October 10, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
As Jesus entered a village, ten lepers approached Him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
The Lord travels between Galilee and Samaria. As Jesus walks the dusty roads of Palestine, He encounters a group of lepers. These ten diseased men stand at the distance prescribed by the Law. They cannot get any closer, for they are ostracized, quarantined and cut off from society. These ten dare not approach any closer. Their disease separates them, marks them as unwanted. Though they once were loved, once were accepted, now they are driven away. Now they are the walking dead, disease-ridden outcasts.
Thankfully, we don’t encounter much leprosy in our day. In days past, even not so long ago, it was a terminal disease for most who contracted it. It eats away at the healthy flesh, disfiguring the body. The symptoms were unmistakable. The book of Leviticus has whole chapters describing the disease: how to treat it, how to quarantine those who have it, how to determine if someone is cured from it. The severe lepers could always be recognized by their deformities, the disgusting sores, the stench of death and decay. They knew the hopelessness of their condition. No matter what they tried, the disease still lingered. It was their curse for life; their fate was sealed.
So it was with these ten lepers whom Jesus meets. They stand away from Him, calling out: “Unclean, unclean!” as Christ and the Twelve walk by. They know their condition, the way it always kept them at a distance. But they also know the identity of this Man who walks the dusty road to Jerusalem. They know His reputation, His record of activities. The ten cry out to Jesus, calling Him “Master,” speaking to Him the title that indicates complete subjection. They recognize that Jesus has power and authority. But the lepers also know that they have no standing to demand anything from Jesus. Instead, they are at His total mercy.
And yet, faith motivates them to speak. The ten cry out for pity: “Have mercy on us!” They cannot demand anything from Jesus. But out of their desperation they appeal to Christ’s heart and soul. Death is looming, nearer to some than others. All avenues of aid have been closed off. They have nothing else they can do. There are no more arrows in the quiver, no more rolls of the dice left. The ten diseased men have no one to turn to for aid—save for this traveling Man from Galilee. So they beg, pleading for Him to do something out of graciousness and generosity. They are led to such action because of what they believe about Jesus.
And the lepers’ faith is correct! This Man traveling past the lepers is not a cold-hearted person, but a caring God. He is not blind to the needs of His creation, but is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” He sends the lepers to the temple, cleansing them of their disease as they go. Their plague is gone, removed by a God who desires to bless and heal His people. He does what they cannot. He achieves what was impossible for humanity to accomplish. He restores health and wholeness where sin and disease had caused destruction and loss. Because He acts, the lepers are saved and restored.
Yet, only one of the ten truly realizes what has happened. Only one fully recognizes who the Man from Galilee is. Only one believes the somewhat secret truth about Jesus—that He is not just a miracle worker, not just a source of healing, but is God Himself. This sole leper sees that he has been healed, that his fate has been changed, that he has been saved from death. And so, he “praises God with a loud voice.” But where does he go to do so? Where will his worship take place? Not in the Temple, but at the feet of the Traveler on the road. Before Christ’s action, the leper could not approach any fellow man, but now he approaches the presence of God Almighty, where He has chosen to be found.
“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’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” This Samaritan leper, the outsider of outsiders, gives thanks at the feet of Jesus, bowing before Him, showing complete humiliation and servitude. It is the only reaction that he can give. What else is there to do but bow down and worship the God who manifested His grace and power by healing him? The leper has been restored by Christ’s gracious will. Doesn’t that deserve thanksgiving?
But is that the reaction that you give? Do you fall down at Christ’s feet for what He has done on your behalf? Or do you run off down the road, not recognizing the source of your gifts? What is your response to the healing that Christ has given to you?
