Luke 17:11-19

"Faith That Heals"

 

Let’s take a deep breath and open our hearts, mind, soul and spirit to receive the message that God has for us this morning. Let’s focus our thoughts on the message that the Holy One is giving to us today. Let us pray: Lord God, Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, please let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Strength, our Rock and our Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, amen.

In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus is out on the boundary between his place of origin near Galilee and the edges of civilization, that shadowy place known as Samaria. There he meets a group of people who are also on the margins – he comes across ten lepers, or should I say, they find Him. Jesus heals all of them despite the strict Jewish prohibitions against contact with these "unclean" people. Jesus sends them on their way to the temple to give thanks, but only one returns praising God for his healing and Jesus is amazed that this "foreigner," this Samaritan, came back to show such gratitude.  

The story of the ten lepers occurs "on the way to Jerusalem." Luke reminds us of the great turn that took place in chapter 9 of Luke, where we read that, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set his face to go to Jerusalem.” So, even healing stories like this one, take place in the looming shadow of the cross. Luke gives us the framework for a story that is 100% healing and cleansing, yet sadly only 10% thanksgiving.

The second thing we see in this story is how the story looks and reflects Jewish Scripture and Torah Law. The cultural and biblically legal details in Luke's story speak to why the ten lepers "keep their distance" from the approaching Jesus in accordance with Torah Law. The command of Jesus to show themselves to the priests also corresponds to Torah law. Just as the onset of leprosy was not confirmed without priestly observation, so also any healing was not complete without the priest recognizing and formalizing it.

The third thing to note is that this is a story that moves forward in a dynamic way. This story begins with a miracle, yet the focus doesn’t remain on it. We almost always assume the miraculous with Jesus, where matters of grace, mercy, healing and salvation are always present. But instead of us getting hung up on the miracle, the story guides us to a different place. We see that only one of the ten lepers returns to express his gratitude, and then only after he "sees" that he was healed. Furthermore, when he does come back, he shows us the kind of fall-on-your-face worship in thanking Jesus that I hope we also are not afraid to demonstrate. Only then in the story do we learn a crucial bit of information from Luke: this grateful leper, this man who Jesus healed was a despised Samaritan. So now, what started off as a typical miracle story has taken an unusual turn.

In Leviticus 13: verses 45 & 46, we read, "As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” What a life!! Lepers were not allowed within the city gates; they lived in the garbage heaps that were often on fire, where not only garbage but dead bodies were often cast. In the Greek, the word for these dumps was Gehenna, a word for hell and lake of fire that lepers found themselves in; near the sewers that were located outside the city walls where they tried to stay alive any way they could. They were total outcasts from ancient society. Jewish law forbade anyone from even touching them or getting close to them. To be a leper meant no intimacy with anyone, no friendship with anyone and certainly no love, because in ancient societies, sickness was thought of as payback for some sin or indiscretion; you were isolated and a total outcast, the living dead. If you were a leper, you essentially lost everything; your family, your job, your money; your complete identity, and eventually, your life.

In today’s world, we don’t equate leprosy with sin and evil, but there are some important similarities between then and now. Like the leper of ancient times, before Jesus came into our lives, we too were isolated from true intimacy and true love; like the leper, we too were outcasts from the Kingdom of God. Like the leper, we too were in the process of losing everything; and like the leper, we too were being destroyed by that which was in our bodies, the laws of sin and death. I’ve spent time describing leprosy this morning because it is a picture of what can happen to each of us on the inside due to sin and what the Dark Side of life wants to do to every single one of us here today. Eaton’s Bible Dictionary describes “Leprosy” as "the outward and visible sign of innermost spiritual corruption; small in the beginning, its gradual spread, its internal disfigurement, its destruction, little by little, of the whole body, of that which corrupts, degrades, and defiles our inner nature, and renders us unfit to enter into the presence of a pure and holy God.” We may like to think that we are sufficient, self-contained and capable of handling life; but the truth is, we are born helpless into this world, and we are helpless to stand before sin and the Dark Side of ourselves. We stand condemned by sin except for God’s grace, loving-kindness and merciful generosity! In Romans 5:8, we read, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” To be without strength means in Bible terms to be totally helpless. Like these ten lepers, we were helpless to stop our own destruction. Like the lepers, all we can do is cry for mercy. Here the Greek word for mercy is "eleeo" {el-eh-eh’-o}, meaning, to have mercy or compassion. But let’s remember that there’s a difference between mercy and grace, isn’t there (?): grace is getting what you don’t deserve, but mercy is not getting what you deserve. Remember that mercy is not getting what you deserve. I believe that these ten lepers realized that they were sinners and whatever they had received, they deserved. So, they cry out for mercy, and for relief from their torment. They beg the Lord God in Jesus Christ to have compassion on them, to help them in their time of need. Lord, have mercy on us!

