Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 17th chapter of Luke, beginning with the 11th verse.
17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
— Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)
All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you’ve done for us in Christ. Now, as we open that word, we pray that your spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“What kind of a leper are you?”
What kind of a leper are you? I know, that has to be one of the most unusual questions you’ve probably ever been asked. So why am I asking you this question?
Today’s Gospel lesson introduces us to a group of 10 “mystery” men. I say this because we don’t know much about these guys. They may come from entirely different backgrounds, be of different ages, and for all we know, they may not get along very well. But, they had one common experience that ended up joining them together. They had lived relatively anonymous lives up until something happened. Maybe it started as a white patch on the skin or an open sore that just wouldn’t seem to heal properly, but whatever the symptom, they knew they needed a diagnosis. So they went to the priest to determine what was going on and received a diagnosis no one wanted to hear. Leprosy. In those days, there was no known cure. It was, essentially, a death sentence.
But instead of the patient being placed into hospice care and surrounded by family and friends in their remaining time, the law of the day stated that they were to leave the city. They were, in essence, outcasts from society out of fear that leprosy would spread and infect others. The fear was so great that if someone who was not a leper approached them, the leper was required to cry out, “unclean, unclean, stay away!”
Somehow, these ten men with leprosy are banded together by that common denominator. They may not have otherwise known each other if circumstances were different, but here they are, together, with this dreaded disease, along a lonely, remote border between Samaria and Galilee. Their only hope was to be miraculously cured of their disease.
Suddenly, one day, Jesus appears. They’ve heard the Word about Him. They heard He has the power to do some miraculous things: He’s given the blind their sight, He’s made the lame walk, He’s made the mute shout out for joy and unstopped the ears of the deaf. If He could do all of that, maybe He could help! And He appears to be coming in their direction!
So instead of crying out, “Unclean, Stay Away!” which the Law required, they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And He hears their cry. He sees their situation and simply tells them to “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” There’s only one reason that Jesus would say that. The priests, the ones who initially declared them “Unclean,” were the ones who had the power to declare them “clean,” offer up the appropriate sacrifice, and allow them to return to their lives.
As they’re headed to the priests, these ten men look and see the white spots and the open sores disappear. It’s true! They’re healed! They’ll be declared clean, and they have their lives back! Nine keep running to the priests to receive this gift of new life right away. One stops dead in his tracks, turns around, runs back to Jesus, praises God in a loud voice, falls at Jesus’ feet, and gives Him thanks and praise.
It’s astonishing that only one of these ten returns to do this. But this is the part of the story where I have to share with you the last thing we know about these ten lepers that shows you why this is an even bigger deal than it initially appears. Nine are Jews, considered part of the “people of the covenant with God.” The other, the one who returned to give Jesus thanks and praise, was a Samaritan—considered an “outsider,” cut off from God’s covenant. Samaritans, you see, descended from Israelites left behind after Samaria’s destruction in 722 BC and included foreigners imported by Assyrian kings. Because of intermarriage between the Jews and the non-Jews that took place over the years since the Samaritans were not viewed as part of God’s covenant people anymore and endured being called derogatory names by the Jews such as “half breed” among others, and Jews avoided them every chance they had. Needless to say, long-standing, deep-seated hostility existed between Jews and Samaritans. Considering the Jews’ attitude toward Samaritans, and vice-versa, and the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew, it’s beyond belief that a Samaritan, of all people, would be the one who would come back to give Jesus thanks and praise for this gift of healing.
And what does Jesus say? “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” You see, that last statement has something to say to us. “Your faith has made you well.” Jesus sees that this man believes that Jesus has much more than physical healing to offer. He has forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation to give. That’s why this man returns to give thanks and praise to Jesus. He’s so grateful for the gift Jesus has given to him.
The other nine? They have their gift. They believed that Jesus had gifts to give in this life, but when it came to matters of eternal life, that’s a different story. They got what they wanted from Jesus for this life and left before He could give them more gifts.
It’s important to note here that Jesus doesn’t take away the gift of physical healing from them simply because of their sin of ingratitude. But there is a difference in the healings that take place that day along that lonely border. The nine who kept going and never returned were looking for physical healing, and Jesus gave them that. But, while they may be healed from the disease of leprosy, they still have to face the wages of sin someday. There will come a time when their bodies will start to deteriorate. Perhaps they will contract leprosy again, or it will be some other physical ailment. But eventually, they face disease and death. The healing they sought will only last for a relatively short time.
The Samaritan who returns to give Jesus thanks and praise, yes, he has that healing the other nine had. But, he recognizes that Jesus has more to offer. He realizes that Jesus is taking His sins to the cross to die for them there, that Jesus has more gifts to give, the kind of healing that will last for eternity. When he realizes this, this Samaritan, the least likely person, comes back to thank Jesus for this gift. That’s why Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.” This Samaritan knows his position. He doesn’t deserve any of this because of who he is. This is all because of who Jesus is. This healing that took place was all Jesus’ work. He realizes that Jesus is the one who will provide eternal healing by winning forgiveness, life, and salvation for all. This Healer is also his Savior. That’s why Jesus says, “rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Jesus already gave this man physical healing, but now, He has told this Samaritan, “You believe that I am the one who will give you eternal healing. Go, your faith in Me will make you well for eternity.”
