Biblical Text: Luke 17:11-19
I was somewhat shocked this week when I went to read what the church fathers had to say when commenting upon the text. Not shocked in a bad way, but maybe I should say surprised. Maybe it is the limits of my sources which are basically those contained in the ACCS. The ACCS is an updated form of the Catena Aurea or Golden Chain, a string of quotations and gloss that past commentators felt important. But the 10 lepers did not attract much comment, and the comments it did attract were not moralism. While I would not call them moralists, the church fathers were not ashamed to encourage holy living or acquiring virtue. (Again the could be because of later editors felt that was what was worth copying and preserving). Instead what was present was what I would call beautiful and clear allegory.
Now we think of allegory as meaning flight of fancy. I’ve read enough of it to know it can be that, but I also think that is an awful label for what was essentially a method of pondering the scriptures. After preaching for five years week in and week out, what I now recognize is a tool for preaching. The literal level is the basis, and it grounds what you say in history and the text. This is trying to understand the text in its own time. The typeological level is about bringing the specific literal to the eternal. A good reformation way of thinking of this is how does the literal story tell us about who Jesus is and his purpose and work. What does faith latch onto? The third section then asks the question: Knowing that eternal truth how do we live in the now? Having generalized the truth, how do we realize it today. The last section never loses sight of the final day. What is the final fulfullment, the eschatological or resurrection reality contained in the text. What is our hope derived from the text? Over the entire method it is a way to be grounded in the words of scripture and history while connecting it (and ourselves) to the grand story of salvation.
So, this sermon takes the form of an allegory. Not those flights of fancy, but just a way of structuring the proclamation. And to ground it further, the Hymn of the Day was A Great and Mighty Wonder. Celebrating Christmas in October might seem odd, but the hymn dovetails perfectly with what the Father’s said and what I tried to proclaim. As so often is the case, the hymnwriters preach better than the preacher.