September 2, 2018 A+D
St. Luke 17:11-19
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The account of Our Lord’s healing of the ten lepers is full of delicious details. It happens on the way between Samaria and Galilee. The movement is toward Jerusalem. The Lord’s face is set to the cross. He enters into a village and is immediately met by a pressing need. Ten lepers, one for each commandment, stand at a distance. They cannot enter the village. They cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
I think it likely that all they’re really asking for is some human mercy, a scrap of bread, some clean clothes, and maybe a prayer. They are dying men and there is no cure. What more can they ask?
Jesus responds with something else. He tells them “Go and show yourselves to the priests” and off they go. It seems this command was irresistible. He says “go” and they go. They seem surprised when they are cleansed on the way to Jerusalem. The cleansing is also irresistible. It happens to all ten, whether they have faith or not.
One leper, at least, does have faith: the Samaritan. He returns, praising God with a loud voice, prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet in worship and giving Him thanks.
Jesus responds with a rebuke of the nine. Where are they? This implies they do not have faith. They do not get the full benefit of what He has done. They are healed of leprosy only to die and go to Hell. He notes that the single leper to return is a foreigner.
He says to the Samaritan, “Rise and go your way. Your faith has saved you.” Our translation translates it as “Your faith has made you well” but the word here is better translated “saved.” He was made healthy, cleansed from his leprosy, in the sending. All ten lepers had that, but only this leper is saved and that by faith. Faith is that which worships Jesus. It recognizes He is the High Priest to which sinners, foreigners, and the unclean must present themselves in order to be cleansed.
We can draw some lessons here about gratitude and ingratitude, but the bigger lesson in this account is that salvation comes by faith.
Jesus uses these exact same words, “your faith has saved you,” in the same order, with the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears at the Pharisee’s house. He says to her as He said to the leper: “Your faith has saved you.”
That woman did not receive the forgiveness of sins as a consequence of her love anymore than the leper was healed as a consequence of his gratitude. Both responded to Christ’s love with faith, that is they believed that His love was genuine. They trusted Him and worshiped Him. That faith reconciled them to God, saving them.
We do not receive the forgiveness of sins through works or making good decisions or seizing an opportunity. Indeed, good works such as patience, chastity, and thanksgiving necessarily follow the forgiveness of sins, but they do not cause or merit forgiveness. Else it would not be forgiveness. Rather it would be the just reward or payment. It would be earned. Forgiveness is not an act of justice. It is, by definition, an act mercy. It is necessarily undeserved and comes not from the worthiness of the penitent but from the goodness of the Benefactor. The penitent simply believes it and that belief delivers the benefits of the gift.
Faith is that which grasps God’s free mercy on account of God’s Word ( Ap III. 32 in Kolb-Wengert). The account of the lepers is clear. The Samaritan came with this conviction about Christ: He is God the Lord who had healed him, a foreigner, by His Word. This is the highest way to worship Christ: to believe in Him, to trust in Him. There is no greater praise of Christ than to confess not merely that He is God or that He is good and powerful but to confess His mercy and goodness for us. He is the Messiah, God with us, who comes to restore creation and cleanse sinners by taking our sin into Himself. The Samaritan leper return to Christ as his own high priest even as the sinful woman weeps for joy and washes the Lord’s feet. The Temple veil is torn. There are no foreigners or sinful women. There between Samaria and Galilee the Samaritan worships God in Christ in spirit and in truth.
To think about Christ in this way, to worship and take hold of him in this way, as the Redeemer of sinners whose mercy endures forever, is truly to believe. It is to have faith that saves.
There is also a parallel here to the universal atonement and subjective justification. All ten lepers were healed but only one recognized and believed that Jesus was the Healer. So it is that Jesus has paid for the sins of the whole world, without their love or gratitude, not because we were worthy but because He is good. Without faith, however, there is no salvation. Our preaching and witness is all about telling the world what Jesus has already done for them, that He already loves them and has reconciled them to Himself, and urging them to simply receive it.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.