These lepers knew that leprosy was a death sentence, and their ONLY hope, the ONLY way to healing and wholeness was through Jesus Christ, alone. Everything had come down to this moment, to this fateful encounter with Jesus. For them, it became a moment of all or nothing, life or death! Aren’t you glad that when your only hope is placed in Jesus, when it’s all or nothing, when it’s life or death, that Jesus will always be more than enough, that God will never leave you, nor ever forsake you. Jesus had compassion on these ten lepers and told them to go and present themselves to the priests, as prescribed in Mosaic Law, as Jewish law in Leviticus commanded. The priest would inspect them and give them a clean bill of health so they could rejoin their communities and families.

Why did Jesus tell them this? Why didn’t He just say, “be healed”? Faith is always required of we, the helpless. Remember, Jesus was their last and only hope. In the Old Testament, Naaman the Syrian had to act on faith in order to be cleansed. The story of the leper in Matthew 8, who came to Jesus and confessed his faith is why Jesus healed him by just touching him. The ten lepers came to Jesus in faith, and as they did, they were healed. This is faith that heals. They were not healed first and then told to go to the priests, they had to act on faith, however simple that looked.

If we are to be with Jesus, we must go where he is and we must be with those he is with. This is our mission. When the one Samaritan leper saw that he had been healed, he went back to Jesus. The Lord had given the command to go to the priest, but this man delayed. This man, this healed and now whole person, turned around and went back. He realized what had happened and came back to Jesus in gratitude and thanksgiving and worship. God has called us to worship Him above everything else. In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, we read, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is God, the LORD is one! And, you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” This man fully intended to obey what the Lord had told him to do, but he realized that he had a higher calling that must come first. He gave thanks to the Lord.

Do we really perceive all the ways that God has blessed us? Not one of us is hungry, not one of us is naked, not one of us has leprosy, but most importantly, if you’re a Christian, you’ve been blessed by Jesus Christ our Lord. And you know that the Dark Side is doing everything possible to keep our minds off the blessings of God. The Dark Side will guilt trip you, and constantly tell you how bad you’ve been, or how everything is wrong in your life, or remind you of your sinful nature, or tempt you to act out your own dark side. Like the Borg in Star Trek, our inner self tells us that “resistance is futile.” Like the Emperor Darth Sidious in the movie Star Wars, we tell ourselves to give in to our anger and the Dark Side. Give in to sin, fear and hate, and do the will of the one who will welcome us into the hell that we alone create for ourselves. That’s when we need to take a step back, and realize how much we love the Lord, and of course, how much the Lord loves us!

The Greek word, doxaxo, means to esteem gloriously, which manifested the worth of what the Lord had done for the leper. This now healed leper, came back to Jesus and fell down before Him in worship, and gave Him loud and glorious praise. The Lord asked the question, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” Then He told the man, “Rise, go your way, your faith has made you whole.” This was something that the others did not receive. Someone once said that a new power was given to the healed leper that day. He had the faith not just to be healed, but he had the faith to follow Jesus Christ in grateful and glorious thanksgiving. The lessons of the healing follow.

In closing, let’s review the lessons of today’s scripture: (1) God's mercy should always yield thanksgiving. (2) God works through Jesus, His Son. (3) Getting close to God is having the faith to trust in God. The God who seems far away can really be near. (4) The outsider, the foreigner, those who respond to God may not be the ones we expect to respond. (5) God's blessing can be both appreciated or underappreciated. It’s a matter of faith between us and God. Amen? Amen

Jan Ekstedt MDiv.