Another one of Ben’s sermons that ranks as a favorite among website visitors….and a personal favorite of many NWPC members as well:
Life-Changing Gratitude from October 2010 is our reflection for this Friday!
Life-Changing Gratitude (Luke 17: 11-19)
by Dr. Ben Trawick
Gilliganʼs Island never made sense to me. As you may recall, it was a sitcom from the late 1960ʼs involving 7 castaways on an uncharted island and their adventures and misadventures trying to return to civilization. They became shipwrecked on the island when the three hour charter tour that they set out on ran into a tropical storm. Included in the gaggle of misfits were the Skipper of the S.S. Minnow and his trusty first mate, Gilligan; a brilliant high school science teacher who was known as the Professor; a glamorous movie star; a Kansas farm girl; and a millionaire couple, J. Thurston Howell and his wife Eunice, known affectionately as “Lovie.” Throw this unlikely assortment together on an island, and Bang! Instant hilarity ensues.
But as I say, several pieces of the puzzle never fit for me. One–itʼs a three hour tour, so why does the movie star have so many different outfits with her? Did she expect to change evening gowns and heels every fifteen minutes during the course of the boat ride?
Secondly, as has been much remarked by others, why is the professor so brilliant yet so useless? He can inexplicably use bamboo and coconut hulls to recharge the batteries for the radio, yet the radio can only receive and not transmit. None of his brilliant inventions or concoctions can get the group any closer to being rescued. In a parody from the later sitcom Roseanne, the character playing the professor states: “This hole in the boat defies all of my advanced knowledge. To fix it would be impossible…now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go create explosive fillings out of sand.”
But perhaps the biggest mystery to me is the millionaire, J. Thurston Howell. He has trunks and trunks of cold hard cash. And again, like the movie star, why is he hauling footlockers of greenbacks around on a three hour boat ride? Doesn’t the man have an American Express Titanium card? Anyway, he has all of this cash–but no matter how much cash he possesses, on the island, it is useless to him. He might be a millionaire, a billionaire, or a septa-hepta-squillionaire, but the amount of cash he possesses doesn’t do anything, can’t do anything, to change his circumstances. On the island, it might as well be Monopoly money–pretty colored slips of paper with no real value. Now it is this last point that I want to connect to our scripture lesson for this morning–the quantity of something one possesses is irrelevant–what matters is how the something can be employed to make a difference. Mr. Howell is a millionaire, but he’s still a marooned millionaire. And the 9 lepers in our story? Well they must have boatloads of gratitude and footlockers filled with appreciation…but what are they DOING WITH IT? It seemingly makes no difference.
Let me flesh that out a little bit:
But first, we need to set a few pieces of background. Luke tells us that Jesus is traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. This is to say, he is traveling the border between the Hatfields and the McCoys, because for all kinds of reasons, Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. Go back to the days of King David and King Solomon and they were all one people. But after Solomon’s death, the kingdom split in two, a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. Seven hundred years before the time of Jesus, the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom, and when the Assyrians conquered a region, they dispersed its inhabitants to the four corners of their empire, and moved other people in. It broke down the culture and the resistance, you see. Instead of a group of people unified by language, by culture, and by faith, you had a mixed, mingled menagerie of people who couldn’t muster the kind of cohesion necessary to revolt. Eventually these peoples intermingled and intermarried. So increasingly over time, the inhabitants of Samaria are viewed by the Jews of the southern kingdom as pagan mongrels–not “our people” at all. To make matters worse, when the Jews of the southern kingdom returned from their own exile in Babylon years later, they appealed to their northern neighbors for help in rebuilding the temple and walls of Jerusalem, the holy city. The Samaritans declined. It wasn’t their holy city. So….instant feud. Jews and Samaritan don’t mix.
That’s the first bit of understanding we need to come to grips with our scripture. Secondly, we need to know a little about leprosy and its social consequences. Leprosy was the term used for any number of skin diseases or ailments. It was viewed as contagious and it was viewed as a mark of spiritual uncleanness. As we read in Leviticus (13: 45-46): “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” So on the border of Galilee and Samaria, Jesus encounters a colony of lepers–outcasts from both countries…untouchables. They cry out, from an appropriate distance, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us!” The word of Jesus healing power must have spread. In any event, our scripture begins as a simple healing story. Ten lepers call out to Jesus, he instructs them to go to the priest and show themselves (and in faith or in desperation, they go) and on the way, miracle of miracles, they are made clean. All ten, HEALED, by the grace, mercy, glory and power of God.
Now–pause for one moment and reflect upon what this healing means. It is a complete alteration of their circumstances–once a simple ritual is completed with the priests, the lepers are members of society once more. They can live with spouses and families in the village; hug their children; move freely about the market; no more must they shout unclean, no more must they be called untouchable! As we might imagine, the lepers, all ten of them, have, as I mentioned before, boatloads of gratitude and footlockers filled with appreciation. Ask them to count their blessings and they can count to a million, they can count to a billion, they can count to a septa-hepta- squillion–but the crux of Luke’s story is, they don’t do anything with that. Their circumstances are transformed. Their lives–well no. They were at the center of their own lives before (self-centered) and despite their changed circumstances, they are at the center of their own lives after.
The difference–is in the one leper. The Samaritan. They’re pagan half-breeds, remember? We don’t like them. But the one Samaritan leper responds differently. When he saw that he was healed, he turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet, and he thanked him. To the nine, Jesus is that great guy, that wise doctor who healed them. But the Samaritan, transformed, has moved from self-centered to God centered or Christ-centered. His circumstances are changed and his LIFE is transformed. This is why Jesus says to the Samaritan only, your faith has made you well. All ten were healed…one was transformed…
To read or listen to the rest of the sermon, click here to access the audio and accompanying pdf.