September 17, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The worst thing about being a leper isn’t the disease itself. It isn’t that flesh develops boils and scabs, that it turns the skin and hair white or yellow, that swollen flesh becomes raw, that the pain radiates below the skin. To be sure, it’s a horrible disease.
But the worst thing about being a leper is that you are an outcast, removed from the life you had with family, friends, occupation, and worship. Leprosy is highly contagious and the community doesn’t want what you have. God’s Old Testament law, made lepers outcasts to protect the rest of the community. According to the law of Moses, if a priest determined that a man was a leper, his duty was to pronounce him officially unclean, his clothes and possessions shall be burned, all his days, he shall be unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-47). It’s bad enough to be kept away from everyone you know and love, it’s even worse to be removed from the worshipping community, cut off from the temple, cut off from the priests and the sacrifices, cut off from the visible, holy things of God.
Leprosy is an icon of sin. Sin is spiritual leprosy. It is more than just disobeying God’s law by our thoughts, words, or deeds. It is infectious, debilitating, and the injury goes below the skin to the heart. It is highly contagious and the community doesn’t want what you have. You divide yourself from the congregation by your sin. Leprosy changes the skin and makes it hideous. Likewise, sin changes a person and makes him ugly, sometimes physically as a result of harmful and abusive practices, but always emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Likewise, sin is not just something on the surface, it penetrates to the soul. Since Adam and Eve sinned, sin is something that corrupts and clings to us in this world and cannot be removed by soap or pious thoughts. The result of sin is that it, like leprosy, makes you an outcast, cut off from the heavenly temple, estranged from other people, and alienated from God. Sin is real. It’s not something philosophical to study. St. Paul calls out how sin displays itself in adultery, fornication, vulgarity, hatred, contentions, jealousies, selfish ambitions, envy, and drunkenness. Sin is real and has a face, just as clearly as leprosy is real and cannot be hidden.
For sinners, the only remedy is what the ten lepers did. The lepers, even from far away, lifted up their voices and cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” This is the cry of repentance and faith. This is the quintessential prayer, the essence of all Christian prayer. Every Sunday we sinful lepers cry out, “Lord have mercy upon us!” In the prayer of the church, you respond to the petitions with your plea, “Lord, have mercy!” After the consecration, our song in the Agnus Dei sings of this mercy we are about to receive under bread and wine. It’s God’s mercy in Christ Jesus that causes him to draw near to you and heal you.
Jesus heard the cry of the lepers and healed them. He healed them by His Word and command. He said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” and as they believed and went, they were cleansed in their very “go”-ing. God works in this way. He gives a command—either an action or a physical element—and he attaches his miraculous power to it. In the Lord’s Supper he doesn’t say, “Go,” but rather, “This do,” and in so doing, the bread and cup which we bless are the body and blood of the Lord for the forgiveness of yours sins. In Holy Baptism he doesn’t say, “Go,” but rather, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). Here His miraculous Word makes water, bread, and wine divine tools for salvation. Jesus heard the cry of the lepers and he healed them; He hears your cry and heals you by forgiveness applied to real sins
“Go, show yourselves to the priests,” the Lord says. For leprous outcasts, excommunicated from the temple worship and the priests, this is none other than an absolution. “You have been accepted back into Israel, go be part of God’s people once again.” He sends them to the priests (Lev. 14), and they believe and go. The Law required that sacrifice be made, that the healed leper be washed, that he be anointed with blood and oil, that he be clothed with clean clothes. This was a mystery, pointing to the fact, that sacrifice and blood was necessary for your cleansing also. It was a mystery pointing forward to the time when you were accepted into the New Israel, the worshiping community of the Lamb of God sacrificed for you—washed and clothed in Christ.
One leper returns recognizing Jesus as the true Priest, the true temple, and the true sacrifice. This one leper recognizes that Christ is the one who healed him. And he recognizes also the hidden divinity. This Priest, Jesus, is God. That’s why the Gospel says, “He returned and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.” To whom did he give thanks? He gave thanks to God, to the Messiah, the healer of his and your leprous-sin. Thanksgiving is the natural response of faith. Christians complete their prayers and cries for mercy with uplifted voices of thanksgiving. (Worship attendance not adiaphora—where we cry for and receive mercy and where we return thanks as a community)
Jesus’ command is for you. Go to your High Priest. Go to the temple of His body. Cry out, “Lord, have mercy.” Receive the healing the True Priest has earned for you by His one, satisfactory death on the cross. Fall on your knees before Him. He is present in His Church in bread and wine, in water and Word, pronouncement and exhortation for the forgiveness of your sins. Go show yourself to Him who has healed you. Glorify him with a loud voice in your songs, give thanks to him in your prayers, show mercy to those around you, model your actions after His merciful actions. Join your voices with those of the new Israel, all Christians, for you have been cleansed and welcomed back into the community, sinners and excommunicated no longer.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.