The Lord works Justice for all the Oppressed
or Thank you, Jesus, Thank you
Text:  Luke 17:11-19,
Ten Lepers Healed – One Returns to Give Thanks
This sermon was delivered
October 7, 2007, in the 11:00
Sunday morning service of
Grace Episcopal Church,
Vineyard Haven,
Martha's Vineyard,
Steve Parelli, MDiv.,
Executive Director, Other
Sheep (  
Rev. Robert Hensley is the

As a child in Sunday school, upon hearing Luke's account of the
healing of the Ten Lepers, the lesson that was impressed upon us was this:  
always be grateful and remember to say "thank you."  

And while that lesson is important, Luke's focus is not so much on the act of
giving thanks, but on who the person was who gave the thanks.  Luke is very
careful to tell us that the leper who returned "was a Samaritan."  And
Jesus, even though he does ask "Were there not nine others who were
healed?" is not emphasizing the ratio of one out of ten, but rather that the
one who did return was a "foreigner."  "No one returned, except this
foreigner," Jesus says.  The other nine are presumably all Jews.

Luke wants us to understand that Jesus is highlighting not what the leper
did – return and give thanks – but who the leper was – a Samaritan, a
Foreigner – an individual in society who was marginalized,  not foremost for
being a leper, but because of his people:  he is a Samaritan, a foreigner.

The Samaritans proudly stated that they were descended from the Jewish

The Jews, however, gave no credence to the Samaritans' claim. Instead, the
Samaritans were foreigners.  They were Cutheans of the country of Cutha in
Persia.  The Assyrians, in the 8th century BC, had removed the Cutheans to
Samaria, establishing a Median-Persian colony (Jeremias 1969: p355).  Any
claim to "blood affinity with Judaism" by Samaritans, was scornfully put in
check by Jews (Jeremias 1969: p355).  
Because they were foreigners, they were
treated as Gentiles.  There were certain
restrictions, much exclusion, and
intermarriage was absolutely forbidden.  The
unleavened bread of a Samaritan could not
be eaten by a Jew at Passover; to eat, at any
time, of an animal slaughtered by a Samaritan
was also forbidden on the grounds that the
Samaritan may have directed his thoughts to
an idol while killing the animal (Jeremias
1969: p356).

One hundred years after Christ, a Rabbi
speaks of the Samaritans has "having no law
nor even the remains of a law, therefore they
are contemptible and corrupt" (Jeremias
1969: p358).

So, in John's gospel we have the Samaritan
woman saying to Christ, "the Jews have no
dealings with the Samaritans (John 4:9).  
One Bible scholar explains: As one descends
down the social scale, at the lowest strata,
are the Samaritans (Jeremias 1969: p352):  
After despised trades like tax collectors,
after Jewish and Gentile slaves, after
proselytes, freed gentile slaves, Israelites
with serious blemishes like bastards, the
fatherless and eunuchs.  And after women.  
Samaritans are at the bottom of the social
order (Jerimias 2006).

So, when Jesus says, ‘Were not ten made
clean? But the other nine, where are they?
18Was none of them found to return and give
praise to God except this foreigner?’ (Luke
17:17, 18) he is setting the Samaritan as the
standard, the model, the example, someone to
imitate.  For his Jewish listeners, this was
contemptible, demeaning, and humiliating
(Jerimias 2006: p358).

In the State of Vermont, when the courts
were hearing arguments against gay marriage,
one brief against the appeal said:  "At stake
in this debate is the very foundation of our
social order" (Moats 2004: p128).  Dirt:  
something out of place.

Justice John Dooley responding to another
like argument said:  "So what does that show
other than how long-standing the alleged
discrimination was?" (Moats 2004, p134)

In those words of Justice John Dooley you
will find Jesus.  How long-standing has there
been this discrimination against those like
this Samaritan?  And if something must be
out of place in order to demonstrate the
inherent worth of this Samaritan, then live
with the dirtiness.

Robert Goss tells us that "Jesus transgresses
the social boundaries in order to create . . .
the reign of God"  (Goss 2006: p540).

The biblical scholar Halvor Moxnes uses the
word 'queer' as the best term to
characterize Jesus:  "To use the term queer
of Jesus describes the unsettling quality
about him" (Goss 2006: p526).

Ten years ago this very month, in the church
where I had been pastoring for ten years, I
stood in the pulpit for the last time.  As I
preached I heard myself say within me, this
is my last Sunday. And so it was.  I quietly
disappeared in the days that followed.  I
literally dropped out of sight without leaving
behind even a letter of explanation.   Gone –
on the Dover train.   In my heart I was
nothing more than a Samaritan leper:  twice
an outcast:  a leper; a Samaritan.  You see, I
am a man drawn physically and emotional to
other men; puberty played a cruel trick on
me:  when my class mates were reveling in the
joy of discovery, I was cowering in confusion
and despair living with a sexual orientation I
could not change or shake, and because I was
"this way" society left me as poor, broken,
bruised, a prisoner in my own body.  My
claims to a "faith in Christ" brought nothing
but scorn and shame – that is, if they were to
know.  I knew.  And I knew what they would
say about me.  Dirty: out of place.  Society
over turned.  Values and dignity lost.  No
hope; outcast; unclean.

But today, after ten years to the month, for
the first time I have been privileged to give
a homily in a Sunday morning service.  My
first time in the pulpit to preach a sermon in
ten years.

