This is a converted manuscript of my sermon for January 25, 2015. It’s based on Luke 17:11-19.
In Luke 17:11-19 we encounter Jesus as he continued on to Jerusalem. It’s been a bit of a theme in the readings this month, by the way. Now, in this passage, Jesus passed through a village. Then, near it, He encountered 10 lepers.
Now “leper” in the Bible is not the disease known as leprosy today – though the modern disease gets it’s name from the Biblical idea. A “Leper,” in the Bible is someone who could have a number of infectious skin diseases, some of which could be cured and some of which could not. Leper’s were removed from the general population as “unclean” and were unable to participate in the life of the community. They were literal outcasts. As outcasts tend to do, these lepers gathered together, probably for support and protection. They probably lived near a village so as to make a living off of charitable donations from travelers. That should sound agonizingly familiar to our world
Being a leper in the ancient world was not a good life, just as being an outcast is not a good life today, so it’s no wonder that when they heard Jesus was passing their way they cried out for mercy. No doubt they had heard of Jesus doing great acts of healing, and if these broken men wanted one thing, they wanted to be healed.
It’s interesting how Jesus response to the cries of these men. In the Gospels Jesus quite frequently enters into the space of unclean people, or even touches them, and makes them clean. This, by the way, was exactly the opposite of how ritual law works. In the Law unclean things make other things unclean – not the other way around.
What’s interesting in this passage, however, is Jesus did not do that. He didn’t beckon the men closer, nor did he go up to them and lay his hands on them for healing. Rather, Jesus commanded them to go to the priests. Incredibly, they did. In the Law one would present themselves to the priest after a cleansing time, hoping to have been cured or determined to have a harmless rash. These men were all living together in the outskirts of a village – that time of hoped-for healing had probably come and gone. Yet, when Jesus told them to go and show themselves, they went.
Please don’t under-estimate that act of faith. These broken men, who had lost everything, were commanded to present themselves with the potential for more humiliation (Jesus never told them what was going to happen if they went – they just hoped it meant he would heal them), but because Jesus commanded them to go, they went. Wonderfully, every last one of them was healed. A simple act of faith opened them up to the very cleansing they desired.
The story, however, isn’t over. After being healed only one leper returned. He never got to the priest. When he found he had been cleansed he began shouting praises to God and hurried back to Jesus. Once there he fell at Jesus’ feet and thanked him for what he had done. At that moment the surprise of the story is revealed, “The man who came back, wasn’t even Jewish – he was a Samaritan.” A foreigner recognized what God had done for him better than the nine Jewish lepers Jesus had also healed. That’s not to say the other nine men didn’t have faith, they did – they went off to the priests without any assurance, after all. Rather, it’s to say that it was only the foreigner who understood that for faith to be truly complete, to be whole, it has to be accompanied by the wonder of thankfulness. That wonderful, inexplicable, response of being grateful in spite of whatever else we might be going through.
This is what I want, desperately, for Central. I want us to be a people who are faithful, a people who cry out to Jesus for mercy and then act upon the things he commands us to do (share the story, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit the sick, make new disciples, be joined to other believers). And when we do those things, and Jesus does amazing things through us and for us, I want us to be a people who are thankful. I want us to know to come back to our Lord and show real gratitude to savior who has made us his own. In that way our faith can come back full circle and strengthen us for the next leg of our journey. Amen.