Year C, Proper 23, Pentecost + 18, Oct. 13, 2019
11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.
15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
In 1999, I traveled to Iraq for two weeks with a group called Life for Relief and Development. We brought medical and school supplies, but our primary purpose there was witnessing the devastation wrought by years of economic sanctions and war.
We flew into Jordan and crossed over into Iraq on foot, along the road to Baghdad. We were not supposed to be there, so there is a hand written crossing notation on the last page of my now-expired passport. We started and finished our journey in Baghdad, traveling all around the country visiting empty schools and devastated hospitals and officials from the government and the Red Crescent society.
The one and only time in my life when I believed my death was imminent was when we were in Basra and a cavalcade of military trucks bearing armed soldiers suddenly surrounded us. It turned out that they were just there to usher in the governor of the southern province, who was coming to meet with us. But it was a stark reminder that we were somewhere we were not supposed to be, in the midst of a people who had every reason to fear and dislike us.
We weren’t the only feared and disliked people in Iraq, though. While in the north, we crossed over from Mosul, which you might recognize from the news, into Erbil, which you might not. Erbil is a city in a place called “Kurdistan,” [Slide 1] which covers territory in multiple countries. You can find Kurdistan on a map, but it’s not an official place.
It was supposed to be. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 “made a provision for a Kurdish State.” But three years later, the Treaty of Lausane, which “set the boundaries of modern Turkey” had no provision for a Kurdish State. So since 1923, the Kurds have officially been a people with no country, though there have been multiple efforts to change that.
Which puts them in conflict with a lot of folks around them, as their unofficial homeland of Kurdistan covers territory in five different countries. Most is in Turkey, but parts of Kurdistan are in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia.
[Slide 2, Slide 3] Erbil is on the edge of Kurdistan that juts into Mesopotamia. We knew the moment we crossed into Kurdistan. There is a different look to the Kurds, owing to ethnic and racial differences from the Iraqis we met. Many have eyes which are amber or bright green. Oh, and most of the men over fourteen had automatic weapons and an ammo belt or two slung over their shoulders.
They were very friendly to us, though. Americans and Kurds have mostly been friends, and as you have likely heard, they have been fighting alongside us in the longest wars in American history, in Iraq and Afghanistan. For better or worse, we are known around the world as a country which fights wars. In the World Wars, that meant that we liberated people in France, Germany, Poland, and beyond. In other times and places, the outcomes are more complicated.
[Slide 4] I met this little boy in Erbil. When he heard we were Americans, he kept making this pose. Or finger guns. Apparently that was what “American” meant to him. Fighting.
He was excited about having his picture taken, and followed us all around as we met with the various Kurdish leaders in Erbil. I have kept his picture up in my house ever since. Every so often I stop and pray for the man he would be now, twenty years later. Given that there has been almost constant fighting where he is, I wonder if he made it, and what he is doing now if he did.
I have thought of him many times in the last few weeks, as the US abandoned its alliance with the Kurds. Then again as I read the lesson for this week, which is all about places that don’t really exist, and despised minorities.
[Slide 5] Here’s another map, because you can never have enough maps. And hear again, the beginning of our gospel lesson for this morning:
11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
[Slide 6] So, here’s Galilee.
[Slide 7] And here’s Samaria.
[Slide 8] Where’s the “region between” them?
I can’t find it. It doesn’t seem to exist…at least not physically. Sort of like “Kurdistan.”
But Kurdistan is a real place, and so is the “region between Samaria and Galilee.” There had been a psychological and ethnic “region between Samaria and Galilee” for hundreds of years, by the time Jesus was walking those dusty pathways. [Slide 9] Samaritans and Galileans were one people, back in the Tenth Century BCE, when together they grew strong and broke away from the area around Jerusalem, which came to be called the Kingdom of Judah, or the Southern Kingdom. [Slide 10]
Historians refer to the Northern Kingdom as either Israel or Samaria. Its capital was in a city then known as Shomron, or Samaria. In the Eighth Century, the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria, which moved a lot of Mesopotamian folks (see how this stuff is all related…) into the former Israelite lands. So lots of intermarrying and the development of some different ethnic identities.
Not unlike The United States of America.
The people of the region continued to worship God, though some also worshipped Baal—that’s another story. But in the second century, the Galileans chose to follow Judaism, which was worship of God centered in Jerusalem. [Slide 11] The Samaritans continued to make their holiest place Mount Gerazim. You might remember a conversation that Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at a well in John 4.
So it turns out that even people who worship the same God can disagree about how to do that. And they all tend to think that the way they do it is “right.” We are especially harsh to our cousins in the faith. [Slide 12] There’s actually a guy who devotes most of his time—apparently—to culling stories from all over the web and beyond about the terrible terrible things the ELCA is doing, like electing a group of bishops who are diverse in age, gender identity, race, and sexual orientation. And…basically All Things Gay. He’s really mad about 2009.
I’m kinda hurt that I have only been mentioned on his site once. He did carry a second article about our Glitter Ash Service this year.
We really don’t like it when our cousins don’t act like us. Read some of the stuff people post on Facebook about their relatives-of-different-political-persuasions.
So there is enmity between Samaritans and Galileans, because they are kind of family, and while those people may worship God…they don’t do it the right way. [Slide] And in the time of Jesus, Galileans would sometimes go all the way out to the Decapolis and down, to avoid passing through Samaria.
But that’s not what Luke says Jesus and his disciples did. Luke says they were passing through the region “between Samaria and Galilee”…which is primarily a region of the mind. One of those places that have names but don’t really exist, like “Red State” and “Blue State.”
We’re still in the “last steps to Jerusalem” part of Luke’s gospel, as is evident from the first line of the lesson…but I can’t actually tell if Jesus is being serious or subversive in this lesson. I’m leaning toward subversive, but I’m also not sure if it matters.
Because what we do know is that he is standing in this Region of the Mind, between home—Galilee, Nazareth—and enemy territory—Samaria. And he heals some lepers. Ten. Same number as the number of tribes of Israel which became the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Coincidence? Maybe.
He tells them to go away and they do…except one comes back, and what’s he doing?
Praising God and thanking Jesus.
Which prompts Jesus to wonder why the other nine, presumably more Galilean types—why didn’t they come back? Why just “this foreigner?”
That’s a rough phrase, isn’t it? What’s that Samaritan doing in that lesson?
What Samaritans do in their encounters with Jesus, especially in Luke’s gospel.
He’s holding up a mirror.
The “orthodox” folks—the ones who believe like Jesus and the disciples—go running off to the priests, because that’s what Jesus told them to do, so that’s the orthodox response and we like to know what the correct response is so that we can just do it, right?
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
The Samaritan is heterodox. He starts running to the priest, and sees that he is healed, and he doesn’t just shout, “and also with you” over his shoulder and keep running.
He comes back, praising God and thanking Jesus. He doesn’t know that that isn’t the way we do it. We don’t wave our hands in the air and praise God with loud voices. We fold our hands and say “and also with you.”
There’s nothing wrong with the way we orthodox folks do things. But once in a while, it’s good to have a nice heterodox mirror held up to us. To hear someone praise God and thank Jesus and remember that we too are called to do those things, in ways that might feel unusual, and even heterodox to us.
We follow a God who found a lot of different ways to talk to us—burning bushes, talking donkeys, clouds.
It’s not a bad idea to find different ways to talk to God. We can even try some of the ways that people not like us use. That’s a great way to remember that a lot of the borders we erect aren’t real, and all they are serving to do is divide us one from another, and thus from the diversity and beauty of God’s creation.
Praise God, people of God. Like a Samaritan, Like a Lutheran, Like an Evangelical. Try them all, maybe.
And thank Jesus, people of God. Thank Jesus that we are a people of hope and a people of peace. And let us find new ways to preach hope, and preach peace…before it is too late. [Slide]