Samaria and Leprosy

The Gospel Reading is Luke 17:11-19.

Today’s reading from Luke is also read on Thanksgiving Day. We might believe believe that thankfulness is the primary focus of this text but there’s more we need to notice. To understand the power of this story, we need to know Samaria and leprosy.

When the Gospels mention Samaria, they’re describing a region north of Jerusalem that was once a separate kingdom. When King Solomon died, the kingdom of Israel split into 2 sections. The Southern Kingdom (called Judah) was centered around Jerusalem while the Northern Kingdom (which kept the name Israel) created a new capital called Samaria. Both kingdoms co-existed for almost 200 years and both communities worshiped and believed in God. But both communities believed God was telling them to worship in different places. Judah claimed (and the prophets and other religious leaders supported this) that God wanted to be worshipped in the Jerusalem. Samaria, however, built new temples in places where God’s presence was felt in different ways. This caused major friction and disagreement between the two communities. Overtime, both communities grew to dislike each other. By Jesus’ day, they despised each other and would discriminated each other whenever they could. Jesus, as a Jew, was supposed to avoid Samaritans at all costs.

Leprosy is a disease that’s mentioned in the bible often. We don’t know exactly what kind of disease people in Jesus’ time called leprosy but it was probably a skin disease that left people visibly sick and contagious. When someone developed leprosy, they were seen as unclean and were no longer full members of the community. They became outsiders.

So where is Jesus in today’s text? He’s on the border. He’s walking with Samaria on one side and Judah on the other. He’s busy visiting villages where lepers live on the outskirts, away from everyone else. Jesus is conducting ministry between the ‘regular’ folks and the people who the ‘regular’ folks want nothing to do with. And, at the end of the story, it’s not the ‘regular’ folks who notice who Jesus is. The one who finally notices that God is present is the person who, as a Samaritan and as someone with leprosy, is despised and rejected by everyone around them.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 10/09/2016.