I’m knitting a lot these days because, as you know, I have a granddaughter on the way. Currently I’m working on a sweater using a pattern I used a few years ago to make sweaters for my goddaughters, who were 5 at the time. This time I’m knitting the pattern in a size for a newborn. Unfortunately I don’t have the correct size needles so I had to recalculate the pattern, adjusting it to accommodate the yarn I’m using. The first time I started to knit this sweater I realized it was going to be too big for a newborn, so I ripped it out, reduced the number of stitches, and started again. A few days later I was about half way finished when I realized that I had misread the pattern and made a serious mistake. The kind of mistake that could not be fixed. The only thing I could do was rip it out and start again. In the meantime I came down with this cold - this mind numbing, stop all movement and rest crud - that totally incapacitated me. Somehow in my head congested haze I thought I could still knit. That is until, again, about half way through the pattern I realized that I had made another serious mistake. No fixing it, all I could do was rip it out and start again. Now, finally, a little over half way for the fourth time I think I am reading the pattern correctly and thoroughly and knitting this as it should be. I mean remember, I’ve knit this same pattern twice before, it’s not new to me. But in its familiarity and with my illness I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was doing and the end result was silly mistakes. It’s a good thing it’s a newborn sweater, so tiny that ripping it out and starting over is only the loss of a few hours of work, not days and days of knitting.
This has me thinking about what it means to follow along in life and faith, thinking one knows what one is doing but not really being mindful in the process. The end result is often mistakes or at the very least a lack of deep awareness and a loss of potential. Both the reading from Jeremiah and Luke are pointing to a similar challenge - being obedient but without thought or insight, without being truly, deeply, aware. Both readings are asking people to be intensely aware of how one is living life and the relationships one is cultivating with God, self, and others, relationships formed and informed by love. Love is a profound motivator. Love can inspire one to do things one never thought possible. This love leaves one vulnerable to transformation and change, open to new life.
Like ripping out a sweater and starting over again three times because I am already deeply in love with this little baby girl who isn't even born. Love, like the love that God shows for God’s people, which is what Jeremiah is talking about. These people are miserable, forced into exile from Israel to Babylon because they lost the war with the Babylonians. In exile the people are unhappy. One false prophet is trying to cheer them and naively proclaims that they’ll be back home in two years. Jeremiah makes no such false promises. Instead he tells them that this is going to take some time, so go on with your lives, marry, have children, stay faithful, and eventually you will be restored to your homeland. No one likes Jeremiah. He doesn’t comfort them. But he tells them the truth and he tells it with love because his words come from the assurance of God and God’s faithfulness.
Likewise in the Gospel, Jesus encounters ten lepers, sick with a highly contagious skin disease, which has made them all outcasts. The lepers ask Jesus to heal them and he does. One of the lepers is an outcast of outcasts because he is both a leper and a Samaritan. The Samaritans are related to the people Jeremiah is speaking to in our first reading and related to Jesus and his followers. But the reason the Samaritans are outcasts is because when the exile to Babylon happened the Samaritans were not forced to leave. They were a lower class of people in Israel not even worthy enough to be exiled. So they remained in Israel under the rule of the Babylonians and tried to continue, as best they were able, their faith and practices as Jewish people. But when those exiled elite members of Jewish society returned to Israel, many generation later, they rejected the Samaritans and reinforced their outcast status.
So, Jesus heals ten lepers, and nine of them are “proper” members of Jewish society and can go to the temple to finish the purification rites that will allow them to return to full membership. And, they think nothing of it, just doing what they are supposed to do. But the Samaritan is a double outcast. As a Samaritan he cannot go to the temple to be purified and reinstated to society, instead he comes back to Jesus and thanks him Moved by love this Samaritan broke ranks with the standard expectation of being a double outcast and spoke directly to Jesus. Unheard of! Jesus, moved by the love of God that resides in him and is manifest though him, loves this leper back. In love Jesus and this Samaritan “outcast” break down all the barriers of expectations, all the thoughtless patterns of rote behavior. In love Jesus reveals God’s true nature, loving all people for being exactly who they are. The Samaritan was wildly excited at being loved and healed and restored to his fullness of self, and could not contain himself.
I am expanding my knitting skills in leaps and bounds as I take on new knitting projects for this yet to be born baby. I am buying yarn and needles and patterns with an abandon and an enthusiasm that is out of bounds. The people at the knitting store now recognize me and are laughing along with me at my joy and excitement.
How might this same kind of joy, love, enthusiasm, be part of my faith life as well, so that I may become fully aware of myself? How might I prevent getting stuck in the same ole same ole patterns of worship and practice of faith because they are comfortable patterns? How might I recognize the Samaritan, the outcast, in my life and welcome them with love and grace?
How might I become more vulnerable, more real, more authentic and true to the real pattern of a life of faith, and thus inspired, how might I be healed, and become something totally new?
These are questions I’m asking myself, provoked by today’s readings. Perhaps they are questions you are considering as well?
a reflection on the readings for Proper 23C: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Luke 17:11-19