The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity| September 21, 2014| 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.”
There are few vices more offensive than ingratitude. We teach our children to say please and thank you. We say please because we do not have the right to impose our will on others. It’s a matter of respect. We say thank you because we are not entitled to the favor of others. A gift is a gift and should be acknowledged as such.
Ten men begged Jesus to show them pity. They said please. From their own misery they understood their need for mercy. They stood afar off – as far away as they could stand and still be heard – and did not presume to impose themselves. They pleaded from their need and pain and helplessness. They said please.
But only one of them said thank you. Nine out of ten, when they were relieved of their pain, promptly forgot him who showed them mercy. They were willing to accept the gift without acknowledging the Giver of it.
It is a cliché to point out how good manners have to a great extent disappeared from our culture. When one meets a courteous salesperson who thanks you for your service, it is a pleasant surprise. One entitlement generation gives birth to another, and everyone thinks that he’s got the right to what he wants without even thinking of who has to pay for it. The word “mine” is not only the first word the little child learns, it is the theme of the child’s life as he grows into adulthood thinking everyone owes him while acknowledging no debt of courtesy and respect to anyone.
Are you annoyed when somebody demands something from you when he ought to ask instead? Does it bother you when you do someone a favor and your generosity is met with silence – without any expression of thanks? Even animals show gratitude toward those who do them kindness. No gratitude toward those who do us favors shows a lack of manners. No gratitude toward God shows a lack of faith.
Ten men suffered from leprosy. Leprosy was a disease of the skin. It was painful. It forced the sufferer outside of the community because it was thought to be very contagious. People were afraid to have lepers nearby. They were ostracized, both informally and according to established custom and law. Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost. He excluded nobody. Just because someone was excluded from society didn’t mean he was excluded from God’s love.
St. Luke records that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. He wasn’t taking a direct route. The route he took brought him into an area where many Samaritans lived. Among lepers you would find Jews and Samaritans associating closely with one another. They generally despised each other. The Samaritans has broken away from the pure religion of the Jews and adopted various false teachings. They had intermarried with the heathen. The Jews looked down on them. You may recall that when they were slandering Jesus for his teaching they called him a Samaritan. It was an insult. Samaritans were members of a heretical sect. But misery loves company, and the band of lepers Jesus met that day included at least one Samaritan.
St. Luke wrote this account, but it was the Holy Spirit who directed him in his writing. The Holy Scriptures, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, are inspired by God. God is the Bible’s Author. This means that the Holy Spirit directed the human writers in their writing to write exactly what God wanted to be written. It also means that their choice to write about this and not to write about that was also directed by the Holy Spirit himself. God decided to record the fact that Jesus chose to walk among the Samaritans. God chose to record the fact that the only one of the ten lepers Jesus cleansed who returned to give him thanks was a Samaritan. God chose to record what Jesus said about him. He said two things. First, he called the man a foreigner. Second, he said that his faith had saved him.
Now this is a beautiful irony, so pay attention to it. It is written to teach you and to give you confidence before God no matter what your personal circumstances may be. The man was a foreigner. He was an outsider. He didn’t belong. As a leper he didn’t belong because of his disease. As a Samaritan he didn’t belong because of his nationality. So even after he’s cured of his leprosy and can rejoin society, he’s still a foreigner.
But he’s saved. Jesus said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” The word translated “made you well” means literally to save. It refers both to physical and spiritual salvation. Most translators translate Jesus’ words, “Your faith has made you well” in reference to the obvious fact that Jesus had healed the man. But Jesus had healed ten men. He wasn’t talking to the ten. He was talking to the one. Clearly, the man was made well. His leprosy was gone. His skin was smooth and disease free. But the same could be said of all ten men. But this was the only one of the ten who confessed the faith. He received what the nine did not receive. He received more than healing for his body. He received salvation for both body and soul. Jesus’ words should be translated, “Your faith has saved you.” All ten men said please. But only one of the ten had faith. He said thank you.
We say please when we are suffering. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They prayed from their pain. They were humbled by it. Unless God humbles you, you will never learn how to pray. The proud cannot pray. They can talk. They can put words together that sound pretty good. But until you see your need and your inability to provide it for yourself, you will not be able to ask God for it. God is good to us when he humbles us. God shows us fatherly love by taking away from us the idols in which we trust. As the Bible says:
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor detest His correction;
For whom the Lord loves He corrects,
Just as a father the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:11-12
We say please when we are suffering. But humility is not enough. Faith arises in humility, but humility is not yet faith. Humility says please. If you please, if it pleases you, if . . . Faith does not say “if”. Faith says “because”. Listen to the Psalmist sing praises:
I will sing to the LORD,
Because he has dealt bountifully with me. Psalm 13:6
Blessed be the LORD
Because he has heard the voice of my supplications. Psalm 28:6
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good
Because his mercy endures forever. Psalm 118:1
Faith has a cause. The cause is God’s goodness, his mercy, his grace. It is not a vague goodness where we ascribe to God general attributes of benevolence and kindness and mercy. No, it is a specific and located goodness and mercy. It is Christ himself. There is the goodness, mercy, kindness, and salvation of God.
This is what the Samaritan understood, despise the false doctrine in which he was indoctrinated and the sectarian errors in which he was raised. He understood something his friends did not. He understood that humility is not only the posture we assume when we feel our pain, it is the posture we assume when the pain is gone. Faith understands this. It understands that we live by mercy, and it is only by the grace of God that we have anything good in this life.
That’s why he went back to Jesus and gave thanks. He acknowledged Jesus, not only as master, but as God. He worshipped him. Worshipping is confessing. We confess what we believe. The reason people don’t give thanks to God for his goodness to them is because they care more about what God gives than they do about God. Such people rarely see their need for spiritual gifts. Their most pressing need is to have their sins forgiven and to be set at peace with God. But they cannot see this. They think if their health is good, their bank account balanced, and their relationships sound that life is just fine. If they get sick, they cry out to God. If they lose their job, they cry out to God. If someone they love leaves them, they cry out to God. They humble themselves. Should God answer their prayer and restore their health, their job, their relationship – they see no need to remain on their knees. After all, things are going just fine.
The one who returns to where Jesus is and gives him thanks knows that he never gets off his knees. He is just as dependent upon God after God answers his plea as he was when he made it. The one who gives thanks lives under mercy. That is, under the cross.
The cross is where we suffer loss and pain. We lose what we loved and God is the one who took it away. That’s the cross. We suffer under the cross as God perfects us, disciplines us, and makes us weak and humble. The cross is where we experience the greatest joy and victory. For it is where we gain the love of God. Where Jesus suffered and died for our sins is where all our healing of body and soul was achieved once and for all. The only thing that could keep us from enjoying eternal blessing from God is our own sins. When we return to give thanks to God he always meets us at the cross of his dear Son where all our sins are forgiven. His cross transforms our crosses and makes them easy and light. Our thanksgiving becomes the occasion for his giving us the very treasures of heaven.
It is meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God, in the person of his Son our Lord Jesus. The Holy Supper of his body and blood, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of our sin, is known as the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist means thanksgiving. Thanksgiving entails faith. This is the faith that knows, in good times and bad, our greatest need is always our need for divine mercy. This God grants us for Christ’s sake. Amen