Boarderlands

In the northeast of France there is a small sliver of land known to history as Alsace-Lorraine.  Known for it industrial strength in the latter half of the 19th century, Alsace-Lorraine became a coveted piece of property for the Germans who ultimately took it from France after winning the Franco-Prussian War. For 47 years, from 1871 until 1918, it was a part of the German Empire.  For most of that time, Germany ruled Alsace-Lorraine with great attention, for fear of losing it back to France.  After World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, France reclaimed its territory, but realizing that 47 years and some continued German interest during World War was enough to establish some pretty distinct habits, the French government gives Alsace-Lorraine a lot of autonomy, allowing local law to reign.   Such is the messiness of a borderland.

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While on his way from Galilee, where much of his teaching took place, to Jerusalem, where he would be betrayed, tortured, crucified, and buried, Jesus and his disciples had to pass through the unseemly territory of the Samaritans.  Like Alsace-Lorraine, Samaria was something of a disputed territory.  The Samaritans were descendants of the Jews, but were those who had been left behind in the Babylonian Exile.  They married those outside of Judaism, they adjusted their worship in light of the destruction of the Temple, and because of that, they were resoundingly hated by the Jews.  That this unclean territory existed between Galilee and Judea meant that there was a wide swath of borderland to pass through as one traveled between the two.

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we find Jesus precisely in that messy place; en route to Judea, he is somewhere between Galilee and Samaria.  To make matters worse, and to clarify that he really was in no man’s land, Jesus and his disciples happen upon a leper colony.  In all of history, there might be no more an in-between place than a leper colony on the border between the Jews and the Samaritans.  You might not want to waste as much time as I have on this borderland thing, but the placement of this story geographically is worth noting.  The preacher might want to help her congregation see just how “out there” Jesus is in this moment because while we read this story as being about forgiveness, if we focus on  Jesus, then this story is all about crossing boundaries.

With compassion, Jesus reaches across the boundaries of geography, of politics, of religion, in order to care for those who have been permanently placed in no man’s land.  They have been removed from society.  They no longer have an identity beyond “leper.”  Note that the tenth leper who returns to give thanks isn’t identified as a Samaritan until after his healing takes place.  These lepers weren’t even considered human beings.  And yet, Jesus sees them.  He treats them as worthy of love and care.  In that place of in-betweeness, Jesus heals them, restores their humanity, and makes them whole.

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Worship?

Every time the story of the 10 lepers comes around, I’m struck by the one who returns.  Of course, that’s the point of the story, that we should deal with the one who returned to Jesus, so obviously it should be striking.  I mean, first of all, he’s a Samaritan, which brings with it all sorts of socio-religio-political baggage, but I’m not going to deal with that today.  Instead, what gets me is how he responds to his healing.

Luke tells us that the man, seeing that he was healed, “turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” (Lk 17.15b-16a)

As I read this story, I assumed that the underlying Greek word, translated as “prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet” was the word that is elsewhere translated as “worship.”  As in Luke 4.7-8, when the devil tempts Jesus to worship – literally “to fall on one’s knees and touch the forehead to the ground” – him.  That is one word, “proskuno”

I was surprised to see that the Samaritan former leper doesn’t “proskuno” Jesus, but instead he “fell upon his face at Jesus’ feet.”  Rather than use one word, “proskuno,” Luke uses a whole phrase, “pipto epi prosopon para autos pous.”

I’m pondering the inherent difference between the two.  Is it that the Samaritan was incapable of actually “worshiping” Jesus, and instead could only show reverence by falling prostrate and offering thanksgiving?  Are those deep seeded socio-religio-political issues coming to the fore in this story?  Or, are these perhaps just different ways of saying the same thing?  Was this action of the Samaritan, former-leper, such that Luke decided that it needed to be focused upon by way of six words, rather than run past in a single, well-worn, word?  When we worship the lord, are we just rushing through the motions, hoping that our three songs and didactic sermon will due?  Or, are we wiling to take the time to stop and… Fall.  Upon.  Our.  Face.  At.  Jesus’.  Feet.  ?