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I. Jesus Traveling To Jerusalem
Luke writes, "On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee."
It may seem like no big deal to us that Jesus was on his way somewhere. We're always on our way somewhere. What's the big deal? It's a very big deal. Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem' because He had a series of important meetings to attend. One with a disciple named Judas, and another with the Chief Priests, and another with the governor and another with an executioner who knew where to place the nails, and another with a man named Joseph who knew where to lay His body.
It was a traveling day for Jesus. He was traveling from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south. Between these two regions lies Samaria. The one thing you can expect to find in Samaria is Samaritans. Generally speaking, good, religious people did all they could to avoid contact with Samaritans. They were sinners. Not that good, holy people aren't sinners too. But Samaritans had no hope of being saved because they worshiped the wrong god. God wasn't interested in them. There was a bypass that looped around Samaria for all travelers from Galilee to Jerusalem to take.
But Luke says that Jesus "traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee." One thing about Jesus, He never hesitates to cross the line between the holy and the unholy, the godly and the ungodly, the clean and the unclean. In fact, "He traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee" because He had a meeting with 10 leprous men.
II. The Encounter With The Lepers
Luke writes, "As He entered a village, He was met by 10 lepers…" (Luke 19:12). What a coincidence. At least that's the way it seems to us. We think we just happen to meet Jesus in a chance encounter along our journey through life. Maybe we even think that it was we who found Jesus. But it is He who seeks us and finds us and travels to meet us, even while we are a long way off.
As we'll learn in just a minute, this was a diverse group made up of Jews and Samaritans. Like I said, you don't find those two together very often. Isn't it amazing how disaster and hardships tend to break down the barriers between even lifelong enemies.
They see Jesus coming and "from a distance they lifted up their voices saying, "Jesus, master, have mercy on us." I wonder what they expected Him to do? They must have been accustomed to seeing people turn their heads away from them and walk by pretending they
don't hear or see them. Kind of like we do with that fellow who sits outside of Wal-Mart with his sign that says, "Will work for food." Ah, but here comes a Rabbi. If you begged a Rabbi for mercy, you never could be sure just what you'd get. A coin if you were lucky. A blessing if you weren't.
But now there comes this man who doesn't hide His face from their wretchedness. He doesn't pretend He doesn't see them or turn away in disgust or pronounce his judgment saying that they should never have let themselves get into this situation in the first place. No, Luke says, "He saw them." He didn't look at them. He saw them. Like the father "saw" his prodigal son. And He heard their cry.
Leprosy is a skin disease. And because it is both deadly and highly contagious, those who had it were cut off from society. They had to remain at a distance, not only from the general population but also from their families and spouses and children. They were even cut off from God because they weren't allowed to enter the Temple to make their sacrifice to atone for their sin.
Listen, a lot of people suffer with some form of leprosy today. It may not be the kind of leprosy that eats away at your skin. It may be the kind that eats away at your soul and spirit. It produces ugly sores of guilt and shame and sometimes leaves its mark, a stigma, like a scarlet letter on your chest that you think everyone can see. It isolates you by cutting you off from your spouse or family or friends, socially, emotionally, intimately. You wonder how you will ever be reunited with them again.
And it also causes a separation from God because you're afraid He'll "see" you. Afraid He'll see you and realize that you're not really the pious saint you've pretending to be. He might even cut you off.
Listen, Jesus has a meeting scheduled with you too.
"He said to them, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.'" Now, there's only one reason a person with leprosy would show himself to a priest. It was the job of the priests to certify that the leprous person was leprous no more and able to reenter society and the Temple.
St. Paul writes, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." And that's just how it happened for these ten men. All ten heard the Word of God from the mouth of God who was standing right in front of them. And that powerful Word formed faith in all ten. All ten believed Jesus. How do you know? Because all ten did what Jesus told them to do. That's how you know that faith exists in the heart. It obeys. James puts it as simply as it can be put. "Show me your faith apart from your works and I will show you my faith by my works."
(James 2:18) For those ten on that day all 10 Commandments were distilled down into just one. "Go show yourselves to the priests."
It was a traveling day for Jesus and now He just made it a traveling day for these 10. All ten believed and journeyed to Jerusalem to find the nearest priest for a thorough physical. And Luke tells us that as they went, they were healed. All ten healed. The puss all dried up. The sores all healed over. Skin restored, pink and smooth as a baby's.
Let's be sure to get one thing clear here. All 10 believed, but it wasn't their faith that healed them. It was Jesus and the power of His Word that healed them. By their faith they believed the Word and promise spoken to them and they went. By their faith, they received the gift Jesus gave to them.
III. The Response of Ingratitude
Now nine of these ten men disappear from view. We have no idea what ever became of them. Were they reunited with their families? Did they settle down and have grandchildren and did they retell that tale of what happened to them on that day along the border between Galilee and Samaria? Did they keep in touch with the other nine or did they lose touch since they no longer had that common bond that brought them together? We simply don't know.
But "one of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back, praising God in a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan." (Luke 19:15-16).
Only one paused to give thanks before rushing ahead with his all new, non-leprous life. Jesus' disappointment with the nine is palpable. "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" It almost sounds like Jesus is the one about to cry out to the nine, "Have mercy upon me."
It was for all 10 men that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. For all 10, He would be cut off from His family, His friends, His world… and His God. The sacrifice of atonement prescribed in the book of Leviticus for the cleansing of their leprosy would be carried out with His blood. Their cleansing along the border between Samaria and Galilee was just a preview of the greater cleansing He was about to bring to pass in Jerusalem. His blood poured out from the cross would cleanse them and every leper, of everything that eats away at their body and their soul. By the water of Holy Baptism, He would bring a cleansing for every form of leprosy, physical and spiritual. And He will mark the sinner with a new stigma, the sign of the cross upon the forehead and the heart marking you as one redeemed, cleansed, forgiven and reunited with God and one another.
One "turned back." To "turn back" is to repent. "Thanksgiving" is to turn back from facing all of the blessings the Lord has showered down upon you to face the One who has given them to you. Only one in ten did this.
All ten were healed of their leprosy but only one was made well.
* Nine knew they had been healed but only one knew who had healed him.
* Nine were happy for themselves, only one was able to look beyond himself.
* Nine went on with their life ready to ask Jesus for help again if they should ever need Him.
* One could go no further with His life but turned back and fell at the feet of the One who is the author and giver of life.
* Nine knew His power, one knew His love.
You and I stand in the shoes of these ten men. We all suffer the leprosy of our sin which eats away the very fabric of our soul. Yet, even before we knew enough to plead that most sensible of all prayers, "Lord have mercy on us," Jesus made his way to us by traveling along that border between heaven and hell. He came to earth in His journey from the ages of ages to "see us" and speak His miraculous word to us. "Go and show yourselves to the priest." And before you even depart from this place and begin your journey back home, the priest has already declared to you, in the stead and by the command of this same Jesus, "I forgive you all of your sins."
How do we respond to this grace upon grace that continues to break over us like the waves break on the shore? How does the sinner say thank you? It's the question that the Psalmist asks and that we sing as we bring our offerings to the altar. "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?"
The answer, "I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord." In other words, we have nothing but thanksgiving to offer to God. And we show our thankfulness to God by calling upon Him over and over again. Asking for Him to renew us and heal us, over and over again.
"I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord." There is no greater way to say thank you to God than to take the cup into which He has poured out His forgiveness and love for you and drink from it. And then to return again and say, 'more.' 'I want more.'
"Then Jesus said, "Rise and go you way, your faith has made you well."