And it came about while He was on the way to Jerusalem, that He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a certain village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" And when He saw them, He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And it came about that as they were going, they were cleansed.
Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine - where are they? Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?" And He said to him, "Rise, and go your way; your faith has made you well."
Your Faith Has Saved You
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
In many ways, this Gospel lesson is the quintessential lesson for the Church. Jesus does great things, and says some pretty important stuff in the course of this lesson. There are several lessons neatly coiled up in this pericope, and any one of them could fill a sermon. There is the lesson about doing what the Lord gives us to do. There is the lesson about the power of Jesus, and His willingness to heal. I have heard many sermons, and preached a few myself, on the lesson about thanksgiving in this account, and then there is the lesson I have chosen for the theme - the lesson about how faith saves. I will try to touch on each of these lessons, this morning, but our main theme is, Your Faith Has Saved You.
Jesus is traveling. He seems to have done a lot of that. His ministry was called a "peripatetic" ministry, which means He did it while walking around. He is traveling to Jerusalem, but He is passing between Samaria and Galilee - a Gentile area and the most Gentile area of Israel in the time of Jesus. In other words, He is traveling among a mixture of Jews and Gentiles and not among the most orthodox practitioners of Judaism. It is in this mix that He comes upon a mixed group of lepers, as He approaches an unidentified village. It was unusual for Jews and Gentiles to mix, although this was the most likely area for that to happen, and Lepers were, generally, outcasts, and so what difference would it make to them whether the next leper was a 'pure Jew' or an 'unclean Gentile'? They were all unclean and all outcasts.
They approached Jesus at a distance. I imagine that they stood between Him and the city gates, making it possible to speak to Jesus without His simply entering the city and locking their cries for mercy outside - not that Jesus would do that, but how were they to know for sure? Anyhow, they cried out loudly. They said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
The word "Master" is interesting, because it means 'commander' or 'chief', you know, someone with the authority to give orders. It wasn't, strictly speaking, a religious title. They simply recognized Jesus as having authority. Then they cried out for mercy. That is the cry of sinful man to God. It means exactly the same thing in our liturgy when we sing, "Lord, have mercy upon us." They were in trouble, and they needed help, and they cried out in their desperation to Jesus for relief. The only difference between them and us is that they were confronted by their leprosy with the urgency of their need. We often can pretend that we are quite alright.
The first lesson: Jesus did not say anything about mercy - He just told them to go and show themselves to the priests. Jesus gave them something to do that did not necessarily make a lot of sense at the moment, and He did not promise - or even speak of - healing. The best we can do with the words of Jesus is note that the first step for one who has recovered from or has been healed of leprosy, according to the Law of Moses, was to show themselves to the priests for examination. We must presume that their healing depended on their doing what Jesus told them to do, and yet He didn't say so, or indicate that the going would cleanse them.
Jesus often places us in circumstances where we know what we should do, but other ways of doing things and other things we can do may be more inviting. Jesus is looking for faithfulness - and faith always does what is faithful and not necessarily what is appealing or holds forth the presumed promise of greater effect. The first lesson we glean from the Gospel tells us that we are to do what Jesus gives us to do, and not whatever else may appeal to us. Sometimes, that is very hard.
The second lesson is about the will of Jesus to heal, and the power of Jesus to heal. The lepers had faith of the sort that said that Jesus could heal, and that Jesus was the sort who would, so they obeyed His command. We should also act on the basis of the trust that Jesus has a good will toward us, and that He can do what we need done, whatever that may be. That would mean that we should not despair of God's mercy or believe that just because things haven't gone the way we want them to so far, God isn't aware of our plight, or interested in helping us. In other words, trust God - trust His goodness, trust His good will toward you, and trust that He can make the difference you need. Even when things don't seem so good, this Gospel would encourage us to live each moment in cheerful dependence on God and His good will toward us.
The third lesson is the thanksgiving lesson. There were ten lepers. All ten were cleansed as they went on their way. Only one turned back to give glory to God and thanks to Jesus. Strangely, that one was a Samaritan, the hated Gentile. We could look at the proportion: one out of ten. Is that a realistic proportion? Some days we might want to say yes, and other days we might be uncertain. The point is that thanksgiving is far more rare than no thanksgiving.