What would you say if you were me and
reading from today's selected text?

I think you would say, like the unjustly
despised Samaritan, now cleansed of his
leprosy:  Thank you, Jesus, thank you.  And
like the Samaritan, who with a loud voice
praised God, you would, per chance, join in
song with the Psalmist, and shout:

    The Lord works righteousness and
    justice for all the oppressed (Ps. 103:6).

    He has scattered abroad his gifts to the
    poor, his righteousness endures forever
    (Ps. 112:9)

    O Lord, you have delivered my soul
    from death, my eyes from tears, my
    feet from stumbling (Ps 116:8) . . . You
    have freed me from my chains (116:16c).
    . . Great is his love towards us (Ps 117:

Oh, by the way, did I mention:  This Friday
is National Coming Out Day.  

"Thank you, Jesus," says the Samaritan and  
all those who are poor, despised,
brokenhearted and in prison, "Thank you,

When Jesus stood before Pilot, he was charged with perverting the nation (Luke 23:2).  As Mary
Douglas notes, The Jews value system was habitually expressed in a given arrangement of things
(Goss 2006: p540).  Jesus had upset the given arrangement of things, bringing into question the
validity of the value system.

Jesus' ruthless enemies – the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the priests –  were strict adherents
and keepers-of-the gate of the Levitical purity (or cleanliness) codes.  Holiness and cleanliness
were strongly linked (Goss 2006: p540).

Dirt is "matter out of place" (Goss 2006: p540). A dirty shirt is a shirt with some kind of matter
on it that doesn't belong there.  Milk, ketchup. - these in themselves are not unclean; but when
they come in contact with the shirt, the shirt is now unclean.  The milk, the ketchup does not belong
on the shirt.  But there it is.  Applied to society – to the body and to the people as a whole –
purity is keeping bodily functions and people in place.  The religious leaders were experts at
keeping matter in its place.

Jesus on the other hand made it his practice to be out of place.  He crossed the line in all of
these:  tithing; washing of hands; proper preparation of meals; eating with suspect people; touching
the unclean bodies of lepers; placing his hands on a corpse; coming into contact with menstruating
women; allowing himself to be kissed by a sinful woman, and healing a crippled woman on the
Sabbath  (Goss 2006: p540).
Luke 17:11-19
The thankful healed,
Samaritan leper
How was this – things and
people out of place - the
coming of the Kingdom of
God?  Let me tell you how:  
In the words of William
Barclay,  the religious
leaders of the day
"narrowed the love of God
until it included only
Jesus widened
the love of God until it
reached out to all men"
(Barclay 1961: p138) . . .
the poor, the
brokenhearted, the
captives, the blind, the
bruised . . . as Jesus
declared concerning himself
in the synagogue at
Nazareth: "The Spirit of
the Lord is upon me,
because he hath anointed me
to preach the gospel . . . to
the poor, the
brokenhearted, the
captives, the blind and the
bruised" (Luke 4:18).
Luke 17:11-19
The thankful healed,
Samaritan leper

Barclay, William, 1961, The Mind of Jesus, New York: Harper
& Row.

Goss, Robert E., 2006, Luke, in: Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss,
Mona West, Thomas Bohache, editors, 2006,
The Queer
Bible Commentary
, London:  SCM Press.

Jeremias, Joachim, 1969,
Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus,
London:  SCM Press.

Moats, David, 2004,
Civil Wars:  A Battle for Gay Marriage,
United States:  David Moats.
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Aquinnah Cliffs, Martha's Vineyard
Above photo:
Rev. Robert
Hensley, Rector of
Grace Episcopal
Church, Vineyard
Haven, Martha's
Grace Episcopal Church
Vineyard Haven,
Martha's Vineyard
1720 Guest House, Bed & Breakfast
Steve & Jose speak to the
Martha Vineyard PFLAG,
Sunday, 2-4pm, Oct. 7, 2007
at Grace Episcopal Church, Vineyard Haven
Diner in the parsonage with Rev. Hensley
and his partner Mike (forward left)
Sunday evening, October 7, 2008
On this page
  • Steve's Sermon The Lord works Justice for all the Oppressed delivered at
    Grace Episcopal Church, Martha's Vineyard
  • Steve and Jose speak  before Martha's  Vineyard PFLAG
  • Diner in the home of Rev. Robert Hensley, Rector of Grace Episcopal

Photo Below:
Rev. Priscilla and Rev.
Michael Allen reading Rob
and Mike's Marriage
Steve on the ferry to
Martha's Vineyard,
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Steve &
west end
8, 2007
Above Insert:
Michael pointing out
neighboring islands to
Jose from Aquinnah,
Martha's Vineyard, Monday
morning, October 8, 2007
Sun setting over Long Island Sound, Connecticut  shore line, Steve
and Jose returning home from Martha's Vineyard to New York City,
Monday evening, October 8, 2007
Above Photo:  Aquinnah Cliffs, Martha's Vineyard
Photo Lower Left:
Jose Ortiz  with the Marriage
License of Rev. Robert
Hensley and Michael Hegert
For the 2007 Print Version of this sermon,
The Lord works Justice for all the Oppressed
Woods Hole, Massachusetts
This is an
Other Sheep
For the 2009 Print Version of this sermon,
The Lord works Justice for all the Oppressed
The 2009 version was delivered at Memorial
United Methodist Church, White Plains, NY.  The
ending to this version is developed more fully