Luke 17:11-18 (CEV)
11 On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus went along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men with leprosy came toward him. They stood at a distance 13 and shouted, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 Jesus looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”
On their way they were healed. 15 When one of them discovered that he was healed, he came back, shouting praises to God. 16 He bowed down at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was from the country of Samaria.
17 Jesus asked, “Weren’t ten men healed? Where are the other nine? 18 Why was this foreigner the only one who came back to thank God?” 19 Then Jesus told the man, “You may get up and go. Your faith has made you well.”
Despite the fact that almost every single person comes from a tribe and a place that was once foreign to them or their families, ‘foreigner’ is very often used in a negative way.
I guess, back in the day when we were tribal people living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, a foreigner was a definite threat. They might eat our food, rape the women (and leave the men to raise their babies), or kill us all to take over our space. If that was what was going to happen when someone different from us turned up, then I guess I can see why we might get a bit twitchy.
But although we’re a long ways away from life on the savannah – death by a violent act is nowhere on the top ten list for causes of death in Canada, while cancer is at the very top of the list – we are still far more likely to be wary of a ‘foreigner’ than of a carcinogen.
And if you can believe it, this anti-foreigner sentiment was possibly higher in Jesus’ day than it is today although places like France, Britain, the USA and Myanmar (just to name a few) are currently giving them a run for their money!
Why does all of that matter?
It matters because when Jesus heals ten men of leprosy – a highly contagious disease that caused people to be completely ostracized from their friends and family, and caused significant physical damage and eventually death – only one guy came back to say thank you. And it wasn’t one of the “righteous” Jews – it was a foreigner.
And this is so surprising to the disciples that they’ve remembered this story and told it to Luke when he came along doing his research for this account of Jesus’ life.
It’s so surprising to Luke that he’s included it, even though he likely had to pick and choose carefully to fit everything into this scroll he’s writing on.
And it’s so surprising that we need to stop and notice what’s going on here, except that’s hard to do because we don’t really get the level of animosity the Jews felt towards the Samaritans.
So what if we try thinking about it a little differently.
Maybe where you come from it would be like saying that Jesus had healed ten people from 4th stage lung cancer – nine of them were Christians and one was a Muslim, but only the Muslim came back to say thanks.
Or maybe where you come from it would be like saying that Jesus had healed ten people from AIDS – nine of them were heterosexuals who had gotten AIDS from their unfaithful partners and one was a promiscuous homosexual.
Or maybe where you come from it would be like saying that Jesus had healed ten people from paralysis – nine of them were military heroes and one had spent time in ISIS.
This gap between the nine and the one is far bigger than the gap between rich and poor. It’s far bigger than the gap between young and old. It’s even bigger than the gap between religious and irreligious. Yet this foreigner is the one who returns.
It’s a story that’s told to break our stereotypes.
A story that’s told to leave us wondering whether maybe we need to rethink our assumptions about foreigners and people who are different from us.
A story that’s told to create a space for us in this good news story if we’ve only ever assumed we were a ‘them’.
It’s a story that ultimately asks whether the lines that we’ve used to divide ‘us’ from ‘them’ are really as helpful as we once thought they were.
- Jesus’ original audience would have defined ‘us’ as Jewish. How do you define ‘us’?
- Jesus’ original audience would have counted Samaritans, Romans, Greeks, and Africans (just to name a few) as ‘them’. How do you define ‘them’?
- Because we’ve grown up in a culture that talks about accepting people and values diversity, we can sometimes be less than honest with ourselves about who we think of as ‘other’, but the truth is that most of us live fairly insular lives, focused on people who are very similar to ourselves.
- How could you reach across the ‘us’/‘them’ gap this week to learn more about someone who is different to you?
- What could you do this week to value someone who would traditionally end up in your ‘them’ column?
- If you feel like more of a ‘them’ than an ‘us’, can you take any hope from Jesus’ words today?