Trinity 14: Thankful to God

Jesus Heals a Leper
Christ healing a leper. Woodcut by an unidentified cutter, 1571, after Jost Amman, based on Matthew 8:2-3, Mark 1:40-42, Luke 5:12-13

Lessons: Prov. 4:10-23, Gal. 5:16-24, Luke 17:11-19
Hymns: LSB 902, 737, 544, 820, 791

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      In Luke 9:51, St. Luke writes, “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, [Jesus] set His face to go to Jerusalem.” In today’s Gospel, Luke reiterates that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. He will be taken up on the cross to redeem all mankind from sin.

      Because Jesus is passing along between Samaria and Galilee, He still has a long way to travel before arriving in Jerusalem. On this occasion, as Jesus is approaching a village, He meets ten men who are lepers. They suffered from a skin disease that was contagious, often painful, and sometimes fatal.

      These men suffered a great affliction. They did not choose to bear this suffering, but it was placed upon them. Because of their leprosy, they were separated from society—quarantined and considered ceremonially unclean. Despite the great affliction they faced, something else happened to them. Their prejudices were removed.

      It is probably safe to say that all people have prejudices. Differences in cultures and skin color are obvious. But the rich can be prejudiced against the poor and the poor against the rich. The agile against the clumsy, the artist against the engineer, the educated against the uneducated, and so on.

      The various prejudices one has are often removed during times of affliction. Our country came together with great unity when 9/11 happened. The Samaritans and Jews were at odds with one another but when these men were afflicted with leprosy, they were no longer opposed to each other. Instead, they banded together. If someone is holding your hand, keeping you from falling off a ledge, you’ll never think of all the things that you would normally allow yourself to be divided from that person. None of that would matter for, in fact, our prejudices are just that—while deep seated and heartfelt, they are temptations of Satan—tools of the Devil to divide those who are supposed to love one another. May God send us afflictions to tear us away from our sinful prejudices!

      And even more so, may we heed the Word of God, for we should not have to be afflicted so that we finally believe and practice what Scripture teaches. In the Church in Corinth, some were bragging about their own talents and putting others down. In response, Paul taught there are diversities of gifts but the same spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. Let me read to you a portion of 1 Cor. 12:12-27, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable… God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” As descendants of Adam and Eve, we are all related. We have all inherited the sin of Adam and we all have access to our Father in Heaven through Christ who served as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. Therefore, we don’t look at others with prejudice, but we rejoice in their various talents and gifts.

      In today’s Gospel, there are ten men with leprosy, some Jews and at least one Samaritan. They “lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” These men wanted mercy from God, but sadly, most of them didn’t particularly want God. Once they got what they wanted, they no longer desired the One who gave it to them.

      This matches what many people think religion is all about. When they need something, they go find God, they get what they need, and they go their way. To them, God is just a vending machine which dispenses things out when they need it, to be ignored at all other times.

      In this type of religion, Jesus is nothing. He’s no Savior. He’s not needed to be trusted. For who needs a sacrificial Lamb when all we’re concerned about is the here and now? Who needs someone to deliver you from your sin and eternal death when you only need God to bail you out of something really bad or help you through a time of great uncertainty or distress?

      Shockingly, the ten lepers all departed when Jesus said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Luke doesn’t indicate that they were healed that very instant. Instead, Luke reports, “And as they went they were cleansed.”

      It didn’t matter to Jesus who would come back and give thanks, for Jesus is good. We don’t change our babies’ diapers only when they give us thanks. Even when they are trying to fight against us, we do good to our littles one, for we love them. Jesus loved all ten of these lepers, despite their impurity and differing cultures. And so, He healed them, performing yet another amazing miracle. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). If God were to give us good things only after we’ve been good, we would never receive good things. But instead, He opens His hand, and satisfies the desire of every living thing (Psalm 145:16).

      Luke then reports, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.”

      For the last seven years, the History Channel has run a reality show called Alone. The participants live alone and must survive off the land. Christians, when preparing to eat, will pray to God, giving Him thanks. Pagan participants will give thanks to the snail, bug, varmint, or whatever they’re eating—thanking that creature for sacrificing its life as food. Do you see the difference? Some give thanks to their possessions. Others recognize the source of every good thing and give thanks to God. Some give thanks to themselves for their abilities to earn a wage and survive. As Christians, we will give thanks to God who gave us our abilities and enables us to continue living.

      The Samaritan did not just put on the attitude of gratitude for being healed (which perhaps the others did, too). Instead, he praised God with a loud voice, falling on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. We do something similar in the Divine Service. The service begins with your pastor at the Baptismal font, where God’s is was placed upon you, your sins are drowned, you die to sin, and you rise to newness of life. You confess your sin and Jesus tells you that He forgives you through the voice of your pastor. Then you are ready to come into God’s presence, praising and thanking Him. This is indicated by the pastor as he walks up to the altar during the Introit. Now we are ready to worship. We cry out to Jesus for mercy. Immediately, this is followed by the Gloria in Excelsis. We praise, we bless, we worship God for His great glory—that Jesus went to the cross to pay for our sins and reconciles us to our Father. In faith, we sing with a loud voice what He has done for us.

      The leper returned thanks to Jesus with a loud voice. And so, with loud voices, we also return thanks. Could you imagine the leper coming back to Jesus and just sit there, silently, arms crossed, like so many do when they come to Church? How much more should we all be singing with thanksgiving to the One who redeemed us by His Blood and opened the gates of Heaven to us?

      If we’re not used to participating in all parts of the service, now is the time to begin. Pray, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise” (Psalm 51:15). If we’re unfamiliar with a hymn, we struggle through it until we’ve got it. If we don’t think we’re good singers, we sing anyway because this is not about some sort of performance. This is genuine worship—praising God, confessing His goodness, and giving Him thanks. For Christ, who was slain, is risen. He loves us and grants us the victory over sin, death, and Hell.

      Anyone who visits our church should be impressed. They should be astounded by the thankful hearts God’s people have here. They should see it in the joy our people have, the bold singing, and the attentive listening. From this, they should conclude that something important—something divine—is happening here. (If you don’t feel that I’ve accurately described our church, the change begins with you. You can sing louder, listen more attentively, and be cheerier).

      For Christ is truly present, imparting His gifts. He is teaching us His Word, forgiving us, feeding us His Body and His Blood, and reconciling us to our Father. Our focus is on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

      When the Samaritan comes back alone to give thanks, Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Here, Jesus is not teaching us to only help those will return thanks to us. It is a temptation to say, “Well, I’m not helping that person anymore because he didn’t give me the kind of thanks I expected.” I think our Lord’s words, “Judge not” come into play here. How many times do we fail to return thanks to those who have done good to us? Instead, Jesus is pointing out that even foreigners can receive the Gospel. Again, all those prejudices must be done away with. For Jesus, as the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the entire world.

      And Jesus said to the leper, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Actually, the Greek doesn’t say, “Your faith has made you well.” Instead, it says, “Your faith has saved you.” Translators figure Jesus meant to indicate that the leper’s faith healed him. But that isn’t Jesus’ point. After all, all of them were made well (all were healed), regardless of faith. But only one came back in faith with thanksgiving. Only one worshipped Jesus after getting what he requested from Jesus. This one—this Samaritan—had faith. His faith saved him. He was not only made well, but he also received eternal salvation. He was added into God’s family by faith.

      God grant that we all be found with saving faith—faith which trusts Jesus as our Savior, believing in Him who conquered death and takes away our sin through His sacrifice on the cross. Grant that we may be thankful through our generosity and open lips. For Christ has truly met us with mercy. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen