Weekly Seeds: Show Us Mercy

Sunday, October 9, 2022
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost | Year C

Focus Theme:
Show Us Mercy

Focus Prayer:
Merciful God, pour your mercy over us drawing us close to you in heart and mind. And grant us grace praise and thank you by extending the same to others. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with a skin disease approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’s[b] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? So where are the other nine? 18 Did none of them return to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

All readings for this Sunday:
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Psalm 66:1-12
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Psalm 111
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Focus Questions:
1. Have you ever found yourself marginalized by someone else? What did it feel like?
2. Have you ever been the recipient of someone else’s mercy? What did it do “inside you”?
3. Have you ever extended mercy to someone else? Can you remember if that in any way brought healing to you?
4. Can you recall a time when you found yourself in an “in-between” space in your life journey? How would you describe that time?
5. What is your favorite way of offering thanks and praise to God?

By David Long-Higgins

If there is a persistent theme in the Gospel according to Luke it is that Jesus goes into places and spaces otherwise thought to be unclean and even unwise by the rules of his day. Our reading brings this theme front and center. “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.” It seems that Jesus is often in the in-between space inhabited by people who have been marginalized by the wider society and religious culture of their time.

So it is that Jesus encounters those who have been labeled as lepers (which could have meant any of a number of skin diseases). In this in-between geography, these people who have been defined as unclean, existed often together in colonies far enough away from others as to not be a threat to the “health” of the community but close enough that they had to yell out, “Unclean, unclean, unclean”. They existed by begging from the margins in order to survive this situation of shared misery and misfortune.

Only by declaration of the priests at the Temple could a leper be allowed to re-enter society, live again with one’s family, and find oneself saved from the isolation and ignominy of a label not easily removed. For many, to be cast into this space was to be given a life sentence bearing a burden not only of body but also of a soul separated from all that offered any sense of flourishing or hope.

It is into this space that Jesus intentionally travels on his way to Jerusalem where he also will experience the anguish of separation from those he loves. But before Jerusalem, he finds himself in the in-between space having come near a colony of those captured by the rules of the day. But here there is an interesting twist. Instead of yelling for food or yelling out their unclean status, as would have been required by law, these ten lepers yell out for something far greater. They call out for mercy. They call out to be seen in their suffering by the one whom they trust will see them and act for their healing so that they may be set free from the present prison in which they find themselves.

Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests because that is the only way to be admitted back into the circle they so long to rejoin. But here, Luke inserts a Samaritan surprise, as he has at other points in his telling of the Jesus’ way.

A little reminder about Samaritans may be helpful. Samaritans of the former Northern Kingdom (which had been defeated by Assyria) shared a common Jewish heritage with Jews of the Southern Kingdom. But by the time of Jesus, Samaritans had come to be hated by their former Southern Kingdom counterparts. Much of this had to do with the setting up of a rival temple to the one in Jerusalem on Mount Gerizim in the geography of the former Northern Kingdom. Because of this a deep antipathy had grown among Jews of Jesus’ time toward Samaritans.

The Samaritan surprise is that Jesus centers one who carries a double burden. Not only is the person a leper consigned to the edges. This one is also a Samaritan among Jews. His marginalization is magnified by this reality of being likely being set outside the outsiders. Still, he trusts that this will not be the final chapter to his life story. Something about the power and presence of God in Jesus has reached this outer region such that it becomes a land where liminal longing is answered by life-giving mercy.

Jesus sees in each leper what God sees. Beloved children yearning to be free from everything that was holding them hostage to the rules of the day and from the fullness of flourishing that is the birthright of all God’s beloved. As such Jesus sends them to the priest for reunion with the community they have longed to rejoin, himself trusting that God’s power would activate a possibility beyond the poverty of body and spirit that had been their daily reality.

The lepers in this account see Jesus and are moved to ask for mercy from Jesus. Jesus sees them in a way different than the world and is moved to offer mercy bearing a compassion that becomes the opening for their healing. Each character is turned toward the other, at least for a time. But then there is an exclamation point that Luke relates regarding the one most weighed down by his reality. It is a second turning. While nine go off to the priest, there is one, a Samaritan who has carried a double burden, who turns toward the one who is Love incarnate and puts his whole body on the ground in thanksgiving at Jesus feet.

And here, we see yet another of mercy’s great gifts. Not only is there healing and the freedom that would have come with it. The distance of disease is overcome by the lure and blessing of love and there is contact where it was thought no contact would ever be possible. In this story the double burden is replaced with a double blessing. The Samaritan is not only healed, but in returning to give thanks he comes in contact with one whom he would never have approached under even normal circumstances. Here is mercy’s great gift in that it opens between human beings possibilities that otherwise might have been impossible to consider.

It causes me to wonder how I might intentionally enter into spaces that seem marginal at least in my mind or experience. It presses me to consider different questions than I might otherwise carry in my often-busy heart. What might it be like to be present with a heart open to some liminal discovery where mercy might have a chance to foster an unexpected healing and a subsequent outbreak of praise. How might I need to change my daily path in order to be available to the cries of the world? What in me cries out for mercy hoping for a healing God alone can offer? This text urges such questions and invites a journey to unusual spaces where mercy given and received can foster a “seeing” and a “knowing” that otherwise might appear strange as the world sets the stage. In contrast mercy sets the stage to discover we are already being joined by a force more powerful who most natural answer is celebration and praise. What a gift!

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

It seems there is a bond between mercy and humility, one inviting the other into a dance where each must trade the lead over life’s long haul. The prophet, preacher, and pastor, Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman wrote of this.

“The humble spirit and the contrite heart
Thou givest to [that person] who seekest with true devotion.

THE humble spirit. I learn the meaning of the humble spirit
from the earth. The earth takes into itself the rain, the heat
of the sun, and it works with these gifts of life to bring the
magic out of itself to be used for growth and sustenance of
all living things. The earth is good because it takes what life
gives, and within itself it uses its gifts to make life abound.
It waits for fruition and gathers its fruit unto itself for more
life and more growing. I shall learn of the earth the meaning
of the humble spirit.

The contrite heart. I will yield all the hard places of my heart
to the softening influence of the Spirit of God. Despite my
pride, my pain and my vainglory, I will yield every stubborn
bit of the cancerous growth in my heart to God until He
makes my heart whole, one united outlet of [God’s] spirit. It will
not be easy, not simple perhaps, but here in the quietness I
give up to [God] all the lumps, the unresolved bits of me.
The humble spirit and the contrite heart
Thou givest to him who seekest with true devotion.”

Meditations of the Heart (Howard Thurman, Harper Row, 1953)

For further reflection:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” – Jesus Christ
“Where mercy, love, and pity dwell, there God is dwelling too. – William Blake
“Be kind and merciful. Let no one ever come to you without coming away better and happier.” –Mother Teresa of Calcutta

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. David Long-Higgins is the Conference Minister for the Heartland Conference, United Church of Christ.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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