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Luke 17:11-19

Luke 17:11-19 Have Mercy on Us

One of my seminary professors, Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, taught me that language is linear. We hear (or read) one thing at a time, in order. This obvious trait of language can be utilized to great effect by crafting a story so that information is withheld at first, assumptions are made by the hearer (or reader), then those assumptions are smashed by revealing the new piece of information. Here is an example that I remember Dr. Camery-Hoggatt using in class:

The young man … looked across the

resort lake. Tomorrow was the annual one-

day fishing contest and fishermen would

invade the place. Some of the best bass

guitarists in the country would come to this

spot. The usual routine of the fishing resort

would be interrupted by the festivities.[1]

Did you get tripped up on the word “bass”? Most people do. Their eyes travel back and forth between the word “bass” on one line and “guitar” on the next. The immediate context primed you to think that fishing was the topic. And so the word “bass” is read and pronounced as the fish, a bass. But the word guitar throws you off and you have to look back. Then the realization happens, your expectations are corrected, and you correctly read and pronounce bass, as in bass guitar.

This sort of contextual “priming” – setting up certain expectations that are later shattered - plays a role in a number of literary techniques.[2] Often, the surprise element points to the major unit of meaning in the text. This priming and shattering of expectations comes into play in this pericope.

The story itself is fairly typical. Jesus is traveling, people need healing, Jesus gives instructions, they are healed, God is praised. It gets more interesting when only one notice and turns back. But even here, we are in quite standard healing story territory.

It might be beneficial to think about how this one leper was different. It seems to be important that this one noticed: “Then one of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back.” Maybe the point is that we should notice what God is doing. “Pay attention!” “Listen!” Perhaps this text teaches us to be people who pay attention to what God is doing.