Frances writes on this Sunday’s readings :- Over the last weeks we have seen Jesus explaining his ‘theology of the Kingdom’ in a series of zany parables. These stories were designed to overturn his original hearers concept of God, with the Loving Father, the Unjust Steward and the story of Lazarus and in last weeks gospel we realised that we bring absolutely no bargaining chips to Almighty God, we are quite simply his slaves. Like a great many Jews and others subsequently, we all like to believe that when faced with God, we will be able to bring our ‘good works’ out of the bag, to convince him that we are worthy of paradise. Jesus shocked his followers and even more so his enemies by insisting that this was not the case! We are simply loved by God, all of us, and when we respond well in this life, it is the result of his love, not the other way round. No one would have killed Jesus for suggesting that we should be more morally correct, indeed, this was the agenda of the Pharisees, they hated and destroyed him precisely because he messed up their idea of God and gave such a radical and outrageous notion of the divine that they were not able to tolerate. Jesus was dangerous and subversive, he had to go.
In our gospel, Luke (17:11-19) placed when Jesus is poised on his journey to Jerusalem and his passion, we meet this account of the cleansing of the 10 lepers. Significantly, we are on the border between Galilee, a Jewish area and Samaria, where Samaritans were despised and viewed with hostility by devout Jews. Jesus enters a leper village, for lepers were cut off from the rest of society, fearer, segregated and shunned, deprived of family and friends. After the healing miracle, we see that it is only one leper, a Samaritan who turns back to worship, praising God with a loud voice and thanking Jesus – quite clearly, from the Greek, he sees God in him and is fully aware of the life he has now been given, not simply healing but restoration to family and society; from being a non person, just awaiting death; he has become a human being again with all the potential that implies, his joy is overwhelming! His great moment of meeting with God in Jesus is quite unforgettable! By contrast, in a note of tiny tragedy, we see that the rest, the nine, and they evidently Jews, simply trot off, as instructed by Jesus to fulfil the law, apparently oblivious of the giver of God’s gift of healing or of what it implied about him! It is a commentary on the life and mission of Jesus and of those who will accept his Word of grace and of those who will turn their backs on him and destroy him.
In 2 Kings (5:14-17) we have a cut down version of a similar story in which the power of God is demonstrated through Elisha the prophet, to the acute discomfort of the king of Israel (the Northern kingdom) and his courtiers. In the account the prophet heals a foreigner, Naaman. Not merely a foreigner, and therefore a pagan, but the leader of the powerful invading Arameans who at the time were building an empire over what is now Syria and extending into Mesopotamia. Israel is presented as the underdog, weak and fearful, saved by the prophet, but not one linked to the court and frequently at odds with it. Once again, it appears, that God works for good and healing where and how he wills, and not in accordance with the wishes of the established political and religious authorities, indeed, that he acts through the prophet to question their entire approach and therefore their understanding of God.
In our Reading from 2 Timothy (2:8-13) we see Paul writing from prison to encourage Timothy and his followers. There he is, he says, chained like a criminal yet still able to remind the Churches of Christ risen from the dead and his promise of eternal life with him. His message is confident and defiant, he may appear to be the underdog and the Church weak, but in reality, from this weakness they will triumph, and he recites the words of a hymn clearly known to the community: If we have died with him, then we shall live with him….
We too, need to hold before our eyes the subversiveness of the gospel and the Lord we serve. He is not to be confined or manipulated to our demands or needs.