Kyrie Eleison

The 17th Sunday of Trinity

Luke 17;11-19

Christians should think regularly about the word “mercy”. It is not only used frequently in Scripture but is especially used traditionally in worship, although possibly less so now in modern services. Mercy is a theme in many of this month’s gospel readings.

In Luke chapter 17 we read of ten lepers who receive God’s mercy when directed towards humanity and in two weeks time in the parable the Pharisee and the taxman mercy is used to demonstrate mankind’s overwhelming need and dependence on God’s loving kindness.

Unknown author, c. 1035-1040, Codex Aureus Epternacensis,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Yet mercy, it seems is no longer a word widely used either within the church and certainly not outside it, for there is an inclination among modern people to exult themselves, mistaking their technical and scientific achievements for a kind of moral virtue, and believing that it is possible by our own efforts to be an improvement upon the past and make things better and better. The past century however with monumental conflicts, persecution, slavery and ruthless cruelty or even the political correctness that is manipulating the present cultures, must surely disabuse us of such confidence in ourselves as being able to create a better moral world.

Within the religious community, prayer can often amount to a hope that healing and comfort may be obtained by prayer so that normal life can be resumed. This seems to have been the case when Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem, passing villages in the border between Samaria and Jewish Galilee. In both these regions lepers would be forced to exist outside their communities. Ten of these outcasts appear crying out to the master for pity, hoping that in some way they can be restored to full membership of their villages. The healings of Jesus do not depend purely on the requirements of religious observances which all the lepers are happy to undertake, but upon faith that is the herald of a changed life. Only one leprous sufferer, a man who is a double outsider, both leper and Samaritan, makes this step. Knowing the full extent of his wholeness, seeing himself as God sees him, returns to prostrate himself in heartfelt thanks, [17; 16]” with a loud voice glorified God, falling down on his face at His feet.”

“But where, says Jesus, are the nine?” Are they not like the majority of humanity who are not ready to be healed and changed into the likeness of God? Are the majority not aware of the “mercy” that must be triggered before the flawed individual is fully healed? The Samaritan get’s it! It is divine mercy that is the real game changer [verse 19]; “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you whole.” The gospels tell us of many others who approach God in this way with sincerity and humility.

Looking honestly at ourselves or the others in the pews, we cannot be surprised that St. Luke is confronting Christians with the truth that the practice of religion without the sense of divine mercy leaves us like the nine healed lepers. We remind ourselves of this every time we recite the Kyrie eleison at the heart of our worship, and thus we stand with the solitary Samaritan who falls down before Christ, proclaiming that because God has made himself know, we are able to restore in our distorted lives the image of His wholeness. “Blessed are those who know their need for mercy” is the heart of the Lord’s spiritual teaching in the Beatitudes [Matthew 5;7] for it is this which sets divine love in motion, and why the Kyrie is the cornerstone of Christian piety.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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