The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity| Rolf D. Preus| September 6, 2015| St. Luke 17:11-19
Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” So it was that as they went, they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks—he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? “Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has saved you.” St. Luke 17:11-19
Jesus went through Samaria on purpose. Jesus was a Jew. He was a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, an Israelite of the tribe of Judah. He was of the royal line of David. He was the King of the Jews. He came to seek and to save the lost sheep of Israel. God chose Israel by his grace alone. That’s how God operates. He graciously chooses his children. They don’t choose him. He chooses them. It is always by grace alone.
Some folks reason that if we sinners are saved by grace alone this must mean that God doesn’t want to save everyone. Otherwise, everyone would be saved. Subjecting God’s word to the judgment of human reason, Protestants generally fall into one of two camps: those who teach salvation by grace alone but deny universal grace and those who teach universal grace but deny salvation by grace alone.
But our sinful and fallen human reason has no right to stand in judgment of God’s word. We are to believe what he says because he says it regardless of whether we can figure out how this fits with that. The Bible teaches both grace alone and universal grace. It teaches grace alone. In Romans 9:15-16 Paul writes:
For [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
The same Paul writes two chapters later in Romans 11:32, “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.” Sinners are rescued from their sins and delivered from death and the devil by God’s grace alone. They contribute nothing to their salvation. And God wants all people to be saved. If you cannot reconcile grace alone with universal grace, that’s your problem. It’s not God’s. He teaches both.
God’s grace is universal. Jesus deliberated traveled through Samaria. That the Jews were God’s chosen people didn’t keep him from reaching out to the Samaritans. The Jews despised the Samaritans. After the Exile, they had intermarried with heathen tribes and had compromised the truth of God’s word. They distorted many biblical teachings and made many false religious claims. They certainly had no claim on Christ, who was a true Israelite sent to Israel.
But beggars beg and lepers were reduced to being beggars. There was no difference between a Jewish leper and a Samaritan leper. They were all ostracized by law from the healthy and clean. They were afflicted with a skin disease. It was physically painful. The pain reminded them of the fact that as lepers they were excluded from fellowship with others. A healthy Jew wouldn’t join together with a healthy Samaritan for religious reasons. Leprous Jews and leprous Samaritans were cast together by their common miserable condition. They weren’t in fellowship with anyone but themselves. They gathered together in little bands often sleeping in caves.
Misery loves company. That company of lepers – all ten of them – banded together for whatever solace miserable people can offer each other. So it is with religious fellowship. Folks of similar circumstances band together to do corporately what they cannot do alone. Religious fellowship is in most cases a purely human affair. You want to hang out with our crowd? You seem to fit in. And so the lepers hung out together in shared misery.
Then Jesus came by. What was he doing here? Never mind why he’s here. He’s here. He not only loves the outcast, he can actually do something to help them. So they join their voices in a common desperate plea: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They cannot go right up to where Jesus is. They are required by law to stand a distance away. They put everything they have into their weakened voices and cry out to Jesus for mercy. They don’t have to specify what they need. It’s obvious. They need to be healed from this painful disease.
Jesus fulfills the prophecy written in Isaiah 65:24,
It shall come to pass
That before they call, I will answer;
And while they are still speaking, I will hear.
He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. The priests did not heal anybody. They certified that a leper had been healed. This was necessary for those who were cleansed to reenter society. They had to get the okay from the priests. All ten men were cleaned of their leprosy. One of them was also cleansed of his sin. He was the one who returned to Jesus to give thanks. Listen once more to how St. Luke records this event. He writes:
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks—he was a Samaritan.
He saw he was healed and he returned. He glorified God. He fell down on his face at his feet. Whose feet? God’s feet. That’s what the text says. He fell down on his face at God’s feet, giving him thanks. He recognized in Jesus, not just a miracle worker who could cure disease, but his God who could cure his soul from sin.
The other nine went on to show themselves to the priests. That brought them to the temple. The temple was God’s house. It was where God met his people. Where the blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the holiest part of the temple was where God was reconciled. The temple pointed to Christ. Jesus referred to his body as the temple.
There is the true religion of faith and there is the bogus religion of religious ritualism. The nine go through the rituals that will enable them to rejoin society. Religion can be good for you, you know. Getting the right connections, knowing the right people, becoming part of a respectable community. And face it: religious people tend to be better quality folks. Compare church going religious folks to irreligious mockers of God. Who are more likely to go to prison, engage in drunken brawls, or commit fornication and other family-destroying sins? Who would you rather have as a next door neighbor? One who observes his religious duty or someone who doesn’t think he has any religious duties?
The nine faithfully follow their religious duty. They show themselves to the priests who examine their bodies and declare them to be fit to reenter the community. What a relief! To be back home again!
But they didn’t know the first thing about true religion. Apparently, it never crossed their minds that the reason they suffered from leprosy was because of their sin. All sickness is the result of sin. Not that this sin causes that sickness, though sometimes that is the case. It’s not usually a direct cause and effect, but there wouldn’t be any sickness if there weren’t any sin. That we suffer and die means that we have sinned against God and we need something more than healing for our bodies. We need the forgiveness of our sins.
Leprosy is a very ugly disease. The body, while living, is dying. You literally see death. But what you see is the result of a cause. What’s the cause? The Samaritan knew. He returned to God. How? He returned to God by returning to Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. In falling down at Jesus’ feet and giving Jesus thanks the Samaritan confessed the faith that receives from God the forgiveness of sins. He received healing of both body and soul.
All ten lepers were cleansed in their body. The ugly evidence of a dreaded disease was taken away. Religious respectability was restored. They were once again a part of the crowd. They were accepted by their fellows. They didn’t have to yell, “Unclean!” to keep people away. Life was good again. They had fellowship with their fellows. But they had no fellowship with God.
The single leper who gave thanks to God by falling on his face at Jesus’ feet looked past the sign to what it signified. When Jesus healed him of his leprosy, he was forgiving him of his sins as well. He knew that he who could cure his leprosy could forgive him his sins. Surely, the one with power to remove the results of sin has the power to forgive sin. Jesus does. Jesus is both priest and sacrifice. He offers up himself as the bloody sacrifice to wash away all sin. He sacrifices his own body on the cross, offering to God the one and only sacrifice that atones for all sin and takes away the anger of God. This man felt God’s anger against sin and sinners in his own body. Where Jesus our priest shed his blood for us God’s anger is taken away and we are restored to fellowship with God.
We kneel at God’s altar and give thanks to Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is called the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, because we receive it in thanksgiving. Three things go together: faith, confession, and thanksgiving. We believe the same thing. We trust in the same Jesus whose blood has washed away our sins and restored us to fellowship with God. We confess the same thing. We confess together the pure and saving doctrine of the gospel that saves our souls. We join together in thanksgiving. This is no mere human fellowship where we all get together on our own terms for our own purposes. This is the communion of saints, gathered together in one mind, by one Spirit, to confess the one faith.
Religious worship without faith is empty ritual. It has only social benefit and provides nothing of spiritual value. True faith without worship is impossible. Faith cannot but be confessed. The Samaritan who returned to give thanks to God went to Jesus because he was a Christian. Christians go to Jesus. We go to church. We join in common praise of our God. We confess the same faith. Jesus says to us what he said to the leper who returned to give him thanks: “Arise, go your way. Your faith has saved you.”