This morning, you are again recipients of the same gracious acts of God who heals the leprosy of both body and soul. The Lord Jesus Christ has made you whole, saving you from the eternal death that was looming. The incurable disease of sin and imperfection eats away at you. Like the lepers on Galilee’s road, you cry out for God to do something out of His grace and mercy, saying: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” You cry out for forgiveness of your sins of thought, word, and deed—of what you have done and what you have left undone. You cry out for healing from the inherited condition of imperfection that plagues all mankind. You are powerless to help yourselves, but Christ demonstrates His graciousness and might again. His saving act of baptism heals spiritual lepers. Christ’s words of forgiveness heal your sin-ridden souls. Your Lord’s Body and Blood cleanse the truly terminal disease. You are reminded of what He has done for each of you and the world by His death and resurrection.
Once again, your Lord visits the land of outcasts. He comes to a world plagued with sin and makes its victims whole again. Though you all have the disgusting sores of your misdeeds and iniquities, your Lord comes near. Though you give off the offending odor of hatred, envy, blasphemy, adultery, your Lord dares to approach. He gets His hands dirty with your sin to remove its curse. And Jesus shows His mercy to those who cry out to Him for it.
Yet, how many have received this cleansing? On the road in Palestine, there were ten. And yet only one returned. Here in this place, certainly more then ten have received Christ’s forgiveness. Yet, how many do you regularly see approaching the feet of Jesus in thanksgiving? How many do you see returning for the healing that all constantly need? Yes, how many times have you yourselves acted like the other nine lepers who simply went on their way with no return in thanksgiving?
Jesus could say: “Weren’t there two hundred healed at Calvary, Mechanicsburg? Where are the other hundred-[fifty]?” How often do church members enjoy the goodness that Christ has shown, but fail to recognize Him as the source! Or even if it is understood that spiritual healing is from God Himself, how often is it just taken for granted, as something that will simply be there whenever they get around to it. The actions of the nine are repeated over and over by you and others. It is easy to quickly run and see yourselves as clean, but neglect to realize that even running your way, there is more out there to stain you again. Everyone has the desire to do their own thing, but they forget that Christ’s command is first: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” In order to rise, all people must first kneel before Jesus, falling at His feet in thanksgiving for the mercy that He has given.
To kneel before Jesus is nothing else than a confession of faith that He is your Master, that He has had mercy on you, that He has healed you. It is to acknowledge that you were in a hopeless state from which you could not escape, but your Lord has freed you. And since He has saved you from your terminal disease, you are free to go your way. But that way is not of your own choosing. No, it is the way that Jesus has laid out for you, the new life He given you to lead. It is just as Luther explained the Creed’s statements about the effects of your Lord’s work: “I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”
You are called to act like that Samaritan leper. Praise God with a loud voice. Fall on your face at Jesus’ feet. Give Him thanks. Make your life one of thanksgiving for what God has done for you. Recognize and see how you were ill, how sin plagued your soul. Remember how Jesus had mercy on you. Feel again the waters of baptism that cleansed you. See how your Lord became an outcast to save those who were separated from Him. But also understand what Jesus provides isn’t a one time event, but is given all the days of your lives. It is a constantly available cure that your Lord provides here in His house of healing, even as the taint of sin and imperfection in our daily lives constantly haunts all His people in this earthly life.
That realization should lead you to thanksgiving. As Jesus continues to aid you, you are called to give a continual thanksgiving from the heart and soul, a thanksgiving that is shown in word and deed. With thankful hearts, you may again praise God with a loud voice in your worship here. But your thanksgiving and worship isn’t just limited to some seventy-five minutes in the pews, it includes how you live Monday through Saturday, too. Going your way in the faith that has saved you, you may praise and glorify God by reflecting the love that He gave you to others. As you go from here in the way that Jesus has given you, you become living sacrifices of thanksgiving for all He has done.
The thankful Samaritan leper stands as an example for you. His story is yours; the pattern is the same. You have cried out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” You were ill, so Jesus has healed you. And so you have returned again, praising God in a loud voice and kneeling at your Lord’s feet. Jesus again says to you on this day: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” May you always heed your Lord’s command, showing such gratitude and praise by living in His kingdom and serving Him in the righteousness that He has given you by healing your bodies and souls.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.