September 22, 2019 A+D
St. Luke 17:11-19
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The ten lepers are standing some distance from Jesus but they are close enough that He can hear them cry out and they can hear Him say “Go. Show yourselves to the priests.” Luke doesn’t tell us that they went anywhere or how they responded when Jesus gave the command. He says that they were cleansed as they were departing.
I have usually imagined that all ten of them were headed to Jerusalem and that after they were some distance away from where they encountered Jesus all ten discovered that they were healed. Then nine of them kept on in obedience to Jesus’ command, but without faith or gratitude, and that the alone turned back and then had to find Jesus.
That scenario fits with the text but the text doesn’t actually supply any of those details. In fact, I think now that Luke’s arrangement implies that that the cleansing happened more or less immediately, that is while they were still well within earshot and could still see Jesus, that it happened, and the Samaritan realized it, even before they had taken a single step just as they are turning away from Jesus to go.
And I do not think that His command, “Go. Show yourselves to the priests,” was well-received by the nine. Here is what I mean: I have people call the church asking me for money for food all the time. I tell them to call 211. That is a city service that can put them in contact with Harvest food bank and other agencies in town. Most of the time the people who are calling me get angry at this. They already know all about those services. That isn’t what they want. They want immediate assistance. They say, “Please give me money,” and I say, “Call 211.” And they say, “You are no Christian.”
Think of it this way: when Jesus says “Go. Show yourselves to the priests” it is like a father saying to his child’s request for a cookie, “Go. Ask your mother.” The child says, “I already did. She sent me to you.” “Go. Ask your mother” is a disappointing answer to the child.
These lepers already know about the priests. They know there is no place for them in the Temple. They are unclean. The rabbis at the time of Jesus largely taught that leprosy was a manifestation of inner uncleanness. It didn’t just happen to people but was a Divine judgment against them. They deserved it.
So the lepers might have heard something really horrific in Our Lord’s statement even if He didn’t mean it. They might have heard, “Why should I have mercy on you if you are unclean. Go. Show yourselves to the priests. If they declare you clean, then I will help.” It almost sounds like Jesus telling the Syro-phonecian woman that He wasn’t sent for Gentiles.
The lepers asked for mercy and Jesus, in effect, said “no.” So they are disappointed and their refusal to rejoice is perfectly reasonable if judged in the way of men. A child will not rejoice if mom tells him to go ask Dad and Dad tells him to go ask Mom. A beggar will not rejoice at being told to call 211. A leper does not rejoice at being sent to the Temple and being sent away empty-handed.
So also the lepers might well ask why should they praise the very God who afflicted them with leprosy in the first place. Why should they rejoice in this brutal complicated uncertain system of priests and Law? The Samaritan’s rejoicing seems foolish in the eyes of the world.
Here is the real problem with the nine: they do not expect God to be good to them. They didn’t call Jesus Lord. They called Him Master. They were desperate and needy, but they were not hopeful. They weren’t Job, persevering in his difficulties but with faith. They were bitter and self-righteous. When they were healed at the Word of Christ they were not thankful because they thought it was owed to them. They did not turn back to Christ because they did not trust Him and were afraid of what He might say. I am not at all sure that when they were healed they actually headed to Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t say. They might have just turned away in self-righteous anger and self-pity, throwing up their hands in frustration.
Wherever they were headed, they discovered that they were healed. The Samaritan draws attention to it with his praising of God. They should have then gone to Jesus, not the Temple. But if they go to Jesus He might insist all the more that they go to the priests. Or He might punish them for their sins or give them another disease. They do not trust God to be good.
The Samaritan was markedly different. He had faith. And it is most unlikely faith. For if the Temple and priests were hard on Jews, they were harder on Gentiles. At that time there wasn’t even any place for the Gentiles to pray in the Temple due to the money changers. But by the Holy Spirit the Samaritan believes that Jesus is good and has good things for him. He recognizes in Jesus the Temple not built with hands and a High Priest who is no son of Aaron but is of the order of Melchizedek, that is a High Priest even for Gentiles.
The Samaritan received the Word of Jesus with joy. He expected something good even when the answer seemed disappointing. Thus when he was healed, he recognized not only what had happened by also how and by whom it had happened. He received it as gift. Of course, he was thankful. He knows that Jesus did it by grace. He can’t help but praise God in Christ and turning back to Him.
