Engaging the Word: Readings for 10/9/16 (The 21st Sunday after Pentecost)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-11; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary. In this week’s readings, Jeremiah offers encouragement to the exiles in Babylon, Paul urges Timothy to remember two basic tenets of the Christian faith, and although Jesus healed ten lepers, only one returned with thanksgiving.

Prophet Jeremiah icon c. 1750. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Prophet Jeremiah icon c. 1750. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7: This week’s reading refers to events that occurred about ten years earlier than last week’s reading. You may recall that our reading from Lamentations mourned the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC and the Babylonian Exile. The Exile, also called the Babylonian Captivity, refers to the forced detention of Jews in Babylonia following their conquest of Judah. It occurred in two stages: the first deportation in 598/7 and the second deportation in 587/6 BC.

In Jeremiah’s 40-year career, he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, but he also announced that the people of Judah would not come to a complete end—that after 70 years in exile, the people would be allowed to return home. Not in the lectionary, but after the first deportation another prophet named Hananiah opposed Jeremiah and said that the exile would last only two years. Jeremiah confronted Hananiah as a false prophet and predicted that he would be dead within the year. He was.

Our lesson this week is part of Jeremiah’s letter to the Jews who were exiled to Babylon in the first deportation. He is writing to put an end to the false hopes created by Hananiah. Basically, God’s message through Jeremiah is, don’t put your life on hold—you will be in exile for a long time. “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” He also says that they should “seek the welfare of the city” and “pray to the Lord on its behalf.”

Psalm 66:1-11: The psalmist calls on all the earth to give praise and thanksgiving for the saving love of God.

St. Paul icon, 1550. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul icon, 1550. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Timothy 2:8-15: In this week’s passage, Paul encourages Timothy to remember two basic truths about the Christian faith: Jesus rose from the dead, and he was descendant of David. This is important because for centuries Jews expected the messiah to come from the line of David. Paul is saying that Jesus is the long-awaited messiah. Scholars think another reason Paul included the reference to David is because Gnostics living in Ephesus (the location of Timothy’s church) claimed the divinity of Jesus but denied his humanity. Paul is suffering for the sake of the gospel, even to being in chains. “But the word of God is not chained.”

Paul then quotes an early Christian hymn, or perhaps an early creed.

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

Paul concludes with advice about how Timothy should minister in the presence of false teachers. Timothy should warn these people to avoid wrangling over words, and explain the word of truth.

Christ and the ten lepers by Gebhard Fugel, c.1920 Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Christ and the ten lepers by Gebhard Fugel, c.1920 Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 17:11-19: One wonderful thing about parables is that you can see the story from many perspectives. This week’s reading is the parable of the ten lepers, another parable recorded only in Luke. In the time of Jesus, the term leprosy referred to a number of skin ailments, not just the leprosy now known as Hansen’s disease. I remember that lepers were excluded from their community, and had to wear bells, and call out, “Unclean, unclean!” if they happened to be near any people. They couldn’t take part in any religious or social activities. They couldn’t touch or be touched by anyone.

Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee, and ten lepers called out to him, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus saw them and told them to go and show themselves to the priests. The priests had the authority to judge whether the disease was healed, and therefore to determine when a person was “clean” and could be restored to community. They did and all were made clean.

When the Samaritan noticed that he was made clean, he turned back and praised God. He fell down before Jesus’ feet and thanked him. “Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’”

One commentary made the point that all ten lepers were made clean, but, that because of his gratitude, the Samaritan was healed in body, mind and spirit.

Another suggests that we could consider leprosy as a metaphor for sin. We would then all be lepers, people who sin….we find ourselves at a distance from Jesus, aware of our sinfulness, our leprosy. We, too can say to Jesus, “Master! Have pity on us!” and ask him to heal us.

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