Luke 17:12-19: The False Tribe

At that time, as Jesus entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then 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’s feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

I have a hard time seeing what the other nine lepers did wrong. Jesus said, “go to the priests.” They went to the priests.

In the Jewish law, when you were cleansed of a disease that was contagious, you could only leave your quarantine by going to a priest and having it confirmed that you were clean. Then you did some sacrifices, and were declared ritually clean.

Actually, you had to bring, amongst other things, hyssop- an herb. And the blood of a bird would be sprinkled on you in order to declare you ritually clean. This is what Psalm 50 is referring to when it says, “sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be clean.” After that you could rejoin the sacrificing community.

There was one foreigner in the group of lepers. He could not join the sacrificing community with or without leprosy. But Jesus told all of them to go to the priest. The foreigner turned around and came back to Jesus. We know that Jesus is the true high priest. Perhaps that man also understood.

This is a story that speaks to us about tribalism. And it is a story that confronts us, and asks us to consider who it is that is our real high priest? Who gives us security in life? Who is going to make our society and our communities safe? Who is it that tells us “you are clean”? Who has the power to verify for us that we are on the right path, that everything is okay? Or more importantly: there might be one group who can tell us that we are clean. Jesus can make us clean.

If we can be members in good standing of a tribe or a people, which tribe is it? What group do we need to belong to, in order to know that we belong? The Samaritan leper knew that he did not have a people to belong to (yes, there was a Samaritan people, but when the Jewish rabbi healed him he realized, probably, what Jesus told another Samaritan: “salvation is from the Jews.”). He only had Jesus who had healed him.

This is probably the most important point I am going to make in this sermon, and the pity is that it comes so early. There is real pain in not belonging. There is real suffering for humans when they do not belong to a group. And many of us, especially if we have moved around from place to place, feel permanently lonely, on the outside looking in. Just being outside is suffering.

Christians in the western world, a world that used to be majority Christian, are rediscovering the pain of being outsiders. Our parents did not really know this pain in the same way. I’m concerned for the children. If we have a society where we teach people the wrong things, then there are going to be negative consequences. People are going to suffer.

But outside of the tribe, that is the place where we meet Jesus. And so the question is whether we also understand that we do not have any tribe of any value apart from Jesus.

The epistle today said: “Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.” When we have allowed ourselves to depend on a tribe too much, we become blind to how dependent on the tribe we have made ourselves. We are blind to our fear of what will happen if we lose the tribe. Our tribe becomes our God and we don’t need Jesus nearly as much as we need our tribe. Jesus is welcome only if he can fit into the tribe.

How do we know that we are in this state? For me, I know I have become wedded to my tribe when I find myself hurt and angered by how many people surround me that I disagree with. We are surrounded by people who think differently than we do. We know people who used to think the way we do, but they changed their minds.

When did I start thinking I have the right to be surrounded by people who agree with me? I know I am in a tribal mindset when I think that there are too many of them (whoever “they” are) and they are not listening to us. “How can they say that? How can they think that way?” That is the tribal mindset.

So one way that tribalism shows up in our lives is an anxiety about different people. In our day, yes there are some people who have anxiety about race, or about foreigners being in the country, but I think that the most prevalent form of tribalism is political.

Another aspect of tribalism is when we feel anxiety about how much of ourselves we have to sacrifice in order to belong to the tribe. We worry about fitting in. Just like a carpenter might have to shave off part of a piece of wood, and trim a bit off the edges to make it fit, we often find that we have to damage our own identity in Christ in order to fit in. It hurts when we are afraid that that the people we want to be friends with won’t be our friend if they know what we truly think; if we suspect that the price of having friends is to pretend to be someone we’re not – to hide part of ourselves as if you’re ashamed of it.

Another aspect of tribalism is when there is someone who agrees with me, but that person is a bad ambassador for my point of view. There are people who agree with me on an issue who are cruel, who are bullies, rude and pushy

They say hateful things – all to defend a point of view that, I guess theoretically, I agree with. But I’m so ashamed of how they behave that I almost wish I didn’t agree with them. But that’s the price of tribalism.

In that situation many of us choose either temporarily or permanently to suffocate our conscience, and instead say and think the things that will give us friends. That means that we go around with a guilty conscience all the time. We are afraid we will be found out. Our inner dialogue says, “if my friends knew what kind of a church I go to they wouldn’t be my friend. If people at my church knew what I really think they might not accept me.”

If you are trying to hide who you are, and hoping they don’t find out, you will start to think like tribe whose approval you want and your actions will become opposed to Jesus, not just your words.

Many of us like to think that we are courageous in defending the victims of society. We think, for example, that if there is a person who says that they are born a certain way, if they say that they have this deep desire to live a certain lifestyle then it is monstrous for anyone to ask them to not act on that desire. They say are victims of a society that does not accept them as they are.

Ask yourself if that line of reasoning is really consistent with your Christian faith? How can you be expected to repent of your sins if it is a monstrous idea for anyone else to self-regulate? If what I desire determines who I am, why am I trying to put on Christ?

Do you take the side of the people that society today calls victims, because you really understand what a victim is? Or is it because you are afraid to become a victim of their intolerance?

