18th Sunday after Pentecost / Proper 23 (28) [by Dr Michael Gaertner]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Jer 29:1,4-7
2 Kings 5:14-17
2nd Reading
2 Tim 2:8-15
Lk 17:11-19
by Dr. Michael Gaertner, Diocese of Speyer, Germany

Most of the readings for this Sunday don’t have an obvious connection to the issues of worldwide justice, peace and the integrity of creation. In particular, an ecological perspective is absent. For that reason, only two of the readings will be explored: Jos 2:1-21, the Protestant preaching text for this Sunday, and Luke 17:11-19, the Anglican and Catholíc Gospel reading.

Joshua 2, 1 – 21

This is a wartime story. Doubtless, the description in the Book of Judges of the twelve tribes of Israel conquering the Land of Canaan is not historically accurate. But this tale about the prostitute Rahab and the spies may still be interpreted as being one of moral courage. Two men spend the night at the house of Rahab. Messengers from the king reveal them to be enemy spies. Rahab hides them and helps them escape. As a reward, when the Israelites subsequently conquer Jericho, she and her family are spared, while every other living thing in the city is destroyed on God’s orders.

It’s impossible to tell what prompted the two spies to choose to stay the night with a prostitute of all people, or what prompted Rahab not to denounce them. But the behaviour of these three people recalls many a wartime story: men seeking to relieve their sexual tensions, and women having relationships with enemy soldiers. We don’t know whether money played a role in Rahab’s behaviour, or her position as an outsider in Jericho society. But what we do know is that what she did was risky and courageous. First and foremost, she protects lives in the midst of war. Her actions prevent the deaths of two men, which seems more than faintly absurd in light of God’s genocidal order to destroy every living thing in the city. But perhaps there’s always an element of absurdity in actions of this kind, like in World War Two, when people risked their lives to hide and protect their Jewish neighbours when at the same time, millions of other Jews were being murdered. Rahab succeeds in saving two lives because she resists the logic of war –of strike and counterstrike.

All she sees is the two men who are actually standing before her. She can, and does, help them. She doesn’t think about any consequences. Because these two spies play a part in Jericho’s downfall and the destruction of every living thing. So although she manages to save her family, Rahab is ultimately a tragic figure, who was unable to prevent her city’s downfall, and indeed, may even have contributed to it.

Luke 17, 11 – 19

Out of ten lepers who are made clean, only one shows gratitude, and he is a Samaritan, an “unbeliever”. This is one of the gospel stories that breaks through the boundaries of Jesus’ mission to the People of Israel. The one sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel crosses this boundary again and again. And the leper who is healed shows his gratitude.

Gratitude is relevant to the issue of worldwide justice, peace and the integrity of creation, because it is gratitude that prompts us as Christians to work in and for the world. It is our gratitude for the loving acceptance of God, who loves us despite of all the things that separate us from Him. And it is our gratitude for nurturing us day by day. Here in Western Europe, most of us have far more than our daily bread, we are not subject to state despotism, nor are our lives in danger as is the case for so many people in other parts of the world, and was once the case for our forebears here, too. Gratitude for God’s loving affection and for the bountiful care which we are privileged to receive can be a powerful motivation to take action for others and for creation. To this end we need to call our privileged circumstances to mind time and again. We are in a similar situation to the leper who was made clean – freed from the huge burdens of life. Gratitude is not something that can be forced. And, as the story stresses, it is perhaps always the mindset of a minority. But in my opinion it is one of the gifts of God’s spirit that Christians can ask to receive.

by Dr Michael Gaertner, Diocese of Speyer (Germany); translated by Anja Huebel