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The text for our consideration this morning is the gospel lesson just read. It immediately follows the words of Jesus that we read last Sunday, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?
The story opens with 10 leprous men who “lift up their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” And the story ends with just one of these 10 hearing Jesus reply, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
This is a story that is bitter-sweet. Sweet, in that one man gets it. And that’s wonderful. How often have we said of our evangelism, ‘if we reach just one person it’s all worth it’? The angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents.
But bitter in that 9 didn’t get it. 90% of those who received the grace of God from Jesus Christ never made the connection between the miracle and the miracle worker, the healing and the healer, the gift and the giver.
At the end of the story Jesus asks a series of haunting questions that sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
I. vss. 12-13
“As he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’”
I’m not sure how much credit we should give these men for calling out to Jesus. Somehow, they seem to know His name. That’s good. For “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
But they call Him, “Master,” “epistata.” “Master” is a term of respect for a superior, but nothing personal. It might have been different if they cried out, “Lord, Jesus,” or “Jesus, Son of David,” or “Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…”
Actually, they probably “stood at a distance and lifted up their voices” and asked for mercy to everyone passed by them on any given day. So, I think we go too far to credit them for having faith in Jesus.
II. vs. 14
So, when we read, “When He saw them he said to them, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests…” it’s not because these men had faith in Him. It’s not because of our faith that responds to our prayer. He does what He does for these men and for each one of us, solely because of His love for them and for us.
As Luther explains it, “all of this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”
This is what ‘mercy’ is all about. ‘Mercy’ is undeserved love and care. Every Sunday at the beginning of the liturgy we pray just as these 10 leprous men prayed, “Lord have mercy upon us.” We confess that we are as they were – leprous, in need of mercy.
As we pray for the people of God and for all people according to their needs, we pray, “Lord in your mercy… hear our prayer.” Like these 10, we are not appealing to Jesus on the basis of some merit or worthiness either in us or in those for whom we pray, but solely on the basis of His love for us.
The terms ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’ go hand in hand and their meaning is very similar. Both describe love and care that is given solely on the basis of the love of the giver and not at all on the worthiness of the receiver.
Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, God is referred to as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the ‘grace and mercy’ of God. All that Jesus does, He does according to His grace and mercy for a totally undeserving world.
So, just to push this a little further, if ever we appeal to the Lord for His love and care for any other reason than the fact that He is “gracious and merciful,” that is, if ever we appeal to the Lord for His love and care based on some merit or worthiness on our part, or on the part of the one for whom we appeal, we deny Him. We show that in our heart we really do not believe that He is truly “gracious and merciful” as He says He is.
And just to push this a little further still, if ever when we appeal to the Lord for His love and care, and we receive it, and we say to ourselves, “it is because I deserve it,” or “it is because he was a good man,” we deny Him. We show that in our heart we really do not believe that He is really “gracious and merciful” as he says He is.
B. He SAW them.
Luke writes, “when He SAW them…” How many “masters” to whom these men had ‘lifted up their voices’ and asked for mercy, never SAW them?
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Priest and the Levite both “SAW” the half-dead man lying in the road. But they did nothing. “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was and when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10)
Luke makes it sound like it was just by chance that as Jesus “was passing along between Samaria and Galilee” that He entered this village and was met by 10 lepers. No. Just as the loving father SAW his prodigal son ‘WHILE HE WAS A LONG WAY OFF,’ Jesus saw these 10 men and He came to them, just as SAW you and comes to you.
C. Go show yourselves
He told them to ‘go, show yourselves to the priest.’ One of the jobs of the priest was that of ‘health inspector.’ It was the priest’s job to inspect the body of those who had leprosy to determine if it ‘clean,’ disease free and therefore, safe to reenter the Temple and society. The priest had no power to actually cleanse anyone of leprosy, only to certify that the person was already ‘clean.’
So, I wonder what these men thought when Jesus said, “go, show yourselves to the priest”? But whatever they thought, they went. All 10 of them.
D. They were cleansed.
“And as they went they were cleansed.” It happened as they were traveling.
Who knows how far along they had gone,
or how it happened,
or how long before they realized what just happened.
However it happened, this much is clear, all 10 men were healed of their disease. “And as they went they were cleansed.” No exceptions. All 10 were scar-less, scab-less, wrinkle free, flesh restored. And it wasn’t because of their faith.
It was a resurrection of the body before it was buried; a foreshadowing of the 2nd Coming of Jesus when ALL FLESH will be perfectly restored and reunited to the same soul that it had since the moment of conception. Each of these 10 men was living the dream of Job, whose flesh was as rotten as theirs had been but who still confessed, “after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God…” (Job 19:26)
III. vss. 15-16
“Then one of them, when he SAW that he was healed, TURNED BACK, praising God with a loud voice and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.”
A. He SAW
“One of them,” SAW that his leprosy, and then SAW his healthy flesh. Surely the others SAW this much too.
But this one SAW something more than just his skin. His eyes were opened and he SAW more than himself. He SAW what St. Paul describes as “the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor.4:6).
B. He Turned Back
And he could go no further with his new, non-leprous life until he “turned back.” And as he “turns back” he is “praising God with a loud voice,” for all to hear. And where does his “praise of God” lead him? To Jesus! And what’s he do with this newly restored body of his? He falls on his face at Jesus’ feet.
Here is a man who does not count his healing as the highest good, but the One who healed him. He doesn’t boast about his miraculous recovery but about the One who rescued him. His happiness for himself is overshadowed by his thanks to the One who SAW him.
And he was a Samaritan. Isn’t that a ‘kicker’? We were expecting that it would be just the opposite, that the nine were Samaritans and the one who got it was a good Jew. “You know how it is with those ‘unbelievers.’ They just don’t get it.”
But in this case, it’s the unbeliever, the outsider, who gets it and the believers who don’t. Why not? Could it be that this is simply what they expect Jesus to do? He is after all, the “servant of the Lord,” and “you don’t thank the servant for doing what he was commanded,” do you?
It’s a bit embarrassing I know, but here once again, just as with the ‘good Samaritan,’ we’re being schooled by an outsider in what it means to be a Christian.
IV. Vss. 17-18
“Then Jesus answered” with those haunting questions. “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
A. Jesus’ disappointment
There is a palpable ‘disappointment’ here. It’s almost as if now it is Jesus who is ‘lifting up His voice’ to these nine, “Have mercy on me.”
Surely all the others were thankful. How could they not be? But only one “returned to give praise to God.”
B. Self Examination
This account should make us ‘examine ourselves.’ How do we respond to love and care that our ‘gracious and merciful’ Lord bestows on us, day after day like the waves that break upon the shore?
Do we receive the love and care of the Lord,
everything from our daily bread to our income to the healing of our bodies,
and just keep on “going” without ever stopping,
without ‘turning back,’
without ‘praising God with a loud voice; and giving thanks to Jesus’?
Do we receive the Lord’s love and care,
everything from His suffering and death on the cross for our salvation
and His bodily resurrection for the resurrection of our body,
to His giving us all of this in our baptism,
and again and again in His Supper,
as though He were our servant,
and “you don’t thank the servant for doing what he was commanded.”
“And he said to the one, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” All 10 men were cleansed. All 10 men were healed of their disease. But only one was ‘well.’
This is “wellness” in the fullest sense of the word. “Wellness” that SEES what this Samaritan SAW in Jesus Christ, the Servant of the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, because He did all that He was commanded.