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Taking lessons from a Samaritan

Preacher looks at the lone leper who thanked Jesus for healing his skin disease

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Marissa Galván-Valle, Spanish-language editor for the Presbyterian Publishing Company, preached on the healing of the 10 lepers during Wednesday worship in the Presbyterian Center Chapel. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — In Luke 17:11–19, 10 people with a skin disease are healed, yet only one — a Samaritan — felt compelled to thank Jesus for his healing.

In Wednesday’s chapel service at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, the Rev. Marissa Galván-Valle, Spanish-language editor for the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, shared lessons from this well-known Bible story.

“It didn’t matter that Jesus and the leper were from different places. It didn’t matter that nobody wanted to be near lepers or Samaritans. Jesus did,” Galván-Valle said, quoting from “The Thankful Man” in “Growing in God’s Love: A Study Bible.”

If you had leprosy or any skin disease considered severe, you were condemned to live outside the city separated from family and friends, she explained. The only way to resume interaction with others was when a priest, not a physician, made the required sacrifice after determining the disease had been cured.

So, first there is a lesson of survival and endurance under difficult circumstances. “They did not lose hope,” Galván-Valle said. “They are always on the lookout for that hope. When Jesus comes along, they raised their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, show us mercy!’”

Their hopes are realized when Jesus heals them, restoring their health, their relationships and their lives.

Next the Samaritan teaches us the proper response to grace. “We celebrate. It’s nice to celebrate, but we also need to be careful that celebration does not overshadow the real sense of gratitude that recognizes the gift that has been given,” Galván-Valle said. “Our response to any act of God’s grace should be thanks and praise to God and not just celebration.” Or as author Anne Lamott says, two of our prayers should always be “Wow!” and “Thanks.”

In addition to preaching, music plays an important role during weekly worship in the Chapel at the Presbyterian Center. (Photo by Rich Copley)

So, this man chooses to have hope and chooses gratitude over celebration, but other lessons may not be so obvious. Lessons such as choosing gratitude over religious validation. “For him his praise and gratitude to the one that has restored his life is more important than going to the one that will probably refuse to validate his religious and legal existence because he is a Samaritan,” she said.

“His choice is a warning to us, to the church as a religious institution or to any institution that tries to determine worth or importance,” Galván-Valle said. This is a warning to any church that says things like, “You can come in, and you have to stay out. You’re deserving of grace; you are not. We give you papers here. We won’t give you papers here.”

The warning she said is: “You are not and will not be essential as a giver of grace if you choose to reject the foreigner and the different. You will not be essential. You will not be important. God’s work will happen with or without you.”

Some may think, “Oh, we are the keepers of the gate. But in the end, you will be discarded in favor of places of true grace, true health and true salvation,” she said.

Another lesson, suggested by visiting musician Marcus Hong, Director of Field Education and assistant professor of practical theology at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, is that the Samaritan chooses gratitude over obedience.

Jesus gives specific instructions to go and show themselves to the priest. Yet, this man chooses not to follow instructions. “Sometimes instructions are there to guide, and not necessarily to do,” Galván-Valle said. “So, he chooses to go to Jesus instead of going to the priest.”

The Samaritan, she said, teaches us that “Gratitude and praise are more important than following plans that lead to places of injustice and rejection.”

Galván-Valle recently learned that her mother had to deal with the challenge of learning in a  language not her own while she was a student at a university in western Puerto Rico founded by a Presbyterian minister. The school offered an education, yet most of the teaching and the teachers spoke English only.

“The students did not know the English language well enough to pass a class or to graduate. Some of them struggled to gain knowledge, some of them were put on probation, as she was, which I didn’t know,” Galván-Valle said. “She decided not to go back. Some of the students failed.”

“As I look at my mother and others like her, and I think about people like the Samaritan, who find obstacles to health, to education, to restoration and to living with rights and justice … I marvel. I go ‘Wow’ at their resiliency, at their hope, at their strength and at their gratitude to a God that has always looked to them as God’s priority, even when society says otherwise.”

She added, “My mother, after having us, decided to go back to university, studied, graduated, worked her whole life, and gave us a good life. ‘Wow’ I am grateful … I am thankful … I am amazed.”

Galván-Valle quoted Camille Pissarro, a 19th century painter born in the Caribbean, who said, “Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing.”

“The lessons from the Samaritan,” Galván-Valle said, “invite us to do the same.”

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