October 13, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“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.”
Giving thanks is one of the proper uses of the Lord’s name. We teach that truth to those who are learning the faith. Our catechumens hear about the improper uses of the Lord’s name: cursing, swearing, using satanic arts, lying, and deceiving by that name. But then they receive instruction about what the Lord’s name should be used for: calling upon it in every trouble, praying, praising, and giving thanks.
The Lord expects to hear His name used that way. He desires to have His people recognize the goodness that He has bestowed upon them. That should seem to be automatic. But you heard how it wasn’t in today’s Gospel Reading. An entire group of individuals received a great benefit from the Lord, something they had asked for. That was the heart of the event: “As [Jesus] entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When He saw them He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.”
Just how much goodness had these individuals received? They had their entire life restored to them. Their leprosy served as a near-death sentence. The ten lepers were outcasts, sentenced to live outside the community as long as their disease endured. They were cut off from friends and family, declared unclean by the Divine Law. For some of them, their illness would be a literal death sentence; they would die as their disease disfigured and destroyed them. But when Jesus encounters them, He provides healing and life. Jesus purifies them of their disease and restores them to being clean.
Hearing what Jesus did for these lepers, the Lord’s people would expect to hear about the thanksgiving that flowed from their mouths. Perhaps it would be an act of worship. Or maybe a bit of the Psalter would be remembered and recited. But that isn’t what you heard in the Gospel Reading, is it? Nearly all the healed lepers go on their way without a simple statement of thanks offered despite all that Jesus had done for them.
So why isn’t there a great pouring out of thanksgiving from the group of healed lepers? There might be countless reasons why not. But they could be summarized into a few types. First is complete focus on the gift: exuberance over being healed, over having everything in their lives restored, simply occupied all their minds. It’s kind of like the reaction that children have when opening presents on Christmas Eve—the whole focus is on the gifts, so that there’s no thinking about who gave them. Another reason is not recognizing the giver: Did the lepers fully understand that Jesus had healed them? We might think that should be obvious, but there are times when people don’t know who gave them something. Or perhaps the lepers thought they deserved something good from the Lord. Was this healing the rightful pay out for all the suffering that they endured? If so, then this isn’t a matter where gratitude was needed.
No matter what caused the lack of thanksgiving, none was offered. That is, there was none offered except from one of the healed lepers: “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 leper saw that he was healed. He realized that this was a gift granted by God, so he praised God loudly for the restoration of his health. But there was the important detail noted by the Gospel Writer: not only does the leper thank God for being healed, he also recognizes that Jesus was the One through whom that healing was given. That is what drives him to assume the fullest posture of worship at Jesus’ feet and give Him thanks.
This healed leper does what all the others do not. And Jesus notes it. He notes that what the leper did is a matter of faith: “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And He said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” The healed leper recognizes the gift that has been extended to him. Jesus did have mercy on him by cleansing his illness. He had no claim to what Jesus gave, and he knows it. And even though his entire life was changed, the healed leper is not distracted so much by what has happened that he doesn’t recognize the giver. His returning to Jesus, kneeling down at His feet, worshiping and thanking Him are all part of his belief—the belief that saves him.
The healed leper displays what should be seen in every single person who has received benefit from the Lord. But those other nine lepers show what is so often the reaction, even among those who should know better. Lack of gratitude driven by a lack of recognizing what the Lord has given is sinful. When it is driven by a sense of entitlement, then it is much worse, since that not only fails to recognize what the Lord has done, but overestimates humanity.
But this can be avoided. There is an answer to this sin of ingratitude. It is what we prayed for in the Collect of the Day. Note again the words that began that prayer: “Almighty God, You show mercy to Your people in all their troubles.” That factual statement makes the true confession of faith about the Lord’s identity and character. It is rooted in what the Lord says about Himself: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin….” This is not just an empty statement; the Lord follows up His words with actions. He acts and He instructs His people to call upon Him to act when in trouble.
We also prayed to avoid the ingratitude shown by the other nine lepers: “Grant us always to recognize Your goodness, give thanks for Your compassion, and praise Your holy name.” The recognition of the Lord’s goodness shown to us requires that we have it revealed to us again. What the Lord has done for us needs to be continually in our hearing, so that it remains in our hearts and minds. Today’s Psalm endorses that idea: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is His work, and His righteousness endures forever. He has caused His wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.” But no delight will be found in the Lord’s works, if they aren’t studied or remembered. No, then we will fall into the type of thinking that asks God: “What have You done for me lately?” Or we will have the mindset that doesn’t recognize that what we have has been given to us. That is the hazard of not having the Lord’s works set before you.
But you have been given to know what the Lord has done for you. Your leprosy has been cleansed: you have been redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection, made to be holy and righteous in the Lord’s sight. This is what is remembered over and over again by the Church, just as the believers of old recalled the deliverance that the Lord had given to them. The Psalm’s words can stand as the Church’s charter today: “The works of [the Lord’s] hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever. Holy and awesome is His name!” The eternal covenant is what Jesus has established for you and all the faithful to remember, to be done often.
And that is what will happen today. You will again hear how your sins were cleansed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. You will confess that Jesus is the Lamb of God who has taken away your sin, and you will ask Him to show mercy on you. You will proclaim the Lord’s death by eating the bread and drinking the cup. These will be your actions, as you seek to receive the promise that Jesus has attached to such eating and drinking: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
But as you do so, what else takes place? There are the prayers that give thanks for what Jesus has done. The Lord’s Supper is a Eucharist, a time of thanksgiving. And there are the praises offered to Jesus, including the Triple Holy that you speak during the Sanctus. And after the eating and drinking, there is the great statement that acknowledges that you have seen the salvation that the Lord has prepared for His people.
This is all part of the praise and thanks that we offer to Jesus for the cleansing that He has bestowed to us. Our sin and guilt are put in front of us. But as Jesus has answered that sin and guilt by giving us His holiness and righteousness, we are led to take the same actions as the healed leper: we come to Jesus, we kneel before Him, we praise Him loudly, and we give Him our thanks.
These proper uses of the Lord’s name take place among us today. They are not the actions that stem from the lack of gratitude for what the Lord has done for us. Instead, they are the God-pleasing response of faith, the greatest act of worship that we can offer. And Jesus’ words to us are the same as He spoke to the thankful leper: “Rise and go your way. Your faith has saved you.”