Every year, for the last six years, Mike and I and our friend Deb have spent the Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend on an adventure we call Pumptacular day. We don our traditional hats, visit numerous pumpkin patches, go on hay rides, watch pumpkins being tossed from a trebuchet, and pick the pumpkins we will later carve at the end of the month. This year- was a little different- as with all of our traditions this year. It hasn’t been easy, giving up well loved traditions, but I still enjoyed seeing the bright orange pumpkins in the middle of a muddy field. I’m sure you’ve heard this metaphor before but it bares repeating. We are like pumpkins in a patch. How God picks us up, washes us clean, scoops out all that inner junk we don’t need, puts a smile on our faces and carves out a space where our light can shine. I was thinking of all of that as I trudged through a scaled down version of pumptacular day yesterday- without the usual traditions and I remembered the importance of gratitude. Yes, things are different- very different- and sometimes very difficult. But in all our running around, in all our mourning that things are different and difficult, there are moments of pause when we can be grateful, particularly for all that God has done for us and of course, this can and does happen most Sundays, but there is no better day to mark that gratitude then on Thanksgiving Sunday.
Today we hear the typical Gospel lesson that accompanies Thanksgiving Sunday. So, we leave the vineyard passages of Matthew or the commandments in Exodus that we have been studying of late, and jump right into two important themes found throughout Luke. Luke likes to draw attention to Jesus’ care for the marginalized and outcast. Luke also likes to point out that the appropriate response to Jesus is of faith and gratitude. Like the passages in Matthew, this passage in Luke takes place while they are headed for Jerusalem. Luke reminds us of this fact in the opening line.
At this point it sounds like Jesus is walking between some kind of no-mans land between Samaria and Galilee, which tells us that Jesus isn’t taking the most direct route to Jerusalem- but if I were him, I wouldn’t want to rush to get to the city where I was to meet my death either. Jesus is entering a border town. Jesus often walks between the borders of our world. In this moment Jesus is on the border of two communities, Jesus is on the border between the outer limits of the village and it’s centre, Jesus is on the border of his earthly ministry and death on the cross. In fact, Jesus could be seen as the border between heaven and earth. Maybe this year feels like a bit of a no-mans land or border between what once was and what will become a new normal. Know, that Jesus is walking with us through this border time.
As Jesus enters the village, ten lepers approach, keeping their distance, they call out. Finally, a scripture passage the refers to the importance of keeping one’s distance when faced with a highly contagious situation. When we are sick, we keep our distance. And without getting too close, Jesus doesn’t even have to physically touch them, he hears their cries for mercy and tells them to show themselves to the priests. I wonder- it doesn’t say as much- but I wonder if any of them doubted Jesus’ ability- he didn’t even touch them, how could they be healed? But en route to showing themselves to the priest they are made clean.
In case you thought that leprosy was just some disease of first century Palestine you should know that we on Vancouver Island even had our own history of quarantining people who had leprosy. However, it was also mixed with racism. From 1891-1924 (that’s over 30 years) D’arcy Island was a leper colony of Chinese immigrants. There were 49 residents. Every three months a supply ship dropped off food and coffins. So, perhaps as we suffer from covid fatigue and become tired of our isolation and physical distancing we can be grateful for the privileges we do have. After all gratitude is the theme of the day.
The focus of the Gospel story narrows in on one of the lepers who is healed, a Samaritan. There was a lot of hostility between Samaritans and Jews due to various opinions including the location of the temple. What is interesting is that Luke refers to Samria and Samaritans more than any other Gospel writer. This is likely because it was important for Luke, both in his Gospel and the Book of Acts, to demonstrate the universality of Jesus’ mission and ministry. There is no better example than to demonstrate how two rival communities can be made whole through Christ. You might recall that Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan as part of a conversation on how one is to inherit eternal life by loving God and loving neighbour. The Good Samaritan in the parable demonstrates neighbourly love.
In our story this morning the Samaritan leper, upon seeing that he is healed, turns back, praising God with a loud voice and he prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet thanking him. He demonstrates Godly love. This double outsider, a Samaritan leper, is the only one to give gratitude. It is then that Jesus says, “your faith has made you well.” Which is a bit confusing since Jesus healed all ten without any discussion about their faith. However, a more literal translation is, “your faith has saved you.” This Samaritan is healed far beyond his physical ailments.
Meda Stamper puts it this way, “The Samaritan’s thanksgiving and prostration at Jesus’ feet; his recognition that God is at work when Jesus notices and heals hurts and brokenness that are not noticed by others; his understanding that to thank Jesus is to glorify God: this is the manifestation of faith that makes well.” True gratitude can have a healing affect that goes beyond just stating thanks, it can change our perspective, it can make us well, it can save us. Gratitude at this time may be a little more challenging- this world has suffered much in the last 10 months, but it is this gratitude that will help us get through it. And note, that this gratitude is not just about having a thankful heart but prostrating one’s self at Jesus’ feet. It is a faithful response to God.
Today I am thankful that I am like a pumpkin. That God has picked me up, washed me clean, scooped out all that inner junk I don’t need, puts a smile on my face and carves out a space where light can shine. Give thanks to God, be made well, let your faith save you. Amen