Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Simple Gift of Thanksgiving

Luke 17:11-19, the gospel lesson appointed for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, is also the appointed text in the U.S. for Thanksgiving Day.  It centers on the thankfulness of the 10th leper in contrast to the other nine who fail to return and give thanks.  Noteworthy is that the healing happens to them all without condition or prerequisite.  What follows the thanksgiving of the 10th leper is a further blessing: he now knows - and so do we - that faith saves us.

(The following questions are an attempt to come to terms with some of the key issues for Law and Gospel preachers.  Law and Gospel preaching is a genre of preaching that balances the demands of God with the promises of God. For more information on this genre, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus, the Word, functions first to heal.  This is an act of grace, without condition, without demand upon the healed ones.  This is a gospel act.  Second, Jesus announces to the thankful leper that his faith has saved him.  Jesus announces his salvation.  This too is a gospel act.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no real word of law here.  Jesus does wonder that the other nine have not returned to give thanks, but they are not present for his admonishment.  Furthermore, he condemns no one.  This is not a text shaming us for not returning and giving thanks.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are those addressed by the Word. We are the healed ones and the one who returns to give thanks. We are the ones who hear from Jesus' lips, "Your faith has saved you."  We are the recipients of the good news and of healing.  We are also those who need to be reminded to return and give thanks to God.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in the text?  The call to obedience is the Word functioning to instruct us how to act in response to God's grace in our lives.  Clearly the message here is:  Be thankful.  This is a call to obedience.  When we see clearly the gifts of Jesus in our lives, we can't help but live thankfully.  It is what faith does.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Several obvious ones come from the language in the text itself:  diseased/made clean; isolated/restored to community; dying/saved.

6.  Exegetical work:  The various translations of verse 19 are interesting:  KJV: thy faith hath made thee whole; TEV: your faith has made you well; JB: Your faith has saved you; NEB: your faith has cured you.  The Greek term used in this verse is most often translated in Luke's gospel as "saved" in agreement with the Jerusalem Bible translation.  It is clearly a different word than the one used in the rest of the story where the lepers are "cleansed" or "cured."  Some writers make much of this final verse and the implications of this, while others point out that Luke also uses this word regularly for being healed.  Fred Craddock, in his commentary, says that this text can be understood as two stories; one about the healing of ten lepers and their obedience and the other about the salvation of one lost soul. (Luke, Interpretation Series, p. 202-203) This analysis, of course, hinges on the translation of this final verse.

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text? Steve Kuhl, in his working with this text, also makes much out of the distinctions between the words of healing and wholeness in the story.  In his diagnosis of the story he points out how the lepers are all pariahs - outcasts - and the invitation to go and show themselves to the priests is exactly what they are longing for - to be admitted back into the community.  They are, as Kuhl says, "cured, but not made well."  Kuhl sees that in order for us to be made well, we come to Jesus.  We return.  We repent.  And in that we are made truly well. You can see the entire analysis archived under Year C Gospel 2013 at study.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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