Text: “And he was a Samaritan.” (Luke 17:16)
I do believe that this short text, this short verse, this short sentence, from today's gospel reading is very instructive in dealing with some of the more insidious examples of racism that we have witnessed in the past several weeks in different parts of this country.
First of all, we should notice that Jesus healed ten lepers of their diseases but only one came back to thank him for being restored to wholeness and health. Perhaps, the other nine had genuine excuses why they couldn't return to give thanks but the fact remains that only one—a Samaritan—returned to express his gratitude at the feet of Jesus.
That is a lesson in itself but this morning I am not going to focus on this man's gratitude but on his nationality, his ethnicity, his race, if you will. In those days Samaritans were looked down upon, especially by the Jews, as being less than pure racially. They were in a sense country bumpkins, unsophisticated and uneducated, and had the audacity to claim their own center of worship.
This was a far cry from the days when
Eventually, the southern
Contact with these half-breeds as it were was forbidden and any social intermingling was expressly ruled out under Jewish purity laws. As a matter of fact, custom dictated that if you were traveling along the road and a Samaritan came along you were to go to the other side of the road less the very air from his person pollute you as you walked by.
And yet, Jesus in at least three instances praises the Samaritans with whom he comes into contact or through whom he told his stories—thereby teaching us that we are not to exclude from our midst the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the left out, and the left behind. All are welcome at the Lord's table, particularly those whom society ostracizes and looks down upon.
In today's gospel reading, it is the Samaritan—the one who is ostracized and looked down upon—that returns to give thanks for his healing and is commended by Jesus for so doing. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is the foreigner, the stranger, the social outcast, who is commended by Jesus for doing something to help the victim who had been robbed and beaten and left for dead on the roadside.
When Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well, his own disciples were amazed that he was in conversation with a woman from Samaria, whose reputation was besmirched by having been married again and again and again. In those days, no woman dared approach a Rabbi, let alone speak to him. And certainly not a woman from
And yet this conversation eventually led to the woman's salvation and she became an evangelist (a bringer, a messenger, of good news) in that she brought her entire village to Jesus so that they might come to believe in him—not through the woman's word as before but because of what they had heard from the lips of Jesus himself.
I mention these three incidents because I wish to make a point that Jesus through his message and action shows us how to treat those who are foreigners and strangers among us—those whom we tend to look down upon, those whom we ostracize as a nation or as a church, those who are different from us in terms of race, or ethnicity, or nationality, or sexual orientation, or status, or gender, or age, or by any of the things that tend to separate from one another.
Over the past several weeks, our country has been shocked by one incident after another of overt racism. During the summer, we heard of the “Jena Six” at a high school in
Then we heard of a young African American woman kidnapped by a group of white people in West Virginia and held hostage in a trailer where she was tortured and subjected to the most inhumane treatment at the hands of her captors. Even the local sheriff said that he had not seen anything worse and more degrading in all his working life.
Then we read of a black police officer on Long Island who found a noose in the precinct where he worked because he dared to challenge long established prejudices and to speak up for his rights as a human being and as a police officer. Then we heard of a college professor who found a noose hanging on her office door in the Department of Psychology at
I now gather that there have been similar incidents of this kind around the nation so much so that a definite trend can be seen by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. The civil rights gains of the 50s and 60s are being slowly eroded before our very eyes and a disgusting return to racist and bigoted attitudes and practices are now an alarming trend in a country that is supposed to value the dignity and integrity of every human being.
Swastikas and other signs of hate are more and more to be seen on the doors of Jewish synagogues and the grave stones in Jewish cemeteries. These are dreadful reminders of an era in human history that others of a similar mindset and disposition would like to foist upon us once again if we do not wake up from our long deep slumber and see what is happening in the world about us and around us.
My sisters and brothers, we have to teach our children and grandchildren continually that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God and that our inherent dignity as human beings come from the hands of a loving and compassionate Creator. No one is to be treated with less respect and less dignity because of his religion, or her race, or his age, or her gender, or his nationality, or her ethnicity, or his sexual orientation, or her color.
In a society that sometimes deliberately and intentionally challenges these values, we must teach our children and grandchildren that every human being is infinitely precious in God’s sight and is to be affirmed and respected and celebrated—as much as Jesus himself praises the Samaritan in today's gospel reading, and in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well—outcasts even in Jesus’ time but recognized and praised and affirmed by Jesus himself.
We, his followers and his disciples, can do no less. We must always strive to do more. But we can do no less than to honor and respect the outcast, the stranger, the foreigner, in our midst and remind them that they too are created in the image and likeness of God and that they also are to extend these same courtesies and respect to us and to our children if we are to live together in this beautiful land as one people and one nation with one destiny, whose national motto is: “Out of many, One.”