Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 13, 2019

Suppose you are at your desk doing your job. You don’t have much if any contact with your boss. Then one day, your boss stops by and invites you to lunch. Great, you think, maybe he wants to compliment some of my work. And the boss does, but that isn’t the real purpose of the lunch. The boss needs a favor. You don’t really want to, but he’s your boss so you agree. This lunch thing happens on an infrequent basis, but every time the boss wants you to do him a favor. Then the boss messes up on a project. His superiors are calling him on the carpet. And what does he do? Instead of taking responsibility, he blames you for the problem. You are naturally upset. Here you have done all these favors for your boss and he throws you under the bus.

Or you have a neighbor who keeps borrowing your excellent tools from you. As a good neighbor, you are happy to lend them. Then one day he injures himself on a tool. He blames you for the tool hurting him and wants you to pay for his medical expenses.

These two relationships are called transactional relationships. The boss and the neighbor are in relationship with you simply to get what they want. The boss doesn’t want to help you grow in your career. The neighbor doesn’t want to invite you to dinner and get to know you better. They want what they want – favors and tools. They don’t care if you get anything out of the relationship or not. And when times get challenging, you are on hand to take the fall.

There are a lot of transactional relationships in the world we live in. They have their advantages. They are efficient and profitable. There are clear boundaries for their actions and your response. And most of all they are not going to get the person initiating the relationship emotionally hooked. But they have their downsides. One person is using another person as an object. This brings mistrust on the part of the responder. Also the relationship is activated only when the initiator has a need. These are not relationships you can count on in the long run. Because there is no commitment and the vulnerability that comes with it, they don’t last very long. Just look at what is going on in the world. The message from the American government to the world is becoming more nationalistic and less cooperative. It is the realization of what Kennedy said to the Soviet Union in the Cuban Missile Crisis – that they couldn’t base an agreement on an attitude of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable. The instability in the world economy and the various threats of violence in the world are brought to us courtesy of transactional relationships

But the lessons today tell us there is are better types of relationships. Vulnerable, committed relationships between God and others that are characterized by faithfulness over time, loving interaction and growth. There are three hallmarks of these relationships – gratitude, obedience and trust.

Jesus has just healed ten lepers. He has told the men, who have begged for his help, to go show themselves to the priest, as Jewish law requires, and as they go they are healed. Nine of the lepers go running to the priest as fast as they can. The tenth, realizing he has been healed, stops, turns around and goes back praising God and falling at Jesus’ feet and thanking him. All ten lepers wanted to be healed, but they were interested in the transaction. They got what they wanted and off they went to the next thing. The Samaritan wanted relationship with the one who had healed him. As a result, he receives more than just a cure. Jesus tells him, in a more accurate translation, that his faith has saved him. He is being made whole. His relationship with God has deepened because of his gratitude and he will be forever changed.

Paul continues to urge Timothy to trust in his relationship with God. Trust that he has been saved through the resurrection, that he will inherit eternal life, that God will always be faithful. Our job is to endure, to keep on proclaiming God’s good news, no matter what. When Timothy trusts, he can present himself to God as a good worker who preaches the word rightly. He can be sure of growing in his relationship with God and of doing good for others whom God has given into his care. As Timothy goes about his work, he is being made whole by God’s grace – becoming more and more the person God called him to be.

Jeremiah has sent a message to the Jews living in Babylon. It is going to be a long exile, he tells them. But the king has allowed them to keep their identity as Jews, to worship in public. The king is an instrument of God as God teaches them a lesson about fidelity and so they are not to gripe and mourn and complain. They are to be obedient by settling in the city. They are to marry and give in marriage and grow as a nation. And they are to seek the welfare of the city, to pray to God for it, because its well-being is their well-being. Their relationship with God will grow as they do these things, and they will become whole so that they can be a blessing to others.

In God’s world, committed faithful relationships are more important than things or experiences. They are the bedrock God’s kingdom is built on. But while the relationships are secure and promote love and growth, there are challenges. They do not bring security. When the parties in the relationship are vulnerable, they make themselves open to being hurt. This includes God. A steadfast relationship with God may result in suffering for God’s name as Paul is doing. It may mean exile because God wants to re-create God’s people. God-centered relationships bring an end to independence. If we are faithful to God, it means we let God have control of our lives. If we are in God-centered relationships with one another, we may have good times and bad times because we all sin against one another. The blessing of relationships centered in God is that we can grow through them and come out on the other side.

Transactional relationships can often bring us what we want, but they keep us stuck in self-interest and separated from the grace of loving God and others. If we are always on the lookout for ourselves and our advantage, we cannot create a web of interconnectedness that benefits us as well as the others we love. Faithful relationships with God are characterized by gratitude, trust and obedience. Loving our neighbors requires gratitude, trust and interdependence. We may not get everything we want, but we are saved and made whole as the leper was. We may suffer, but we will grow through love. We are never separated from the opportunity to live in harmony with one another and with God.

Jesus brings in a kingdom based on relationships. Our response is to be grateful for his suffering, death and resurrection, to trust his grace and love for us and to be obedient because we know it is the way to eternal life. Take some time to explore your relationships. Do you have any that are transactional – a relationship just for what you can get out of it? With God’s help try to change them to God-centered relationships. The love that results from these godly relationships makes us whole.