Text: Luke 17: 11-19
Several years ago there was an article in the Irish Times. There had been a traffic accident in the city of Dublin. The driver who was charged with causing the accident was interviewed about what happened and was asked who might be able to corroborate his story. All the driver could answer was, “There were plenty of onlookers, but no witnesses.”
A curious statement and perhaps most unsettling as it is more accurate than we might care to admit. At any given time, at any given event there are plenty of people present. They take in the events of the evening, but do they truly bear witness to them?
As Christians we witness to the good news that we find in Jesus Christ. We also bear witness to the events around us. Whether that is a church opening or closing. An ordination or induction. We bear witness to what happens in our community, when the vulnerable are oppressed or further marginalized we bear witness to that. We also provide a witness to the ways people are helped.
Part of bearing witness is to share an account of what happened with others. We do not sit in silence keeping the events to ourselves. We share what we have learned, we tell about what we have seen and heard. In this was we act as the social and religious memory of the community that we are a part of. In today’s world where nothing is permanent, with everything changing so quickly and much of what we come in contact with being consumable how is anything remembered.
More and more information is put on the Internet, but is any of it really understood or read? Is any of it remembered? That is do we pay enough attention to the information to allow it to inform our decision making? Are we passive onlookers or do we bear witness to what we have seen? How are we changed by what we witness? What does our faith move us to do?
I bring this subject of bearing witness up because I believe it is at play in our gospel story this morning. As much as faith and gratitude play a role, so to does bearing witness. Let’s review the story. Jesus has entered a village between Galilee and Samaria while on his way to Jerusalem. This tells us some important things.
First, Jesus is not taking the direct route to Jerusalem. If he was going direct to Jerusalem, he wouldn’t be anywhere near Samaria. This is a reminder that Jesus was interested in bringing his ministry of God’s reconciliation, love and grace to all people.
Second, Jesus has entered a small village. This was not an encounter with Jesus that happened on the road or the wilderness away from prying eyes. This happened in a small town, where other people might be present: Onlookers and witnesses.
We are told that ten lepers approached Jesus in need of healing. Keeping their distance, they asked Jesus for mercy. Jesus approaches them and advises them to go see the Priests. This is important because these men wouldn’t be able to reintegrate into society until a priest had deemed they were ritually clean. As the men go they find themselves healed.
One of the men sees that he is healed and returns to Jesus to offer thanks and praise. The one who does this is a Samaritan, the assumption in the story is that the other nine are Israelites, though we don’t know that definitively. Jesus wonders where the other nine are, though we can assume they are visiting the priest. Then Jesus says to the one who returned, “Go your faith has made you well.”
I wonder what those in the village who saw this event thought? Were they onlookers or witnesses? The passage does not tell us. It is an assumption built into the story that others might have been present, that they might have noticed Jesus approach ten lepers. Certainly they would have seen how the men were healed. Did they share this news or keep it to themselves? What would you do if you were present that day?
We will return to bearing witness in a moment, but right now I want to think about the Samaritan who was healed and the sequence of events. First, we note that it is a Samaritan, an outsider, who comes returns and offers thanks. Just as in the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus is making a point about who the kingdom is for: everyone. Also, Jesus is saying that sometimes people on the outside of our ‘group’ can see with better clarity than we ourselves can. The Good Samaritan offers helps and today it is the Samaritan who returns and offers gratitude.
However, let’s turn to the sequence of events. Jesus says to the Samaritan “Your faith has made you well.” This is in response to the Samaritan coming and offering thanks. But what is the Samaritan thankful for, being healed?
On the first read we might think that the Samaritan was healed because he offered thanksgiving to God. However, as is clearly stated the Samaritan, along with the other nine, has already been healed of his leprosy.
So what does Jesus mean when he says “Your faith has made you well”? Wasn’t the leper already healed or is there something else going on? As usual there is something more to the story.
We worship here today in response for something that God has already done for us. Our worship is a response to God for the act of creation, for our lives and for Jesus Christ who died for our sake. Like the Samaritan leper we have already been healed. We worship as an act of praise, but also as one of gratitude towards God.
The act of offering thanksgiving is central to who we are as Christians. When the Samaritan offers thanks it is the act of worship that makes him well. Does showing gratitude indicate a deeper and richer life of faith? The Samaritans wellness hinges on more than just his being healed of leprosy. His wellness is richer than just physical health, it represents his spirit and outlook on life. He recognizes gratitude as being a foundational value in life. His physical wellness also represents his salvation.
As Christians gratitude towards God speaks to our outlook on life. It informs our living, our every action is a response of gratitude for God’s love for us. C.S. Lewis in exploring his new found faith wrote the following about the connection between gratitude and personal health, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most: while the cranks, misfits, and malcontent praised least. Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”
Our faith makes us well. Our trust in Jesus makes us whole and that bursts forth through worship, praise and acts of gratitude. As Christians our basic response to God is one of gratitude. Gratitude for this life; gratitude for the people we share it with; gratitude for the world; gratitude for the gift of Jesus Christ.
We sing it in our doxology: Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise, gratitude and thanksgiving are central to our identity as Christians. We cannot help but praise God and offer thanksgiving.
We need to act as the Samaritan did and bear witness about what we have received. To boldly go forward and share the good news, as that too is an act of gratitude. Amen.