The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity| Rolf D. Preus| September 9, 2012| 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 made you well.” Luke 17:11-19
When words lose their meaning lies are accepted as truth. The word love is a perfect example. Years ago, when the apostles of the new morality promoted their doctrine of free love they used the word love when they really meant selfish desire. They didn’t want to call a spade a spade. Before you knew it, the word love changed meaning. It became commonplace to use the word love to refer to selfish sexual desire. When sexual sins are sanctified, the works of the flesh destroy whatever is pure, holy, noble, and good. Consider the breakdown of the American family and you will see the result of the word love losing its true meaning.
Nowadays we are faced with the redefinition of another word: the word faith. According to the Bible, faith comes by hearing the word of God. Faith is formed and informed by the word of God. What God says, faith grasps. Therefore, faith is dependant upon God’s word and cannot exist apart from it. So says God in the Holy Scriptures.
Today faith is defined differently. Each person forms his own faith according to his own fancy and every person who has any kind of faith at all in any kind of god at all is a person of faith whose faith is as valid as anyone else’s faith. According to this view of faith, there is no such thing as idolatry. Each person fashions his own god. In this way the First Commandment is abolished, all religions are put on the same plane, and divine truth becomes whatever anybody feels or thinks.
Thank God for the Holy Scriptures where we learn what true faith is! We learn three things about true faith in the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers. We learn that true faith is faith in Jesus. We learn that true faith is expressed in thanksgiving. We learn that true faith saves.
Truth faith is faith in Jesus. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. He was travelling to his death. He took a roundabout way to travel from Capernaum to Jerusalem. It took him through an area inhabited both by Jews and Samaritans. Ten lepers, nine Jews and one Samaritan, cried out to Jesus for mercy. Normally, Jews and Samaritans wouldn’t associate with each other, but misery loves company and leprosy was a miserable condition.
It wasn’t just the pain of the disease. That was bad enough. Lepers suffer from a disease of the skin that is a source of constant pain. It disfigures and can be fatal. But to compound the suffering of the disease was the bitter fact that lepers had no right to associate with healthy people and were banned from participating in the religious life of the community. That’s why they had to stand a ways away from Jesus and raise their voices. They couldn’t approach. They were unclean.
They called Jesus their Master and they cried out to him for mercy. To cry out to Jesus for mercy is where faith begins. True faith is faith in Jesus and true faith cries out for mercy.
Lord, have mercy upon us
Christ, have mercy upon us
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Faith doesn’t celebrate itself. It doesn’t congratulate itself. It doesn’t advertise itself, as if to say, “I am a person of faith and as such I have integrity that you are bound to respect so you should admire me on account of my faith.” Just the opposite – true faith is faith in Jesus. It pleads for God’s mercy that is revealed in his Son.
The lepers cried to Jesus for mercy. Jesus and mercy go together. True faith receives both Jesus and mercy. All ten lepers were cleansed. Their leprosy was taken away. Jesus did it. Jesus didn’t send them to the priests so that the priests would heal them. The priests couldn’t cure anyone of leprosy. Their duty was rather to confirm that a leper had been cured and that the leprosy was gone. Afterward, the priest would go through the required ritual by which the cleansed leper could be reinstated back to the fellowship of the Church. This would entail the shedding of blood. As you know, without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness. All of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament prefigured the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross.
Consider what is happening here. Jesus is heading to the cross where he will fulfill God’s promises to his people. On his way to suffer for the sin of the world he meets ten lepers and heals them of their leprosy. They begged him for mercy and he gave it. Going to show themselves to the priests – as the Law of Moses required of them – they saw that they were cleansed. They had their lives back. They had their health, their associations, their old life, the fellowship they previously enjoyed – they had it all and they didn’t get it from Moses, they got it from Jesus. They didn’t get it from the law. They got it from the gospel. They didn’t get it by their works. They got it by God’s grace. They got it from Jesus.
But only one of them returned to Jesus to thank him. True faith is faith in Jesus and true faith is expressed in thanksgiving and these two go together. True faith remains true only as it remains focused on Jesus. Thanksgiving is what focuses our faith and keeps it focused on Christ.
One of the words used in the Church for the Lord’s Supper is the Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. As we hear in the familiar words of the preface, “It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We receive the body and blood of Jesus with thanksgiving because we receive it in faith. True faith always issues into thanksgiving directed to the true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The nine Jewish lepers were content with the religious rites that were passing away. They were old, comfortable, and familiar. Going back to Jesus and giving him thanks would have been a confession of faith in him. But they didn’t trust in Jesus. True, Jesus helped them. Yes, they were willing to accept his help. But now that they were well, they didn’t need Jesus anymore.
The Samaritan needed to express thanksgiving to Jesus. St. Luke 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 glorified God. He fell down at his feet. In falling down at Jesus’ feet he was falling down at God’s feet. In this expression of thanksgiving he was confessing Jesus to be his God and Lord.
Ingratitude indicates a lack of faith. Faith doesn’t save us by what it does. Christ saves us by what he does. True faith saves because it receives the Savior and this true faith is expressed in thanksgiving.
The nine lepers believed for a while. They got what they wanted. That was enough. But they needed more. They got health. They got healing. But they didn’t get the source of perfect health and healing because they let go of Jesus as soon as they got what they wanted from him. Jesus was only a means to an end and they were in charge of the end.
That’s not true faith. The faith that trusts in Jesus keeps looking to him. It runs to him in every need. It wraps itself in Jesus and looks to him as the source of every blessing God has to give. Jesus is not a means to an end. He is the end. He is the revelation of God’s grace and the answer to all of our prayers. He is the righteousness for which we hunger. He is the health we crave. Where his blood is shed is where true fellowship with God is restored.
The nine Jewish lepers regained the fellowship they had lost due to their leprosy. The Samaritan as a Samaritan couldn’t enjoy that fellowship even after being cured of his leprosy. But he obtained a greater fellowship: fellowship with the Triune God, with the holy angels, with the faithful departed, with the church of all times and places. Jesus said that his faith saved him.
Faith doesn’t save because it is so good a work. Faith saves because it receives the Savior. Without the Savior, faith is delusion, pretense, and blindness. Faith apart from the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross to take away our sins is nothing but wishful thinking. True faith is faith in Jesus. True faith is expressed in thanksgiving. And true faith saves because it clings to the Savior. The Samaritan did show himself to the priest, but not to an Old Testament priest who could only confirm a health he couldn’t provide. He showed himself to the priest who provides us with eternal health and healing by his sacrifice on the cross. Faith saves because Jesus saves and faith receives all that Jesus is and does.
That’s why we come to church. We come to worship our God. But whenever we come to glorify him and give him thanksgiving he always gives us more than we give him. He heals our souls by forgiving us all our sins. On his final trek to Jerusalem he faced the source of all our sickness and pain and took it away. He suffered for us outside the city gates. He bore our sins in his body. He carried our sicknesses. He took away all our diseases. We meet him whenever we come here to God’s house. When we come to give him thanks, he confirms us in our true Christian faith. He heals our souls. Amen