Sunday, 4 October 2020

‘One of them, when he
saw that he was healed,
turned back, praising God’

Harvest time and harvest resources … harvest in a field near Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 4 October 2020 (Trinity XVII, Harvest Thanksgiving),

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer (Morning Prayer 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert)

Readings: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18; Psalm 65; Luke 17: 11-19

A full barn on my grandmother’s former farm near Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Gospel reading this morning (Luke 17: 11-19) is not one we readily associate with Harvest time. It is unlike the beautiful, rich harvest images in the first reading (Deuteronomy 8: 7-18), unlike the images we expect when it comes to giving thanks for the Harvest.

It is a story of sickness, both personal sickness and the deeper malaise to be found in society; it is a story of marginalisation and discrimination; and a story of the use and the abuse of religious authority and power.

But then harvest is not just about bringing in the crops and giving thanks for God’s blessings on the land – however slim they may appear to be this year. Harvest, at a deeper level, is about the restorative justice that Christ seeks as a sign of what the Kingdom of God is like.

Today is also the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi. Although he is not named in the calendar of the Church of Ireland, the friary ruins in Askeaton and Lislaughtin make him a saint to identify with in this group of parishes.

One of the best-known stories about Saint Francis is his early encounter with a man suffering from leprosy. As a young man, he found people like this man repulsive. But something drove him to get off his horse, and as the man stretched out his hand towards him, Francis embraced him and kissed him.

As he got back on his horse, Francis turned around, only to realise that he had an encounter with the living Christ. It was a meeting that changed his direction, converted his soul, and had an irreversible impact on the universal Church.

Try to imagine the horrific scene that confronted Jesus as he entered a village with no name in that dangerous zone between Samaria and Galilee on the way to Jerusalem … It is an isolated area, the sort of place where a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho could expect to be mugged, robbed and left for dead, with anyone who saw him, unlike Francis, unlike Jesus, would have rushed away hastily.

In the Gospel story, Jesus is on a road where one could be mugged (see Luke 10: 30-37), in an area where you could not expect to meet a Good Samaritan.

It is wilderness country, bandit territory. It is an area marked by discrimination and prejudice, deeply divided by sectarianism, racism and prejudice. Jews and Samaritans lived separate lives: they could not share the same food, the same shops, the same streets, even the same villages. Although they shared a similar religious heritage and stories, they despised each other.

And this is an area where those who are disabled or scarred by their physical ailments are cast aside, left on their own, without help – political, social, economic or religious.

After a long journey, as Jesus reaches this village, out from the rocks appear a rough-looking gang of dishevelled, disfigured, bedraggled, unkempt and filthy men, shouting out loudly. How dangerous are they? If they come too close, will he be contaminated too?

But these men are so desperate, so isolated, they keep their distance and all they ask for is mercy. Mercy is all they want.

And what Christ offers them is not mercy of the tea-and-sympathy sort. What he invites them to, is to be restored to, to accept again, their full place in society.

We do not know when they were healed. When they called out for mercy? When Jesus spoke to them? When they obeyed his command? Yet the healing is less important than the collective action they are asked to take. They are asked to go together and show themselves to the priests. This allowed them to get a clean bill of health so they could be restored to their place in normal family, community, social, political, economic and religious life.

The Kingdom of God is a place where all can take part in life in all its fullness. And what these 10 people are offered is a place back in society that will be an example of what the Kingdom of God is like.

The Samaritan is the only one to come back to say thank you. But I often wonder why this Samaritan even bothers in the first place to think of going to show himself to the priests. The priests could give a clean bill of health to the other nine. But they would never give one to a Samaritan. He is an outsider. Healed or not, he remains contaminated, unclean, impure, despised, rejected and isolated. He is ‘one of them.’ He has no place with us.

But Christ is saying he has. Christ is counting him in. Jesus wants him to benefit from the great harvest and to sit down at the heavenly banquet.

The action of Christ in healing the Samaritan alongside the other nine, in sending him too to the priests to claim to a full, restored place in society, tells us the Kingdom of God is there for all. All are invited in. And when we start excluding others we too become weak, we too fail to reap the rich harvest God offers us.

The Kingdom of God is offered too to the Samaritans in our midst, to those afflicted with anything that places them outside normal, acceptable life: the immigrant who is isolated because of the rise in vulgar racism; the single mother; the farmer whose harvest hopes are not being realised; the child who cannot get a special needs assistant at school; the distraught couple minding demanding and ageing grandparents; the once-successful businessman whose enterprise has gone to the wall during the lockdown; the workers who have lost their jobs and lost hope in the future.

Too often in the past, our traditional Harvest readings have been read both in a cosy, comfortable way, and in a way that separates the harvest from the full riches of creation. Yet those beautiful promises in the first reading (Deuteronomy 8: 7-18) of a rich harvest were made not in a time of plenty, but to people in the wilderness, when they had been wandering for far too many years.

Even when there is little hope at harvest time, even at times when we feel most isolated, marginalised and unloved, even in these times of Covid-19, these times of pandemic and lockdown, God promises us a rich harvest that goes beyond this year’s yields, a harvest that will be so rich that we can also build up hopes for righteousness, for justice and for love.

And when the harvest is difficult, when we are not bringing in the returns we hoped for at the time of sowing, when economic gloom and doom appear to be imminent and the pandemic restrictions seem to turn everything sour, we should remember that God’s creation is more splendid and more beautiful than anything we can imagine.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him … they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ (Luke 17: 12-13)

Luke 17: 11-19 (NRSVA):

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14 When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

‘Eternal God, you crown the year with your goodness’ (the Harvest Collect) … harvest fields near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical colour: Green (Ordinary Time, Year A).

The Collect of the Day (Harvest):

Eternal God,
you crown the year with your goodness
and give us the fruits of the earth in their season:
Grant that we may use them to your glory,
for the relief of those in need
and for our own well-being;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Collect (Saint Francis, Common Worship):

O God, you ever delight to reveal yourself
to the childlike and lowly of heart:
grant that, following the example of the blessed Francis,
we may count the wisdom of this world as foolishness
and know only Jesus Christ and him crucified,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Post Communion Prayer (Harvest):

Lord of the harvest,
with joy we have offered thanksgiving for your love in creation
and have shared in the bread and wine of the kingdom.
By your grace plant within us such reverence
for all that you give us
that will make us wise stewards the of the good things we enjoy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The cloisters in the Franciscan Friary in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Hymns:

37: Come, ye thankful people, come (CD 3)
47: We plough the fields and scatter (CD 3)

‘We plough the fields and scatter’ (Hymn 47) … harvest in fields near the banks of the River Deel in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘You make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy’ (Psalm 65: 8) … a gateway into harvest fields near Barntown, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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