And so it’s appropriate to really look at what took place that day on that border near Samaria and Galilee. And as we do, we come to realize that, truth be told, we actually have a lot of similarities with the lepers in our text.
First, we are infected with a disease that threatens to separate us from God and from each other. That disease is sin. It eats away at every aspect of our lives, be it our relationship with God, our relationships with other people, and our apparent lack of thanks for what God has given to us. Like those 9 Jews, we tend to look at others as “outsiders.” Those who are of a different nationality or ethnic background from us, those who wish to practice their faith in a way that’s different from us, so that we decide that they are not “really Christian,” those who were not lifelong members of our churches, or those who don’t ever come to church anywhere. Sometimes, in things we say and do, we act as if we are the only ones with whom God has a covenant, and it’s our responsibility to keep that pure. Or, when we hear God’s Word of Law accuse us of a particular sin, instead of confessing it, we shrug it off or say, “yeah, but I’m not as bad as THAT person over there!” Other times, when God gives us good gifts, we ignore the fact that He was the giver of those gifts. We take the credit for ourselves, not realizing that everything we have in life is a gift from Him for us to manage for a time. That’s sin infecting our lives; sin that threatens to choke off our lifeline with God if something isn’t done about it. Like cancer that’s just ignored and allowed to grow. And just like a patient with a terminal illness for which there is no known cure, like the lepers in our text, we need nothing short of a miracle to heal us.
But while we at times act in ways that are like the nine lepers who didn’t return to give Jesus thanks and praise, you are here reading this sermon. You’re here because you, hopefully, recognize that God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the true source of everything you have. Your job, your family, your home, even your church, everything you have, isn’t really yours. It’s God’s. And He has graciously given it to you to be a steward over and take care of faithfully as He would have you do. You recognize, like that Samaritan leper, that on your own, you have no worthiness of anything God has given you. But, you cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And He took your sin, sickness, and infirmities to the cross, to suffer and die for them there. So that now, today, you can hear Your Savior tell you, “rise and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
You may have other things on your mind. You may be missing a loved one at the table. You may be dealing with a family crisis, where a family member isn’t speaking to another one over something that happened that caused that relationship to be damaged or outright destroyed. A friend or family member, or perhaps even you yourself, may be seriously ill, and you don’t know what will happen. You may be worried about a possible job loss or a reduction of your income and wondering how you will support your family, especially with Christmas coming up. It may be next to impossible for you to be like that Samaritan leper to give thanks and praise to God because it might be next to impossible, if not impossible, to find a reason to be thankful for anything.
But as you read this, you know Your Savior, Jesus Christ, your ultimate Healer of body and soul, is with you. You know through His Word that He has died for your sins. That He has eternal healing to give to you. Those sins of thought, word, and deed that would separate you from Him are forgiven! You are set free to live a life of thanksgiving, even in the most difficult of times. You know that even though God has provided you with all you need to support this body and life, you also know that, more importantly, He gives you all that you need for eternal life. You know that the suffering you endure in this life is only temporary. And because of that, you can be thankful!
Yes, thankful! We’re thankful that our sins, even our sins of ingratitude for what God has given to us, are all forgiven for the sake of Christ. We are thankful that whatever suffering we endure in this life will only be temporary. We’re set free from living for ourselves and living our lives in thankful service to others so that they, too, can receive all of the gifts that God has to offer for us, both in this life and, most importantly, for eternal life.
So remember Who it is that gives you everything you need to support this body and life. Remember that where you were once an “outsider” from God, Jesus Christ has lived, died, and risen again, and has given you some pretty amazing gifts, so that you will no longer be a stranger and alien but a redeemed child of God. Indeed, in the words of the 107th Psalm, we rejoice to say, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
What kind of a leper are you? Are you one of the thankless lepers who is simply looking for things in this life, and once you get them, you run away from Jesus without even uttering a word of thanks, ignoring whatever other gifts He has to give you, gifts that are more important? Or are you like the “foreigner,” the “Thankful Leper,” the one who returned to give glory to God and received even more gifts from Jesus? The answer to this question lies every day of our lives, living as thankful servants of Jesus Christ, showing our faith through our thankfulness, giving God thanks and praise for what He has done for us, and receiving the even better gifts that He has to offer us. May we be thankful, lepers, who give our Lord thanks and praise by living a life of thanksgiving to Jesus Christ for giving you the gifts of healing for this life and for eternal life.
Heavenly Father, I know that I have neglected to thank you for so many blessings. You’ve blessed me and waited for me to run back to you with thanks, and I’ve gone my way. I’ve taken you for granted. Please forgive me. Put thankfulness into my heart and soul. Let me speak it, sing it, and live it. That I might be a visible, not silent, example of someone you have healed. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Scripture taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)® Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. rights reserved. Sermon contributed by Rev. Christopher Martin.
What kind of a leper are you? Are you one of the thankless lepers who is simply looking for things in this life, or are you like the one who returned to give glory to God, and received even more gifts from Jesus?