The gospel says that Jesus liberates the sinner from the slavery of sin. But people object to that and say, “how dare you tell me what I can and cannot do. This is who I am!” And you have to ask yourself – if you are indignant together with those people – indignant against the gospel of Jesus Christ – because you truly care about the sinner, or because you are virtue-signaling to the woke tribe?

The nature of sin is that it hates to hear sin be called out as sin. People who have chosen a lifestyle that destroys the humanity God gave us will always try to punish those who speak of and embody the humanity of Christ. The people that you virtue-signal to, the people that society tells you are victims, will very seldom defend your right to worship according to your conscience. It is very rare for those same people to recognize followers of Christ as victims of intolerance. It is not a two-way street. Your post-Christian tribe is not loyal to you.

“Well that’s okay,” you might think, “I don’t need anyone’s sympathy.” But do you want to embolden those who persecute your fellow Christians? Do you want to be standing shoulder to shoulder with those who in a few years’ time might punish your children for calling themselves Christians?

You remember that Peter denied knowing Christ. When Peter denied Christ, he did it because he thought they were going to arrest him together with Christ. Peter was the one who had proclaimed that he wanted to die together with Jesus! “I’ll do anything for you!!”

That is the great tragedy of denying Christ. You begin by hiding the truth but you end up being someone you don’t want to be. That’s the one form of tribalism.

Then there is another method of dealing with the tension between our faith and the people around us. This is another method that also fails. Instead of fitting into the flavor-of-the-week tribe, we join the angry push-back tribe. This is a tribe that doesn’t try to fit in. This is a tribe that exists in order to defeat the others. It has no real vision except why others are wrong. If we belong to this tribe, we make ourselves out to be martyrs just because we have been insensitive and have made others uncomfortable. Just because I was aggressive and obnoxious and other people’s feelings were hurt, that makes me the victim, and proves that I was right.

It is if Jesus needs us to defend him. And the result is that we create this counter-culture of anger and judgment. What it means to be one of us is that we are not one of them. This tribe’s gift to the world is its opinions and judgments. Not prayers. Not repentance. And this tribe is bewildered when the world is not grateful.

These two forms of tribalism are actually very similar. On tribe fosters a sense of belonging by displaying their wokeness by virtue-signaling. The other tribe can only ever say who they oppose but are never able to say who they love.

Let’s read the epistle reading from yesterday

Hebrews 13:7-16

Brethren, remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God consider the outcome of their lives, and imitate their faith.

This is one of the great gifts that Orthodoxy has to offer to Western society. We remember those who gave us our faith. We listen to them. We worship with them. We are in communion with the people who taught us our faith. We do not throw them under the bus in order to gain the approval of our peers. We ask for the prayers of the saints who have taught us.

The price of being woke is often that we have to forget about or outright reject those who came before us.

Paul continues:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.

Following Christ is always going to entail being an outsider. Being a Christian is always a counter culture. The problem comes when people think that there was a time, say fifty or a hundred years ago, when Christianity was not a counter culture. If it was not a counter culture it was not Christian.

Being Christian is always a counter culture, but it is always a counter culture of love and humility and empathy.

St. Paul says, suffer with Christ outside of the camp. He does not say, “judge and hate the people who are inside the camp while you are sitting outside of the camp.” I said before – one of the most important points I want to make is that we are tribal because we are suffering. We are sad and lonely and afraid. We need a group to belong to.

Will we run to Jesus first? Can we trust Jesus to be all that we need?

Paul continues:

For here we have no lasting city [or tribe], but we seek the city which is to come. Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Our calling is to show the truth to the world in the sufferings of Christ. This is the fundamental difference between a tribal community and the body of Christ. The body of Christ exists to serve each other, to embrace suffering and death in order to give life. A tribe exists to protect its own, often at the cost of others. The Christian community exists only to spread the gospel. The only boundaries we put around our community are the high expectations on a life of sacrifice, holiness and service. The tribe sees and outsider who wants to join, and says, “what can you do for us?” The body of Christ sees and outsider and asks, “what can we do for you?”

If you want to be true to your conscience, but also have friends, if you want to boldly speak the truth, but you don’t want to be part of the angry mob that delights in offending people, I have really good news for you!!! You have come to the right place.

Paul wrote to the Hebrews and said, “Share what you have.”

The word for “share” is koinonia, communion. Make a communion out of what you have: an offering. This is sacrificial, liturgical language. Likewise, when the one leper in today’s gospel returned to Jesus, he gave thanks. And the Greek word for that is “eucharist.” He gave a eucharist to Jesus.

What I am saying is that your need to belong, and your need to champion what is right and righteous are both met in the eucharistic communion right here in the church. This is a place where your sharing is urgently needed.

People come to church hurt and in urgent need of comfort. Share your time with them. Share your presence with them. Go downstairs after the liturgy today, and sit at a table you don’t usually sit at, and talk to someone you don’t usually talk to.

The life of good deeds offered to God as a sweet-smelling and fragrant offering is the life of eucharistic giving. Your good deeds are your gifts, your sacrifices. When we give, we show anyone who is watching what we really believe in. We put our money where our mouth is. There is no more potent “statement,” no more noble way to “take a stand” then serving. We believe that life has meaning when we worship God. We tell the world about that belief by showing up for church, tithing and serving.

If you are concerned that the world is going crazy, a really good thing to do about it is to give all the more to your church as an act of defiance. Show the world that love is the truth.