Imagine this, though. What if this all took place immediately. Imagine that all ten are healed when they turn away in response, obedience or not, to the command “Go. Show yourselves to the priests” before they have taken a single step. And the Samaritan, seeing that he is healed, immediately turns back, starts praising God and throwing himself down at Jesus’ feet and otherwise making himself a spectacle. The nine are standing right there while this happens. They too are healed and know it.
This would make the failure of the nine more outrageous. It would also mean that the nine heard the rebuke of Jesus when He said: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?”
It would mean that Jesus was being sarcastic and complaining about them in their hearing rather than complaining about them apart from them. When He says, “Was no one found to turn back and give praise to God except this foreigner?” He wasn’t asking the Samaritan about the nine, rather he was rebuking the nine directly. He was saying: “Are you nine going to just ignore what I have done? You have been healed. I have given more than the mercy you asked and if you can receive it, I have more. I have salvation, forgiveness. Are you too proud to take it if it does not come on your own terms and in your own time and if you must share it with Samaritans? Are you, my countrymen, people of the Word, going to walk away and pretend that you healed yourselves?”
You do not have faith. You trust in yourselves. Go. Show yourselves to the priests, if you dare, for all the good it will do you. You are healed of leprosy but not of sin.
But you, Samaritan, I give you new direction. Don’t go to the priests. Rise and go wherever you want. You are free of the Law, free to worship in Spirit and Truth at the Temple made without hands.”
Jesus doesn’t give the Samaritan any direction. In Greek it just says “Rise and go.” The implication is that the Samaritan can go wherever he wants. He worships God in Spirit and Truth. He doesn’t need to go to the Temple or the priests in Jerusalem. He is not merely cleansed of leprosy, but is also saved. His soul is clean. He is reconciled to God. There is no one to accuse him.
So what application does this have for us? In the first place this again shows us the character of faith. Faith expects goodness from God. It expects God to keep His promises. It expects Him to look upon us with favor, to love us, to keep us, to bring us to Himself in the end, to be our God and for us. He has said that we are holy and belong to Him, so we are holy and we belong to Him. Jesus did not die in vain. It was not a tragic mistake. It was His and our glorification. He means what He says.
Isn’t His Name upon us? He has said that He has paid for all our sins and declared us righteous. Who are we to argue or to listen to the friends of Job and the devil? We will trust what God says. We will wait upon His promises.
This view of faith and the Word also teaches how to endure suffering. The rabbinic idea that leprosy was just and those who had it deserved it is horrific to us because we are disciples of Jesus. We rightly take His words about the man born blind and apply them to all sorts of situations. The sin of man has corrupted the world so that it is hostile to human beings. Suffering is often inflicted upon the innocent. Consider the sad cases of babies born with Aids or born addicted to heroin and the like. Karma and reincarnation all condemn those people. They teach that they deserve it. They are being punished for what they did in a previous life or in this life. Buddhism and Stoicism and much of Eastern philosophy says that it is their fault for noticing. Not us. We believe in Jesus. We know that while Job was not innocent, he was loved by God and that God did those things to Job in mercy to keep him in the faith and to teach him to know that his Redeemer lives. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” is a picture of the Samaritan’s faith, of thanksgiving even in sorrow.
We identify with the Syro-Phonecian woman, with this leper, with the woman at the well, with the tax collector in the Temple, with the prodigal son, with Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, with Peter in the court of Caiaphas, with Paul on the road to Damascus. Those are our people. We take their rebukes as our rebukes and their suffering as proof that suffering is not rejection by God or punishment, because their Gospel as our Gospel, their Lord our their Lord, their Baptism our Baptism.
Our sufferings are not trivial but neither are they eternal. We wait on God. We trust His Word. We praise Him even in our sorrow because He has bought us with His Blood and won’t forsake us. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
Finally, we see from the leper where faith goes and what faith does. Faith wants to be with Jesus. Levitical priests are not enough for us Samaritans. We worship God in Spirit and Truth. We come to the risen Body and Blood of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. Here is our Temple and Priest, our cleansing and forgiveness for our fellowship is with God the Father in the Son by the Spirit. We come to church to praise Jesus and thank Jesus and hear Jesus.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.