Epiphany 3 2023

Epiphany 3
St. Matthew 8:1-13
January 22, 2023 A+D

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are no accounts of Jesus, during His earthly ministry, being asked to help and not helping. But certainly there were believing lepers in Judah who didn’t have the benefit of running into Him at that time. Nonetheless, just like us, they prayed in faith to Him. They asked Him to heal them. It doesn’t seem as though He did. Most of them, if not all of them, died of leprosy, and insofar as they had faith, they went to heaven.
Imagine this scenario: When Jesus had come down from the mountain and great multitudes were following Him, two lepers came and worshiped Him. Both said: “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” To the first, He reached out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then to the other He said, “I am not willing. Pick up your cross and follow Me. I will heal you on the last day.”
The miracle shows us that Jesus has both the ability to heal and the compassion to do so. This is what our God is like, how He acts, why He took up flesh, but that is not the whole story. His compassion is more comprehensive than simply a desire to alleviate temporary suffering. He wills for more than bodily health. He has come to rescue us from the bondage of death, from the eternal penalty of our sins. He doesn’t always heal our bodies now. Some people die of leprosy. But He will heal us all, completely, on the Last Day. This reality is essential to our faith and is a significant aspect of what it means to live by faith.
On the Last Day Jesus will restore our bodies to what they were meant to be. He will reunite us with our loved ones who have departed in the sign of faith. He will end all sorrow for His children. But we do not know what the immediate future holds. We don’t know if it is good for us to be healed of leprosy or not. Sometimes it isn’t. We do know this. The immediate future holds crosses, and barring Our Lord’s return in glory, a passage through death.
To this end, the hymn of the day is a particularly marvelous light. On a day when we hear of Jesus’ power we might think the best hymn would be something that extols and revels in the Divinity of the Son. This is better. Though it is likely too subtle for many to recognize, this is another demonstration of the catechetical and doctrinal superiority of the history lectionary and Lutheran Chorales. This hymn by Gerhard is a beautiful antidote to triumphalism. It seems to imagine a leper who has been told “No, I am not willing yet. Pick up your cross and follow Me.”
Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near with His cheer;
Never will He leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son for me won
When His life was given?

When life’s troubles rise to meet me.
Though their weight may be great,
They will not defeat me
God, my loving Savior, sends them;
He who knows all my woes
Knows how best to end them.

God gives me my days of gladness,
And I will Trust Him still
When He sends me sadness,
God is good; His love attends me
Day by day, come what may,
Guides me and defends me.

From God’s joy can nothing sever,
For I am His dear lamb,
He my Shepherd ever.
I am His because He gave me
His own blood for my good,
By His death to save me.

Now, in Christ, death cannot slay me
Though it might, day and night,
Trouble and dismay me
Christ has made death a portal
From the strife of this life,
To His joy immortal
Jesus is willing and does heal the leper. He then commands him to keep His involvement a secret. He is to carry out the ceremonial law, going to the priests, showing that he is cleansed, but he is not to tell them who healed him. It could be that part of the reason Jesus tells this guy to be quiet about it is because He doesn’t treat everyone the same. That inequality can be misunderstood by fallen men. Perhaps He doesn’t want those who are denied healing to suffer jealousy and pain from it.
Jesus gives to and heals us in accordance with His Father’s will. He gives us life, immortality, and a clean conscience and then asks us to live by faith. He didn’t take up flesh to give us a shot of morphine. Christianity is not the religion of the lotus eaters. He came to heal us where it matters with a healing that endures. That is His good and gracious will.
Eventually we will see how He used evil and suffering for good. We trust now that it all serves His will and we wait for Him to reveal Himself. For now, for the most part, even in the midst of joy, each and everyone of us must bear his cross. There is no life or faith on this side of glory that is free of pain.
Like the healed leper, the centurion’s servant was healed. He was also given more years on earth. He, too, is now long dead. Maybe you don’t have cancer right now or maybe you’ve recovered from a terrible injury in a way that was almost miraculous. Maybe your heart is strong and your lungs are clean. Maybe you don’t overeat or smoke or drink. You are still going to die. We are all dying. But “Christ has made death a portal From the strife of this life, To His joy immortal.”
Jesus is our example and our guide even in dying, maybe mostly in dying. He asked the Father in the garden to remove the cup and was denied. He had to suffer. He had to die. We have all asked Jesus for healings and mercies and miracles and often time has exposed that such a gift was not His will. He did not will our mothers to live more years on earth. He did not will that we keep our sight and hearing. He did not will that our man win the election or the girl we thought we loved love us back.
David, in his humility and repentance, understands this perfectly when he explains to his servants why he washes his face and goes to the Temple to pray after his son dies. He says: “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sa 12:22–23, NKJ).
The student is not above the Teacher. None of His disciples are free from crosses. Some leprosy is healed, but some remains. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Some suffering, for our own good and the good of our neighbors, is needed. We pray for what we do not know because we trust in what He has promised. The Holy Spirit intervenes and prays on our behalf. He often says no, but He does not leave us alone. He touches us in the Sacrament. He comes under our roofs and heals our unworthy souls. He forgives our sins. The son of Bathsheba cannot return to us, but we can and we will go to him. We can and will go where we belong. That is His will and it will be done.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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