Luke 17:11-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[b] 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’[c] 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.”
Dear Friends in Christ, Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
So, one day, a large dog walks into a butcher shop carrying a purse in its mouth. He puts the purse down and sits in front of the meat case. "What is it, boy?" the butcher jokingly asks. "Want to buy some meat?" "Woof!" barks the dog. "Hmm," says the butcher. "What kind? Hamburger, bacon, steak ..." "Woof!" interrupts the dog. "And how much steak? A pound, two pounds, three pounds..." "Woof!" So the amazed butcher wraps up the meat and finds the money in the dog's purse.
As the dog leaves he decides to follow. The dog enters an apartment house, climbs to the third floor and begins scratching at a door. With that, the door swings open and an angry man starts shouting at the dog. "Stop!" yells the butcher. "He's the most intelligent animal I've ever seen!" "Intelligent?" says the man. "This is the third time this week he's forgotten his key."
He wasn't thankful.
Today's Gospel is found only in Luke, and is the story of Jesus' healing of ten lepers. In some ways it is a story for every one of us. We may not have the disease of leprosy, yet we all have the disease of sin and its effects. We all fall short of God's intention for us. We are a people of unclean hearts and minds and lips, just as lepers were people of unclean bodies.
To begin, I briefly want to explain what sort of situation the ten lepers were in. As we all know, leprosy was a dreaded disease in Jesus' day, mostly because it was not clearly understood. What we know nowadays is that their leprosy was not necessarily what we would call “Hansen's disease,” which is the terrible wasting disease that we think of as leprosy. Biblical leprosy included skin diseases such as ringworm, some types of mold, and other infectious skin diseases. But because medical knowledge back then was not what it seemed, it was very easy for all of these diseases, both treatable and more fatal, to all be lumped under one category. And this was a problem for those who caught any of them, because by the laws of of Moses, they were to be declared “unclean” and “socially unfit.”
For many, being called a Leper was a death sentence. It was assumed they were being punished for something they'd done wrong. So they were banished – not to be associated with, but avoided, lest they spread their contamination – and, get this, their condemnation – to others.
So, back to our story: The ten lepers approached Jesus as he was traveling through the countryside between Samaria and Galilee. They stood the required distance away – as lepers had to do – but instead of crying out “unclean!” they cried out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." The word they used for Master, Teacher, is one used by disciples. They seemed to recognize in Jesus not only one who could perform miracles and had the power to heal them, but also one who would command their allegiance, There was no offer of payment, for being lepers they probably didn't have much to give. But what they did do was place their faith in the One who could help them.
He told the lepers, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." This is significant in two ways: One, he treated the lepers the same way he treated everyone else. In other words, he didn't criticize them or question whether or not they were worthy of his time and attention. The only prerequisite to receiving God's grace and love is your need of him. This is precisely what Jesus had told the Pharisees in Matthew's gospel, saying:
"Those who are healthy have no need for a physician,
but those who are sick do…
I came not to call the righteous,
but sinners to repentance." (Matthew 9:12)
Secondly, Jesus telling the lepers to go and see the priest is significant because Jesus did not seek to circumvent the authority of the church. If it was the priest's responsibility to declare an individual unclean in the first place, it was up to the priest to determine whether or not the individual had been healed. This meant that the lepers would be able to rejoin society and their families.
So, as the ten went on their way to the temple they became clean. But one of them, who was a Samaritan, seeing that he was clean, did four things: 1. He turned back to Jesus, 2. He praised God, 3. He prostrated himself, that is he knelt before Jesus, and 4. Thanked Jesus. Now a curious question arises from Jesus, as He asks where are the other nine? Weren't they on their way to go do what he told them to do? But more interestingly, Jesus highlights two of the four things that the Samaritan did, being that he turned, and gave praise to God. Now a little bit about the Samaritans, they were on the out-and-out of society at that time, and were not allowed to even set foot in the temple. But what sets him apart in this case is that he took the time to turn back to God and thank Him for what he has done.
Earlier, I had said that this is story for all of us, and now I'd like ask for your help with some audience participation. In many ways this story is the story of Faith-Lilac Way's core values. I'd like to invite you take out the Lilac insert in your bulletins, and read the first value with me:
“Our identity as a welcoming community. Because God unconditionally welcomes each of us, we seek to do the same to all who come to us.”
While you still have that out, let's also read the final value together:
“The celebration of our relationships with God and with each other.”
Having come from a place of love and acceptance, we are able to, just as the Samaritan did, turn and give thanks for what God has done for us. But sometimes we get caught up the day-to-day rules of life, just as the other nine did, that even in happy times, we're rushing off without thanking the God who made it all possible. In the words of Martin Luther, "God does not need our work and has not commanded us to do anything for Him but to thanks and praise Him." We CAN give thanks and praise God for so many gracious gifts to us. We SHOULD offer our sacrifice of thanks and praise for what God has given us. And some of the ways that we can give thanks and praise to God is shown here on this purple sheet. Today, especially, we will be gathering to think how we can give thanks and praise for the resources we have been given, and how we can be good stewards of what we have. So, as you go on your way today, I invite you to remember what God has done for us, and give thanks. The Good News is that Jesus has died for us, bringing us from death to life so we in turn can and say:
“thanks be to God.” Amen
October 9, 2016