The Lutheran Church of Venezuela has chosen a theme for this year: Living as grateful children. It is a theme that fits today's Gospel.
When we talk of children, we mean sons and daughters of God. Why grateful children? Because it is only by the grace of God that we may be called His children. We all are sinners, none of have obeyed perfectly the Law, the holy will of God for our lives. Therefore we deserve condemnation, eternal separation from our holy God. We do not deserve any good thing from God, who is the source of all goodness.
But God loves all of us and sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to fulfill the Law in our place and pay the price for our sin through His suffering and death on the cross.
In our Gospel for today, we have an example of God's grace and an example of a grateful child of God. Sadly, we also have an example of the typical behavior of people.
Jesus and His disciples were traveling along the border between Galilea and Samaria. Galilea was part of the land of the Jews, but Samaria belonged to the Samaritans. Remember, the Jews and Samaritans were enemies. Nevertheless, Jesus encountered a group of men that consisted of nine Jews and a Samaritan. Why did these Jews allow a Samaritan to be their companion? Because all of them had been rejected by their people as lepers.
Leprosy is a disease that has been known for 4,000 years and still exists today. Look at this little map. Purple shows the places in the world where leprosy still occurs as of 2003. Blue and green indicate little or no leprosy. Here is Venezuela, in the blue. So you do not find much leprosy in Venezuela, nor in North America, Mexico, Chile or most other countries in our hemisphere.
But what do we see here? Look at the color of Brazil. There are lepers to be found in Brazil, also in Africa, India and Indonesia. The Dominican Republic is too small to appear on this map, but there is said to be a leper colony there as well.
Leprosy is a nasty disease. It attacks first the skin. A leper's skin degrades like that of a corpse. Eventually, without treatment, arms and legs have to be amputated and, in the end, the leper dies a premature death. Thanks be to God, in our day there is medicine for leprosy, treatment that controls the advance of the disease in the leper's body and its spread throughout the surrounding population.
But, in our Lord's time on earth, there was no treatment, just as there is no treatment for dengue fever nowadays. So leprosy was highly contagious and deadly. The books of Moses in the Old Testament contain many regulations for the identification and quarantine of lepers. They had to live apart from other people, even if that meant leaving their homes, families and friends.
According to the Law of Moses, the priests were in charge of examining men and women for leprosy. If someone had a rash or boil, the priests were responsible for judging whether it was a symptom of leprosy or not. The idea was if not, the person would immediately offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord for his or her health.
The 10 lepers shouted to Jesus from a distance, as the Law required. Jesus in His mercy healed them.
But notice the way in Jesus did so. Our Lord had the power to heal the lepers right away, with just a word. But, instead He told them, "Go to the priests to be examined." He did not overturn the Mosaic law or undermine the authority of the priests. Still through His power and grace, He healed the lepers.
Then what happened? Nine of the former lepers were content with going through the ritual in the Temple and nothing more. By their actions, they showed that they were not grateful to God in their hearts. They did not recognize Jesus as the God who had blessed them, not even as a messenger of that God.
But one returned as soon as he saw that he was healed. He recognized the power and grade of God in Jesus Christ. He was a grateful child of God. And he was a Samaritan, not one of the chosen people!
Because of his gratitude, Jesus gave a gift more precious than physical health. He said to the Samaritan, "Your faith has saved you." So the Samaritan received absolution of his sins from the mouth of Jesus Christ himself.
We have received the same gift, forgiveness and saving faith, through Word and sacrament. By these visible means, Jesus still is with us and offers us His grace. For that reason, we live as grateful children of God. Thanksgiving is our lifestyle.
We offer our praise and treasure in public worship, and in our behavior throughout the week. As St. Paul writes in our epistle reading (Galations 5:16-24), we do not live for our own desires. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we avoid the fruits of the flesh, such as adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murder, drunkenness, revelries and the like.
Rather, we show the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.
Let us give thanks to God, in this Sunday service and each day of our lives for the gifts of health, saving grace and faith, and the love of God. Amen.
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