows no ethnicity. Neither does need, nor salvation. Why, then, do we spend so much of our time only with people like us? The Samaritan shifts from misery with Jews as a leper to praising God, with Jews (the disciples!), after healing. If we have been delivered, our focus should be more on the One who delivered us than on who looks like us.

Second, mercy restores. Mercy does not say to others “you’re forgiven, but get out.” With all proper consideration of protecting people from their attackers, the community of faith should be a place of restoration. The Samaritan never forgot he had been a leper. You don’t have to keep reminding people of their past. Let mercy restore them among the community. And yes, our sanctified segregation of pigeonholing people into ‘ministries’ to folks whose sin is similar to their old life is often our way of maintaining their guilt. Maybe that thrice-divorced person actually has a passion for something other than divorce recovery? Or that single mom wants to work with the elderly? Let us consider that.

Third, there’s always time for gratitude. Always. Take time to say thank you. How long did it take the Samaritan? Not very. We’re not talking about derailing obedience to spend hours upon hours. We’re talking about putting gratitude first on the list, and then working out from there. Do it. Allow your obedience to reverberate with the gratitude of a healed heart, rather than a cold list-check.

In Nerdiness: 

I want to look back and raise a question from Luke 17:10. We are in heaven because our Master has allowed it, for we are his servants (or slaves, as you read it). Is our service deserving of ‘reward’? Or is it just what we should have done?

Why, then, do we talk so much about how we expect to be rewarded in heaven for what we do?


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