Jacob was about as low as a man can get and still be alive. He had done the same thing almost every day for four months. Morning again, campfire started, stinking tents belching lice ridden soldiers by the thousands; the same ugly faces, the same complaints, the same smells, the same Union Army.
With a small business, a wife and two children, he had taken little interest in the Southern Rebellion. Drafted in Brooklyn City, trained and sent to southern Maryland to guard against an invasion, he was sick of it. Every day he vowed to stop eating the weevil infested hardtack, but hunger always won out. Every day he gagged on the half rotten pork and beef. Every day he spent more time at the latrine than any human should.
Maybe today was the day he would slip away like a few others had. Maybe he would be able to evade the deserter squad and live to see his wife again. Maybe today.
There was Herman. Singing. How could he do that? Every morning singing hymns like maybe God was actually listening to him. Jacob’s family had never done with church, but here he was learning church hymns because he couldn’t avoid it.
“Hey, Herman. Why you always singin’? We in the deepest hole in Hell. Ain’t nonethin’ to be happy about.”
“You right about one thing. I ever visit Hell, I spect it be a mite nicer’n this. But you wrong about happy. Happy is having God beside me and He is always beside me so I always happy.”
“I’d be happy to have clean clothes and decent grub. Nice slice of fresh butchered pork might make me sing a hymn.”
“I’d be happy with that too. Nothin’ wrong with good grub. But I ain’t starvin’, so I thank God for the hard tack. At least we can throw it at the Rebs and knock ‘em out.”
Jeremiah’s words must have jangled the already frayed nerves of the Hebrews. They had gone through the long siege of Jerusalem and the long march into captivity. Now they were being told they were to become model citizens of the very country that attacked them.
As always, God delivers a message to the people who first hear the words and he delivers a message to us as well. God makes his Words timeless.
To the Hebrews, He says, ‘You are being punished. Settle in for the long haul. Learn to do what is right. Think about your mistakes. I have said that you will return to the Promised Land, but for now you must make the best of the bad times.’
Let’s be clear, God did not say to become Babylonians. When we read these words in the context of the whole Bible, He said, ‘Become good Hebrews.’
For Americans today, the message is the same. We live in a foreign land. Our true home is the Promised Land, that New Jerusalem John pictured so dramatically in Revelation. To be good Americans is not the same as being Americans. We can never be Americans when America is wrong. We must always be citizens of Heaven first and citizens of America second.
But doing that is not always so easy. There is currently strong debate over national health care and Christians on both sides (or the two main positions) have reasonable arguments based on the Bible. I’m not going to take a position here except to stress how important it is that we consider all that God has said. In addition, it does not matter to a citizen of Heaven what happens. We will live a life of joy with or without health care.
Verse 11 of the Psalm reading: You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. And yet, we praise God. No matter what happens. Bankruptcy, infidelity, divorce, children gone wild, disease, hunger, God is with us and wants a better life for us and will give us that life in the New Jerusalem. Now, the evil one is at work in our lives, but we praise God for what is to come.
Paul said this is my Gospel for which I am suffering. Paul was a citizen of Rome and was often beaten and imprisoned illegally. Romans were treated differently than others under the law. Yet, he only used that status when it would bring praise to God. He suffered so that others could see how devoted he was to God. He claimed Roman citizenship when that would praise God.
Paul had been on his way to a safe, wealthy, pleasant life. His family had enough money to send him to study under the most famous rabbi in history. He, at a very young age, had an important position in the Temple hierarchy. None of that was important to him after he meet Jesus. He gave up the easy life so he could suffer for God.
When Jesus met ten lepers, interesting things happened. They called to him, calling him Master, the only time that was done in Luke. Jesus did not approach or touch them. He simply told them to go to the priests. Nothing was said about healing or faith. Jesus walked on with the crowd of disciples, perhaps 200 people.
Since they were at the border between Galilee and Samaria, the ten men were probably from both regions. Being unclean, they had nothing to fear from each other. The Samaritans had to walk at least 30 miles to Mt. Gerizim to have the priests give them the ritual cleansing and the Galileans had to walk some 50 miles to Jerusalem for the same.
Samaritans had a temple at Gerizim where they offered sacrifices to Yahweh. They accepted only the Torah, the first five books, as scripture and rejected all other writings and oral teachings. That is why Jews in both Galilee and Judea looked on them with such scorn.
The Samaritan who returned to praise God and thank Jesus almost surely did so within minutes or hours. He could not have made the two day walk, done the week of ritual, and walked back in much less than two weeks. The story suggests immediacy.
The Samaritan is kneeling at the feet of Jesus, possibly even touching his feet, but he is still unclean because he did not go to the temple. For Jesus, that’s not a problem. He wonders out loud why the other nine aren’t there. Jesus spent his life on earth in constant contact with the unclean of the world. All he said to the man was your faith has made you well. Yet, all ten men were healed. It would seem that they all had faith in Jesus, but only one came to thank both God and his Son.
I assume the other nine made their way to one or the other temple for the rituals and were able to rejoin society and their families. I like to think they praised God at some point. That is what this lesson is about.
Never forget to praise God. If times are bad, thank God it’s not worse.
Be righteous and do good.