If you’ve ever brought pepper spray to a Walmart on Black Friday and used it to “get ahead,” you might be a redneck. Feel free to steal my joke, Jeff Foxworthy.
If you get honked at, shot at, sprayed at, or trampled over the next few weeks, you were probably out shopping for Christmas gifts. I don’t know when it happened, but sometime between the Pilgrims’ celebratory feast thanking the Native Americans and God for their generous provision and the advent of Santa Claus, Rudolph, and Frosty, we Americans have lost sight of the meaning of the holidays. How do many of us go from thanking our loved ones for all that we have one day to camping outside to get $20 off a t.v. that no one wanted two days ago?
Jesus broached this subject when He encountered ten lepers in a small village between Jerusalem and Samaria. In those days, any defect on your skin made you a social outcast and you could not live in the city or approach anyone without yelling, “unclean!” to indicate that you had an infectious skin disease. They were used to being ignored and neglected, but they were still human and naturally gravitated towards fellow lepers for support and love.
The ten lepers “stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:12-13) They must have heard about Jesus’ healing of other lepers. They called out to Him using a term normally used by disciples. “‘Master’ denotes one who has authority consistent with miraculous power” (Green, NICNT, p. 623). Their request was also significant: “mercy is generally regarded as a divine attribute” (p. 623). In other words, the lepers called to Jesus and asked Him to be healed, knowing that He had the authority from God to do so.
Notice what happened next.When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.The once close-knit community of lepers immediately divided, each going back to their former social divisions: Jew and Samaritan. The Jewish lepers went back to Jerusalem, presumably to the Temple to have their priests look at them and declare them clean. The Samaritan leper headed towards the Samaritan temple, but when he saw he was healed, he went back to the High Priest to thank Him.
Nine of the lepers didn’t get it. Jesus came not merely to free us from the bondage of sin, but also to free us from the bondage of social caste systems that we have put in place in misguided attempts to keep us “safe.” The walls between Jew and Samaritan, slave and master, black and white, male and female, mentally ill and “sane,” rich and poor, national and foreigner, Michigan and Ohio State fan, and countless other categories have been destroyed by the advancement of the kingdom of God. When Jesus healed the lepers, He was giving a vivid picture of the freedom we now have to overcome prejudices and racism and come together as a community of believers rather than go to our separate places of worship and community. When Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?” He was probably wondering how ten lepers who had been together because they needed each other to survive could so easily separate themselves so quickly.
Jesus asked a followup question. “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Only the “foreigner” had figured out who Jesus really was. Only the “foreigner” had embraced the freedom in Christ to come boldly to the feet of Jesus after he previously only dared to call out to Him from a distance before his healing. Certainly the Jewish lepers would have thanked God for their healing, but because they did not return to thank Jesus for their healing, they had not fully understood that Jesus was indeed God in the flesh. They had been cleansed, but they had not been saved. It is like they took a shower in the mercy of God, but went right back to rolling in the mud of generations of social disease and racism. They might actually have been worse off than before; at least when they were lepers, they were free to accept all nationalities and creeds into their community. After they were “cleansed,” they neglected to take it a step further and be cleansed from the very caste system that had made them outcasts in the first place.
Jesus was not berating the Samaritan for being a “foreigner.” Instead, He praised the Samaritan, saying, “Rise and go; your faith has saved you.” All ten were “cleansed,” but only one was “saved.” Thanksgiving didn’t save the Samaritan, but it was an indication of the saving faith that he now had by recognizing the true identity of Jesus. By thanking Jesus, He was acknowledging that Jesus is God.
Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be over. As we enter the holiday season, we should act out our faith by being inclusive rather than shunning all who do not look like us or believe like us. Rather than creating dissension when someone writes Merry Xmas instead of Merry Christmas or steals the baby Jesus from the manger scene, greet people warmly with mercy and forgiveness just as Jesus does for you. Rather than denouncing everyone for being greedy consumers, give generously especially to those who don’t deserve it because that is what Jesus does for you. And rather than correcting everyone by saying Merry Christmas when they say Happy Holidays, say “thank you” and wish them the same as they wished you. Like the Samaritan leper, Christians should be known for their attitude of gratitude rather than just a bad attitude.
Suggested posts to get you in the Christmas Spirit: