This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently October 13, 2019.
This week has just about every key theological word: glory, salvation, Eucharist, healing, mercy. The word I want to draw you attention to, however, is "πιπτω," or fall. The man literally falls on his face to give God thanks. When was the last time you were not simply knocked to your knees, but you actually fell flat on your face in thanksgiving -- got so low to the ground you could smell the carpet??
I also spend some time throughout this blog reflecting on faith and healing, which have a fascinating relationship in this passage!
αλλογενης (17:18, "foreigner"): This word is used only once in the NT. It literally means "other genes." That is the kind of God we have in Jesus Christ, one who welcomes ones with other genes; not other customs, but other genes! (Okay, we know that all humans share like 99.9% of the same genes, but the point is that Jesus cares for those who have a different "genesis" than we do).
πιπτω (17.16, "fell", "threw himself" or even "prostrated"): The word here is not kneel, or pray but literally fall on his face. When was the last time you prayed with your face flat on the ground? This is common in other religions, but I rarely see Christians do this (at least, in American contexts with which I am familiar).
λεπρος ('lepros', 17.12, "leper"): The Greek is interesting here in that the word 'leper' appears before the word for man (andros). The first thing we find out is not their humanness, but their disease. The NIV and NET cover up this fact their translations. How often do we identify people by their disease and not their humanity! Perhaps part of healing is the restoration of the primacy of our human identity! To push is further, Christ's salvation means we are no longer called "fat" or "white" or "athletic" or "nerdy" but instead we are called "child of God."
ελεησον ('eleison', 17.13, "mercy"): The men today cry out, "Jesus have mercy" in the Greek, a chant we cry out weekly in our worship.
Some other words to notice:
ευχαριστω ('eucharistoo', 17.16, "give thanks"): Literally "Eucharist"; the man, from his knees, gives thanks to God!
δοχαζω ('doxazoo', 17.18 as noun; 17.15 as verb, "glory") Here it means give praise, but the word in Greek is doxe, as in doxology. Orthodoxy is meant to ensure the glory is given to God!
σωζω ('sozo', 17.19, "save") The granddaddy of 'em all -- salvation -- appears in this sentence, a reminder that, as always, spiritual and physical healing are related. When Jesus says that the man's faith saved him, we see very clearly that Luke is not suggesting "your belief in a set of propositional truths gave you keys to heaven." What Jesus seems to be saying is more on long the lines: "your trust in my word and power motivated action from you that transformed your life in a way that have experienced the salvation of God."
- For all good theologians, faith leads to action! One might even argue that in this case, it was the action resulting from the faith which produced the healing. I am not sure I want to go there, but at the very least, we see that the life-saving trust praised in the New Testament leads to action.
- Salvation and healing are bigger than life-after-death. (The only caveat from a Lutheran perspective is that even when faithful, sin mars our actions and certain our capacity to judge the actions and therefore faith of our neighbors). This is not to argue against ever-lasting life, but rather to suggest that the salvation of God comes to us here and now.
- Another possibility is to consider that the real healing did not involve leprosy, but restored relationship with Jesus, which only one participated in. I am not sure that I buy this either, but hey, this blog is about asking questions and not providing all the answers, right? :-)
ιαομαι ('iaomai', 17.15, "healed) This word comes into English in "psychiatry"
Grammar point: "Articular Infinitive"
Luke uses a whole bunch of articular infinitives. It is a construction we really don't have in English but it makes sense. 17.11 literally reads: "And it happened in the walking into Jerusalem." ' In the walking' is an articular infinitive with preposition. Which sounds complex but it means you have the following: preposition (in, with, for)+the+infinitive. In this case in+the+walking. To translate you need to figure out two things. First, who is doing the action. And second, what does the preposition mean. In this sentence, the subject of the infinitive phrase is not really given, but you can guess its Jesus and the disciples. (Reminder -- the subject of an infinitive is given in the accusative). Second, the preposition in this case, "en" signifies concurrent action. So... "And it happened in the walking into Jerusalem..." becomes "While they entered Jerusalem,"
See 17.14 to test yourself if you understand this. In fact, 17:14 highlights that the being cleansed did not happen when they heard the word of Jesus (go to the priests) but when they left Jesus. They were told to present themselves to the priests while they were unclean, either meaning that Jesus was giving them permission to be lepers in the temple or that they had faith in the certainty of their healing. A fascinating debate -- either case would be a tremendous example of their faith!
Sentence breakdown: Luke 17:16
NRSV He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
Greek και επεσεν επι προσωπον παρα τους ποδας αυτου ευχαριστων αυτω και αυτος ην Σαμαριτης
και επεσεν : Easy way to start a sentence. Ignore the kai (for now at least) and then translate the verb, 3rd person singular aorist: "He fell"
επι προσωπον: Easy preposition: Upon (a) face.
παρα τους ποδας αυτου: Similarly an easy phrase to translate: "at the feet of him." Reminder: αυτου and its various forms, 95% of the time, refer to prepositions. They can mean "very" and "same" but this happens rarely.
So "he fell upon a face at his feet." The NRSV simplifies: He prostrated himself. I like it, although some many not know what "prostrated" means.
ευχαριστων αυτω: Now the sentence gets a bit trickier. However, its still pretty straight forward (as far as circumstantial participles go!). To translate the preposition, let's plug it in:
step one: Determine what type -- circumstantial
step two: rough translation by adding "ing": "giving thanks"
step three: figure out who: "the leper"
step four: adjust tense and voice -- in this case, unnecessary.
step five: put it in the sentence: "He prostrated himself at the feet of Jesus, (the leper) giving thanks."
In this case, because neither the subject nor even the verb tense changes from sentence to participle, its plug and play!
και αυτος ην Σαμαριτης: And he was a Samaritan.
This sentence can be a good review of your pronouns!