I would like to ask the question this afternoon, What is the Good News? Or, What
is the Gospel?
In making a reply, I would like to suggest that Luke's account of the healing of the
Ten Lepers might stand as modeling of, or the presentation of, the Good News.
After that, I would like to briefly apply this model from Luke to Paul's words in First
Corinthians 1:18-31 where he says "we preach Christ crucified."
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).
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, or, we might say, at keeping people in their place, in
their strata within society and within religion.
Jesus on the other hand made it his practice to be out of place. He crossed the
line in all of the following: 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).
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 themselves; 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).
In the State of Vermont, in the United States of America, 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). In other words, gay marriage is something out of place. Gay marriage
does not fit the norms of society. It therefore corrupts society. It makes society
dirty, like ketchup on shirt makes the shirt dirty. The ketchup is out of place; the
shirt is now dirty. Gay marriage is contrary to the norm; respectable society is now
dirty where gay marriage is legalized.
Justice John Dooley, responding to the argument that civilized society has never,
within its history, enacted laws providing for gay marriage, said: "So what does
that show other than how long-standing the alleged discrimination was?" (Moats
In those words of Justice John Dooley you will find Jesus. You will find the Good
News that Jesus taught and lived. How long-standing has there been this
discrimination against those like this Samaritan? And if something must be out of
place in society in order to demonstrate the inherent worth of this Samaritan, then
society must live with the so-called "dirtiness" so that righteousness and justice
might be brought to bear upon the Samaritan.
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).
Thirteen years ago, 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 to New York City to start to make a new life for myself
more in keeping with myself as I knew and understood myself. In my heart I knew 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 hetersexual
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 an evangelical "faith in
Christ" brought nothing but internalized 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.
Unnatural. Society over turned. Values and dignity lost. No hope; outcast;
After ten years to the month, for the first time since I had left the ministry as a self-
declared gay Christian, I was privileged to give a homily in a Sunday morning
service. My first time in the pulpit to preach a sermon in ten years.
The Jews had created a "God-honored" story about the Samaritans' origins to
show that the Samaritans did not belong, that they must be excluded. In
marginalizing a people group there must be a time-honored story that makes the
targeted group less than the accepted of society. The story must be told again
and again, from generation to generation. In the case of same-sex love, the story-
of-origin is often grounded in the sacred text of Romans chapter one where the
story-of-origin ends with "against nature."
In addition to stories-of-origin, a marginalized people must be marked by day-to-
day ritualized actions.
The Samaritans were marked by certain religious restrictions which were practiced
by the oppressive party, the Jews. Marginalized people are marked by
discriminating actions that often become accepted ritual, and enshrined, by the
oppressive majority, in civil laws and customs.
The incriminating story and the unquestioned rituals create a culture in which truth
is little, if at all, recognized until someone, like Jesus, says "Who is this foreigner,
who is this Samaritan, who returns to give thanks. Is he not – in contradiction to
your inhuman stories-of-origin, your contemptible customs and your unholy rituals
– every bit the same person as you; and is he not, in this case, one who stands as
a shinning example to all of what is right and good in humankind.
And in doing so, Jesus stood with the Psalmist who wrote:
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed (Ps. 103:6).
I Corinthians 1:18-31
I would like us to consider that this is the Gospel, the Good News of the New
Testament. Let's adopt this model for the moment and apply it, briefly, to Paul's
words in I Corinthians 1:18-31, and see what we get.
What we observe is the inter-play of three elements: the cross, the oppressors
and the oppressed.
The first element is the cross and Jesus crucified on it. Rightly understood, the
cross is the power of God, the wisdom of God and, at the same time, the
foolishness of God. What is this power, wisdom and foolishness all wrapped up
together in the cross? It is simply this, that Jesus, in his subversive, "queer
unsettling" ways, was potentially destroying the very fabric of society by openly
discounting the day-to-day ritualized sanctions customarily used against the
marginalized of society. He was radically turning society upside down.
The second element in I Corinthians 1:18-31 is the oppressive culture.
Sanctimonious discrimination was practiced and accepted by both the religious and
civil leaders of the day. These were the oppressors. Paul refers to them as
(2) The wise (v19), the prudent (v19), the mighty (v26), the noble (v26) – These
have their wisdom (v. 19), their understanding (v.19) and their might (v 27); and
these are "the things that are" (v28), or the powers that be.
Paul's readers would plainly understand these to be the oppressors within society,
those who maintained the unjust social scales, the layers of strata in society, by
which the upper strata would despise and fossilize the lesser strata as subhuman
and with little to no worth.
The third element in Paul's narrative is the marginalized in society. Paul refers to
them here as the
(3) Foolish things (v27); week things (v27); base things (v28); despised things –
these are the "things which are not" (v. 28), that is, those whose standing in
society has no impact, no value.
These base, foolish, weak things are those who follow Christ in his subversive
ways. These, the oppressed, confound the oppressors, bringing them to naught.
These are the despised tax collectors, slaves, proselytes, bastards, fatherless,
eunuchs, women and Samaritans, who like Christ, upset society by stepping out of
place, showing society "how long-standing" the unjust discrimination against them
The inter-connectedness between the cross, the oppressor and the oppressed is
clearly marked in this passage: What Paul is showing is that the Good News of the
cross, which points back to the subversiveness of Christ, and undertaken now by
his followers, does, in time, overthrow – or brings to naught – the oppressor and
the unjust culture which marginalizes others as less than (v. 27, 28).
It would appear that Paul is saying that discrimination and oppression cannot stand
in the face of true Christianity where Christ's followers teach and live as Christ did
on behalf of the marginalized; that the cross, the means by which the oppressor
violently silences the subversive, is in fact the very emblem around which the
oppressed rally in order to live a life on behalf of the marginalized, even as their
Savior did, and to do so even unto death if it must be so.
This, we should consider, is perhaps in fact the Good News, that The Lord works
righteousness and justice for all the oppressed (Ps. 103:6)
Barclay, William, 1961, The Mind of Jesus, New York: Harper & Row.
Goss, Robert E., 2006, Luke, in: Deryn Guest, Rebert E. Goss, Mona West,
Thomas Bohache, editors, 2006, The Queer Bible Commentary, London: SCM
Jeremias, Joachim, 1969, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, London: SCM Press.
Moats, David, 2004, Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage, United States:
|What is the Good News?
Texts: Luke 17:11-19, Ten Lepers Healed; I Cor 1:18-31
This sermon was delivered July 11, 2010,
in the 4:00 PM Sunday afternoon service of
the Blessed Minority Christian Fellowship, Hong Kong
by Steve Parelli, MDiv., Executive Director, Other Sheep
- CHINA 2010: Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Hainan, Beijing
- INDIA 2010: Bangalore, Trivandrum, Alleppey, Cochin
preaching at BMCF,
July 11, 2010
Photo by Fergus Lo
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