This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 10/9 at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches. The text was Luke 17:11-19.
Today's gospel reading seems to be a simple healing account. However, it is not like most miracle stories. The healing is not emphasized as much as the reaction to it. The miracle is less important than its results.
Lepers of ancient society were rejected. They were treated as outcasts and outsiders and were required to live outside the city in leper colonies. Whenever they walked the streets, they were to cry out to warn others to keep away from them.
Like sinners crying out for mercy, the lepers approached Jesus crying out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" Jesus had compassion on them and proceeded to grant their request. What is different about this healing is that Jesus sends the lepers away to see the priests. Jesus' directions call for faith, since the men must turn and go to the priests without any evidence of first seeing the healing. Jesus heals them from a distance, showing that the messianic times are present.
Jesus had instructed the men to go to the priest, which is what the Jewish law required. They turned to do so. Jesus had not given them a demand for faith, but something to do. As they went, they were healed. The lepers were to act as though they were already clean. Once the lepers obeyed, then they saw they'd been cleansed from the leprosy. Only one of them bothered to return and thank Jesus. This man was a Samaritan and it is noted that the other nine were Jewish. Why is this important?
All we know is that what the Samaritan does singles him out for Jesus' commendation. The bottom line is that the leper who returns becomes a model of faith (v. 19). The Samaritan leper turning back was a spontaneous act of gratitude, not commanded by Jesus. The other nine lepers were simply doing what they had been told. As far as we know, they went to the priest.
Grace cannot be calculated. It is always amazing. Grace and gratitude are related linguistically and theologically. There can be no awareness of grace without gratitude and no gratitude without the awareness of grace.
The leper was a Samaritan (v. 16). Who are the Samaritans and why were they such outsiders? They were a largely Gentile population that descended from foreigners who had settled in Northern Israel after the Jewish people were deported to Assyria in 721 BC. By Jesus' time, the Samaritans had adopted the first five books of Moses and had built their own temple. For the Jewish people, the word "Samaritan" was a term of disdain.
Here is where the story of healing and faith takes a dramatic turn. Jewish Stereotypes of the Samaritans were undermined. This is reinforced by Jesus' referring to the Samaritan as a foreigner Jesus asks three rhetorical questions that are haunting: "Were not ten made clean? Where are the other nine? And was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" (Vv. 17-18). The other nine's Jewishness was not the point of Jesus' questions. What was called into question was their lack of gratitude and their failure to praise God. They were just as cleansed as the Samaritan, but they did not demonstrate any gratitude for their healing. They acted as though it was expected that they would be healed.
The Samaritan leper experienced more than the other nine. He was not only liberated from his leprosy, but is able to see beyond his whole body to the one who makes it whole, the Lord Jesus.
Jesus did not reject the nine Jewish lepers. They were blessed with healing. Jesus also did not set aside the Jewish law. He sent them to the priests as required by the law.
The nine are impoverished by lack of joy by their failure to discern the One from whom restoration has come. It is the outsider who teaches the people of God what faith is, what praise is and what thanksgiving is.
The rest of the world may be like the nine lepers. They have been graced by God in many ways, but they don't recognize the source of such blessings. They don't offer the proper thanks and praise through Jesus.
If we live apart from God, who is there to thank? The pursuit of things, status or power ultimately leave us with a lonely existence.
We are to remember that all our success, health, and possessions are blessings from God.
Scripture often calls God's people to thank him for what he has done. No specific reason is given. The church is the community of the grateful, those who recognize that with God's mercy, all are to respond in gratitude. May Bemus Point/Mayville resound with the echoes of our gratitude throughout this week.