Can anyone here name the oldest federal monuments? Last year they, yes they, underwent their first update in their long history. Some background: “The Residence Act of July 16, 1790… authorized President George Washington to select a 100-square-mile site for the national capital on the Potomac River between Alexandria, Virginia, and Williamsport, Maryland. President Washington selected the southernmost location within these limits, so that the capital would include all of present-day Old Town Alexandria, then one of the four busiest ports in the country.”1 About a year or two later, 40 stones, boundary stones, marked the territory. Nowadays D.C. itself isn’t that big, but it’s an imposing place, it’s still a place of boundaries and of stone.
It’s not the first place like that, of course. “Boundary stones were used to mark the territorial limits of states, military zones…., the limits to which the right of asylum of a sanctuary extended, and the limits (and here is where it gets interesting) of temple estates.
“Charles Clermont-Ganneau discovered one of the stelae that were placed at intervals around the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem, forbidding pagans and Gentiles from passing through the sacred enclosure: …let no foreigner enter within the screen and enclosure surrounding the sanctuary; for whoever is apprehended doing so shall be the cause to himself that death overtakes him.”2
Death is the punishment to a foreigner who dared to go where he is not allowed, who presumed to be on common ground with a faithful Jew, who dared to come near to the Living God. And so we have come to our Gospel problem today. “Was no one found,” exclaimed Jesus, “…to give praise to God except this foreigner?” That is to say, except this guy who shouldn’t even know better, who has never met God like we have, who isn’t even allowed to meet God the way we have.
It’s a problem, and it’s the reason Luke wrote this story down (there were plenty of other healing stories). This story begins with Jesus “going from Ephraim north through the midst of Samaria and Galilee so as to cross over the Jordan near Bethshean and join the Galilean caravan down through Perea to Jerusalem. The Samaritans did not object to people going north away from Jerusalem, but did not like to see them going south towards the city.”3 If you were a Jew, then, you could use Samaritan land to leave Jerusalem, the Jewish holy city, but they got miffed if you used their land to get there. Remember that Samaritans thought you were supposed to worship God on the holy mountain, Mount Gerazim, so just the act of going to Jerusalem – while bypassing Gerazim – was an insulting political act.
Jesus, in this story, was going the non-insulting way, and He happened upon the ten lepers that Luke mentioned. The lepers knew who Jesus was – remember that the Samaritans had already had contact with Him, including the woman at the well, which would have made a big splash – and so they called out to Jesus to heal them. Jesus told them to “Go show yourselves to the priests,” that is, go offer proof that you’re cleansed, and they were healed on their way. But one of them, “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” Now this guy, he was a Samaritan. A stranger. A foreigner. Even the stones cried out against this guy, this guy who had the gall to not only look upon the living God but to lay hands on Him, crying out in thanks and praise.
Sometimes we can feel like the foreigner, we can feel like we are on the outside looking in, like there are stones set so deep that we can’t possibly get past them, get past them and set our eyes on the Lord. But if the Samaritan in this story teaches us anything, it is that no one is so far away from Jesus that He can’t be seen with our eyes, even touched with our own hands. The Samaritan teaches us that when we look upon our Lord that healing is possible, that change is possible, that life, real life, is possible. And the Samaritan teaches us that when we do set eyes on Jesus, when we do grasp Him with our own hands, the only possible response is crying out in thanks and praise.
1Boundary Stones of the District of Columbia; http://www.boundarystones.org
2Bradley Hudson McLean, An Introduction to Greek Epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods from Alexander the Great down to the Reign of Constantine (323 BC – AD 337), pg 186
3Robertson’s Word Pictures.