"Where Did Everyone Go?"
13 October 2013
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & Zion West Walworth United Methodist Churches
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Humans have a long history of taking a large problem
And dividing it up into smaller, more manageable problems,
That are more convenient for groups of people to address.
The pessimist might call this segregation.
The optimist might call this utilization.
The academic might call this Game Theory.
Let me explain.
For centuries societies have dealt with children without parents
By the creation of orphanages;
Large institutions where children were congregated together
To provide custodial care until they reached an age of maturity.
My mother grew up in one of the last orphanages in America.
Although we have replaced this system with foster care,
The concept is still prevalent around the world.
80 years ago we used to have large institutions known as TB Sanitariums.
We knew TB is contagious,
Therefore we segregated out of the population everyone with TB,
Congregated them together and hoped for the best.
Some lived; many died.
We divide our children and youth to send them to school.
We congregate our elderly into assisted living and nursing homes.
We gather together those with developmental challenges,
Balancing a fine line between inclusion and exclusion.
Christianity is a silo-ed system of self-selection
Based on ethnicity, denomination, dogma, and tradition.
Politics is a segregated system;
In some countries there is one party,
In our country there are two,
In many countries there are many.
People of like minds flock together
Segregating themselves apart from those who think differently,
Yet, requiring a certain balance of cooperation and competition.
I think you get the picture.
Systems change when we work together towards progress,
Whether it be implementing civil rights legislation,
Discovering a cure for a disease,
Or are motivated by some injustice or Divine cause.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning is an excellent example:
“As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him.
Keeping their distance, they called out, saying,
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
In the time of Jesus it was common for the diseased to group together.
If one had leprosy,
they were considered unclean, untouchable,
and forced to live outside the protection of the city walls;
on the edge of town to minimalize the risk of contamination.
Of course, others would be found here.
This was a convenient location
by the side of the road from which one could beg- for alms, for food, for mercy.
Even lepers need to eat.
Not only is this quite possible that Jesus and his disciples
would have encountered groups of individuals
with leprosy, and similar diseases or disabilities, as they traveled,
it was a certainty.
The Gospel is full of stories about Jesus healing the blind, the lame, and demon possessed.
Jesus and his disciples would have encountered groups of sick,
diseased and dying outside of every town they approached.
Jewish law, and its strict interpretation and application of cleanliness laws,
Segregated families, friends and neighborhoods.
Don’t touch a person with leprosy,
So keep them beyond arms reach.
This primitive system of quarantine
Would have provided some minimal public health benefit,
But the true benefit was social
For those with the power to segregate:
“Out of sight, out of mind.”
“If I don’t see my disabled cousin every day
then I don’t have to worry about her
and I’m free to go about my business.”
This is an example of how the brutal application of law
- even religious law -
destroys grace and compassion.
It doesn’t take too much imagination to consider the word “ghetto,”
from the Hebrew, literally meaning
- a bill of divorce,
and to apply it to our gospel for today.
Jewish society had divided itself, creating a ghetto system of
haves v. have nots,
inclusion v. exclusion,
clean v. unclean,
loved v. those who were simply thrown away.
Segregation by health condition
Is not the only issue addressed by Jesus in today’s Gospel.
Jesus is traveling from Galilee, in the north,
to Jerusalem, 90 miles south,
through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
Jewish Samaritans meant different things to different people,
depending upon your ancestry and point of view.
To Jews whose ancestors had endured Babylonian exile over 700 years earlier,
Samaritans had been those left behind,
forced into collaboration with their occupiers.
They had inter-married resulting in bi-racial offspring.
And Samaritans were also those who had been forced to relocate the Temple,
due to travel restrictions to and from Jerusalem.
They established a new local temple on Mt. Gerizim,
the traditional location of the near-sacrifice of Isaac.
To Jews who lived in the hilly region north of Judah,
centered on the city of Samaria,
- hence their name “Samaritans” -
they considered themselves the faithful ones.
They hadn’t faced the judgment of exile like the orthodox Jews from Jerusalem.
Samaritans resorted to survival tactics in the midst of an unmerciful occupier,
doing whatever it took to survive and to remain faithful to God.
They despised those who eventually returned, dismissed their Temple,
and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem.
By the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were treated as if
they were mixed race, second class Jews.
To Jews who lived in the north, in Galilee,
where Jesus matured and ministered,
Samaria was a place most travelers avoided.
Best to go around to the east to make the annual visit to Jerusalem and the Temple.
Take the road down the Jordan Valley
instead of the high road through the mountains and hills of Samaria.
Avoid Samaritans, and you won’t have to deal with them.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Treat them as if they are invisible.
Blame them for all that is wrong with our country,
because, well, it is better to blame someone else than to take responsibility.
Does this sound familiar?
What did Jesus do?
The life of Christ was about tearing down social orders that divided us.
In collusion with the occupying Roman legions
Organized Judaism at the time of Jesus was a leader
In creating social division Jesus sought to destroy:
Jew v. Gentile.
Clean v. Unclean.
Priestly v. laity.
Men v. women.
Wealthy v. the poor.
Jesus included the Gentile into the kingdom,
Healed all and made everyone clean … even on the Sabbath!
He tore up the money changers in the Temple
And treated women as equals with men.
Oh, yes, he healed one Centurion’s servant,
and raised from the dead the daughter of another.
Jesus elevates the foreigner, the immigrant, the migrant, for doing the right thing,
for returning and giving thanks to the Lord.
And like in so many other situations,
Jesus responds with the command,
‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
Your faith has made you well.
With Christ at our side
We can do the same, too.
It begins with changing our attitudes,
ending our resistance to change,
simply the way they are:
recognizing that every person is created beautiful and perfect
in every possible way
by a loving and merciful God.
We don’t have to agree with others,
but we do have to tolerate and respect each other.
We don’t even have to worship the same God,
but we do need to insist that all have the freedom to express religious beliefs
however each sees fit, and without threat, risk, or danger.
We do need to stand up and speak out
For breaking down artificial walls that separate us;
To create a Christ-like culture of inclusion and acceptance,
Especially for those who are least like us,
Who may not speak like us,
Who may need different kinds of supports from partners or caregivers.
We do need to stand up and speak out,
Advocating for children, youth, and vulnerable adults.
We do need to work for Christ-like justice;
to keep our society a melting pot of individuals,
always refreshed with new members,
respectful of our history,
tolerant of culture
knowing that diversity makes us strong.
By faith in Jesus Christ,
Walls can come tumbling down,
Lions can lie down with lambs,
the impossible can be made possible.
(See Jesus walk forth from an empty tomb)
Healing and restoration can become the new normal;
Where everyone is included in the kingdom,
Not because we say so,
But because it is the way of our Lord.