Will you turn back and praise Jesus?

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Luke 17:11-19

 I.                    Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

To understand the significance of the few verses that we hear in Jeremiah, it’s important to understand the context of these words from Jeremiah.  The Southern kingdom of Judah was invaded three separate times.  The first time wasn’t so bad.  They got to stay in their home town.  Life didn’t change that much except that they were no longer their own kingdom.  The second invasion however took the skilled laborers and their families and relocated them, forcing them to live as refugees in a foreign land.

They get a letter from the “friendly” prophet back home, and they are hoping to get some comfort and feel a little less homesick.  This is not the message our prophet gives.  Instead he says, unpack your bags, settle in, and plan to be there for awhile.  Go ahead plant a garden; you may want some peppers and lettuce later this year.

The exiles want to know "When will we get to go home?"

“What are they to make of this unexpected news?  They are no longer in the Holy Land but in a pagan land.  They no longer have access to Mount Zion and the majestic temple of their God.  Instead they are surrounded by temples dedicated to all manner of deities.  The Babylonians with their dime-a-dozen deities have defeated the Israelites and their one God.”[1]

Jeremiah tells them to marry, settle down, have a family, and make plans for the future there.  Bloom where you’re planted.  And pray!

And this is one of the key points Jeremiah wants to emphasize:  God is not confined to one city, one temple, or one area.  Though the Israel people wandered in the desert for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land, their years of being a kingdom have caused them to forget that this God freed them from the slavery of Egypt.  Jeremiah’s “call to pray is a call to shift from understanding Israel’s God as a localized, territorial deity to understanding YHWH as a universal God who rules over all the earth and all the peoples of the earth.”[2]

How the church is like the exiles

The church today is a lot like this group of exiles living in a foreign land.  We would like to receive a letter telling us don’t worry, you’ll be coming home soon.  We hear a lot about the downward trends of membership and giving across denominations.  And when we hear the word ‘trend,’ we think it’s a fad that will pass and we will soon be back to having a full house and a generous budget.  The letter from our prophet, I think, would read an awful lot like this one to the exiles in Babylon: get used to where you are.  The culture is not what it used to be and there’s no going back.  But God is not confined to the past or to the ways we always do church.  We need to settle in, start planting seeds, and working for the future welfare of the community.

II.                 The Link from Jeremiah to Luke

Jeremiah was speaking to the exiles of the Southern Kingdom (Judah).  The Northern Kingdom (of Israel) was conquered by Assyria and cut off from the southern kingdom.  That group become Samaria (of the well-known and disliked Samaritans) from which our tenth leper hails

Why is this important?

When details are included from the text, it usually means they are important.  Even if they don’t strike us as relevant, the hearers and readers of this text would have noted them.  Luke, in particular, emphasizes Jesus’ compassion for the outsider – which is likely why he notes that Jesus healed these lepers who were so isolated and outcast from society.  The one who turns back to praise Jesus was even a Samaritan, who we remember from the story of the compassionate “Good Samaritan” is not the type of person the listeners would have expected to be lifted up as an example.  This man was a double outsider to the Jewish group around Jesus.  He was a leper.  And he was a Samaritan.

III.               The Healing of Ten Lepers

Where are the others?  Weren’t ten healed?  Was Jesus disappointed? Discouraged that the other nine didn’t also turn back to praise the one who healed them?

Where are the other nine?

Perhaps he just wanted to point out how extraordinary the tenth leper was in comparison.

 “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well”

Language gives us an added dimension to this phrase: the word used there for being made well has more than one meaning.  The concept of health and wholeness (to be made well) could be used interchangeably with salvation and being saved or rescued.

The other nine were still healed … Jesus did not take away their newfound health, they are still healed, still saved… but his statement does seem to add more to that healing.  “Jesus offers the grateful leper a wellness that runs beyond the physical.” [3]  It was not the man’s faith that saved him in the beginning, faith is not a cause and effect kind of thing.  Instead, the leper’s response to God’s rescue of him adds to the dimensions of his healing.  “Prayers of thanks are part of the soul’s healing and deliverance.”[4]

I.                    Does your faith make you well?  How?

In terms of people that Jesus encounters, we don’t usually know very much.  We know he was a Samaritan and a leper.  He was an outcast.  But we do not much outside of that, except for his actions.  What I find telling is his immediate response.  The other lepers run to their healing, probably making plans for their first course of action after being accepted back into society – like sitting down in a restaurant.  The Samaritan leper however does not wait to see if he is healed, he turns and praises God.

“The basic Christian response to God is gratitude; gratitude for the gift of life, gratitude for the world, and gratitude for the dear people God has given us to enrich and grace our lives.  The basic Christian experience is gratitude to God for God’s love in Jesus Christ and the accompanying gift of hopeful confidence and wholeness and wellness that comes with it, regardless of the worldly circumstances in which we find ourselves.”[5]

The prophet Jeremiah is right: it’s time to wake up to the reality of the world today.  It’s time to start adapting to our circumstances and praying to God, even while we live in a culture that is not predominantly Christian.  The irrepressible “good news” is that Jesus has healed us of our brokenness and calls us to a life of faith.  Our role and response is to turn and say “Thank you Lord Jesus!  Thank you!”

[1] W. Hulitt Gloer in Feasting on the Word, “Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7.

[2] [2] W. Hulitt Gloer in Feasting on the Word, “Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7.

[3] Kimblerly Bracken Long in Feasting on the Word, “Luke 17:11-19.”

[4] Kimblerly Bracken Long in Feasting on the Word, “Luke 17:11-19.”

[5] John M. Buchanan in Feasting on the Word, “Luke 17:11-19.”


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