But then we can note especially that those who were Jews, the ones who should have known better, whose religious upbringing should have prepared them, were not grateful, but the Gentile - the outsider was. I have seen that too. I had two weddings on one specific day. It turned out to be among the hottest days of the summer. The wedding party of the church members who were getting married were drunk and disorderly and showed no reverence for the place they were to sanctify their nuptials. The unbelievers who had come to be married - and had gone through pre-marital counseling and weeks of training in the fundamentals of the Christian faith just so that they could use the church for their wedding were humble, and pious, and treated our church with reverence and awe and gratitude. This lesson could be about how familiarity breeds contempt and how those who should treasure the riches of their faith and heritage often take them for granted and forget all about thanksgiving. This, then, would be a cautionary tale for us.
We are certainly encouraged by this event in the ministry of Jesus to remember thanksgiving. We daily receive wonders and blessings from God, and all too often take them for granted, and forget to give thanks. Of course, there is nothing saying that the others were not thankful - they just did not turn back and give Jesus the thanks and praise. They were busy doing what Jesus told them to do. Perhaps they were just more focused on getting what they came for than anything else. The one man, the Samaritan, was so overwhelmed by the wonder of the gift, that he couldn't help himself. He had to go back and give thanks and praise to God. Maybe the others were more of a mind to expect a blessing, and to take it for granted. I mean, what took God so long!? Now that they had it, they were not going to miss a beat and mess it up. Just the Gentile was dumb enough to turn back. The nine had, at the heart of it, a shortage of thanksgiving, and perhaps a sense of entitlement, as the Chosen People.
Do we have that attitude as Lutherans? Life-long Lutherans often forget what is so good about being a Lutheran, something those who come in from outside rarely forget. Some people come to church out of a sense of duty rather than out of the delight in the goodness of the Lord. Some of us are the nine, perhaps, doing what we oughta, and some of us have come to give thanks and praise for the abundance of blessings that Jesus has given to each of us. And some weeks we may fit the nine and other weeks we may truly be the one. Kinda spooky, isn't it?
It is when you recognize yourself - and you are not the Samaritan overcome with thanksgiving and praise - that the Gospel is so sweet. Jesus died on the cross, innocent of any sin of His own, so that He could take your punishment and meet the wrath of God that you have earned and deserved, so that He could cleanse you of your leprosy - sin. Your sins are hatreds and evil deeds, unbecoming thoughts and desires, and wicked words. Your sins include not just bad things you have done, and so disappointed yourself, but also the decent things you did for selfish reasons, and without a thought for Jesus and His sacrifice for you. Your sins even include forgetting - or merely and wickedly neglecting - to give thanks when and where it is merited - and in this life of sin, every good thing and every blessing merits our heartfelt thanks.
Like those lepers, Jesus has commanded us to go and show ourselves as cleansed. He announced our forgiveness from the cross when He cried out "It is finished!" He has sent His servants to remind us with the preaching of the Word and the Holy Absolution that we have been redeemed by Christ the Crucified. He has washed us in Baptism, and fed us with His body and blood in the Holy Supper. It doesn't necessarily make us feel any different. This forgiveness, life, and salvation doesn't impose on us a specific code of conduct, although there are always those 'out there' who want to tell us that it does - that we must walk the Christian walk in order to be saved. But Jesus set us free from our behavior by His own. We are redeemed and forgiven and set free from the Law into the glorious liberty of the grace of God.
And like the one leper, the one we would hope to emulate, Jesus says to us each time we leave the altar after the Supper, or the assembly of the holy people of God after divine service, "Rise, and go your way; your faith has saved you." We receive all the good that we get from God by grace through faith. Your faith, not your church attendance, or your good works, or your good thoughts, but your faith has saved you.
I know that the text of your Bibles probably say, "Your faith has made you well", but the original words of Jesus means literally, "Your faith has saved you." It is interesting to note that Jesus uses the word "cleanse" and the word "heal" in this Gospel lesson - but what He said to the Samaritan who had been cleansed was "Your faith has saved you." The other nine merely received the healing. This tenth man received something more, for He believed something more, and acted on His faith -which demonstrated it. He recognized Jesus for who He is, and when he returned, he was giving thanks and praise to God in the person of Jesus. He believed more than just the healing - in fact, the healing was his whether he came back to Jesus or not - but the salvation he got he got by grace through faith, just like we do.
Lesson four in this Gospel is the lesson of salvation - Your faith has saved you. Such faith should lead us to lives of holiness. It should drive us to heartfelt thanksgiving. It should lead us to trust Jesus for more than just heaven - and so guide us to do what Jesus has laid before us to do, even when doing it does not present us with immediate advantage for ourselves. But regardless of what it should do (and all of the things we earnestly desire for ourselves that our faith will accomplish in us), what it actually does is receive the wonders of forgiveness and life which Jesus has won for us and pours out on us through Word and Sacrament. Your faith has saved you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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