St. Luke 17:11–19
The Ten Lepers
Now on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When He saw them, He said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then He said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Dear Fellow Redeemed:
These words are in our Collect today: (speaking of the Lord) “Without You we can only fail.” Those words are written to help emphasize the point of our text for this morning. It’s a proper focusing of our attention, we might say. It’s a reminder about having a grateful perspective. Our faith is demonstrated in our gratefulness toward God. Our gratefulness says that we understand and appreciate what has been done for us. There are many potential places we can look for help in our greatest need; but one from which we can actually obtain help.
Our text is about a group of men who were in great need. They were very sick. And they were sick in a way that even resulted in them being ostracized from the community. They couldn’t be around other people; it was too dangerous. Six feet of distance from other people - like we’re used to now - wasn’t enough. They had to live outside the camp. They had to identify themselves as having this sickness, by wearing torn clothes and loose-hanging hair. In the vicinity of others, they were to cover their upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean” as if to say, don’t come near because if you do, you will become like I am. This was in the community laws that God had handed down to Moses and Aaron.
Also in that text from Leviticus 13, is the declaration that the priests were to be involved in cases of Leprosy. They were the ones examining a person, and making a judgment about whether or not it was leprosy. They were the ones giving instructions about the way it should be handled were it found to be leprosy (On the other end of it they were involved too. If a person seemed to have recovered, they were the ones judging the person to no longer be a danger to the community).
There were ten of these sick men who approached Jesus in our text. Jesus points out that one was a Samaritan; the others are thought to have been Jews, then. It says about these ten men, that they shouted (from a legal distance), “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
They shouted, essentially, the words of the Kyrie Eleison from our service: Lord, have mercy upon us. Now, those words have been appropriated in our liturgy, in asking God to save us from the guilt of our sins - to give us forgiveness, to give us heaven instead of hell. In our text (and in other texts like this) the words are used to plead for God’s help in matters related to this body and life.
Interesting, isn’t it; to see that we’re praying to the same Lord for both (even using the same words to do so)? We sing those words liturgically, along with Christians going back to the sixth century, because we know that (again, like it says in the Collect), without [the Lord], we can only fail. He is the One to Whom we direct our prayers. We know Him to be all-powerful to help us. He’s the One for Whom nothing is impossible. Should He decide to bring something about, there isn’t anything that could prevent it. Our text is a demonstration of it. And we know Him to be compassionate, wanting to help us. We know this because we know the Scriptures. We know what the Spirit has taught us in our Baptism. God so loved the world, and so forth. We know the Lord’s mercy. It applies to salvation from sin, and to the needs of our regular lives in this world. The Lord sees to both.
These men in our text had heard of this mercy too, apparently. At least, they knew that Jesus was getting a reputation as someone Who was doing things no one else could do. We already established that the priests were to be involved in cases of leprosy. When Jesus told the ten men, “Go, show yourselves to the priest,” it isn’t likely that they thought it was weird or something, that He was mentioning the priest. The best news they could hear in their condition, was that there was good reason to go show themselves to the priest (though, the timing may have seemed strange because they still appeared to have leprosy as they set off; but they trusted Jesus’ words).
And then, from the ten who had come to Jesus, about one of them, more was left for St. Luke to report. When [this one man] saw he was healed, [he] came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him—and [as we said earlier] he was a Samaritan.
The remarkableness of him being a Samaritan was in that Samaritans wouldn’t ordinarily have identified Jesus as God in human flesh like Jews might, who knew the Scriptures. Jews were looking for this ‘Messiah’ Who was to come - even saying things like, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world! (John 6:14)” after seeing some of Jesus’ miracles; Samaritans weren’t looking for that person, though. It was unusual for this Samaritan to be worshipping Jesus (throwing himself at His feet) like one would do before God. Evidently, he had come to know Jesus as the true God. He’d made that connection - maybe because he’d known Him before - but certainly, because of the miracle he’d seen Jesus do.
But then, there is this conspicuous question mark in the text. Before the question mark are the words, Where are the other nine? Weren’t there ten who were cleansed? Of course, Jesus knew they were. He wanted the people around Him, and He wanted us to recognize how off this was, that God could do something like this for someone, and they not come back, throwing themselves at the Lord’s feet, and thanking Him. In our Old Testament lesson, the prophet Jeremiah addresses the Lord, and says, Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the One I praise. The Samaritan in our text was thinking that same thought, and addressing it to Jesus. He was recognizing Jesus as the One the prophet was talking about, the One Who heals and saves. And Jesus considered his thankfulness to be an indication of his faith. Is faith present if this thankfulness toward God isn’t present? That’s a question that needs to be asked.
If you and I were the ones whose accounts were included to be read thousands of years from now, like the account of this Samaritan, would our faith be able to be demonstrated in displays of great thankfulness? Would our thankfulness be that evident? Would our faith be noteworthy like this Samaritan’s was?
We know what has been done for us; we’re being reminded of it in this service. We’ll be singing clearly of it in the Agnus Dei, just before Communion: O Christ, the Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world. It’s our sin that has been taken away too. We know that. We know that God daily cares for the needs of our bodies too. We know that He richly and daily provides [us] with food and clothing, home and family, property and goods, and all that we need to support this body and life (Luther’s words from the meaning of the First Article of the Creed). We know that. We wouldn’t have what we have if God weren’t providing it for us.
Wouldn’t we have to say that our sin is evident in our neglect of the sort of action that the Samaritan was carrying out in our text? Isn’t it true that so much of the time we have seen the Lord’s amazing blessings, and…kind of ignored them - even, sometimes, grumbled that we haven’t been given more? We haven’t always been moved, like the Samaritan, to rush back to the Lord and worship Him, thanking Him for all He has done, though it should have been our daily exercise. Where has been our strong faith that would move us to do that?
What were the other nine doing? Well, they probably had important things to do. Their families hadn’t seen them for a while - at least, not up close. They probably had a million things they wanted to get back to. You and I have a lot of things going on. The Lord’s blessings have gone past us sometimes, haven’t they? Jesus could say of us, Where are these upon whom I have bestowed blessing after blessing? Often, we have forgotten those words of our Collect: “Without You we can only fail.”
God be praised that our help in our need doesn’t come from us, but from Christ. Where we have failed, He has succeeded. He is the One Who heals from deadly disease by merely speaking the words in our text. He’s the One who has removed our ungratefulness, and all of our other sin - taking our guilt upon Himself so that in His crucifixion - His payment for sins - we have God’s full and free forgiveness. Jesus - the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world - is the One to Whom we sing, Lord, have mercy upon us, and know that we have approached the One Whose help is sure and certain. Rejoice in this as you receive from Him along with bread and wine this morning, His true body and blood given and shed for the remission of your sins. This is true and eternal healing from the One without Whom we can only fail, but with Whom we have forgiveness eternal life. Amen.
Other Texts for This Sunday:
Old Testament – Jeremiah 17:13–14
God Is Our Only Hope
O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away from You will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water. Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the One I praise.
Epistle – Galatians 5:16–24
The Fruits of the Sinful Nature and of the Spirit
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.