A Sermon on the Ten Lepers

On Trinity XIV
Luke 17:11-19

We hear today of our blessed Lord Jesus healing ten lepers between Samaria and Galilee on His way to Jerusalem where He would give His life as a ransom for many and forgive the sins of the whole world by the shedding of His blood and by the death of His body. Inside Jerusalem, that holy city, or rather, just outside it’s gates where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, the blessed Lord of glory, that child of Mary, the man of God, would undo the curse of the man of earth, that first patron of sinners, and by His obedience bring light and life to all mankind. And outside the holy city His blood would make all things holy and usher in the kingdom of God on earth.

But first He is met in the in-between, somewhere in the wilderness, outside the holy city were there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, He is met by ten lepers who are crying out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” What is it they want? They want to be cleansed of their leprosy. They want their flesh restored. Why? So that they might live! A leper was not simply on his way to the grave, a leper was in the grave. He was the walking dead: cut off from family and friends, often sent to live out in the wilderness such as between Samaria and Galilee; under threat of immediate death should he wander to close to a city of the clean. A leper must cry out night and day to any who might draw too near, “Unclean! Unclean!”

But to the One that drew near that day they forsook their usual cry of warning and self-abasement and rather cried out in prayer, “Master, have mercy!” And the Merciful Samaritan does what He came to do: He has mercy. “Go and show yourself to the priests.” This was what one did when one was cured of leprosy and other diseases of the flesh. They would go and show themselves to the priest on duty. And the priest, being the man that separated the clean from the unclean, would declare the leper either clean, welcoming the dead back to the land of the living; or pronounce death and declare him unclean, sending him back to the in-between where the living dead roamed.

“Go show yourselves to the priests.” It was a word of healing. Not for the one who would return to worship the Lord, but to all ten. For that is the boundlessness of the Lord’s mercy: it is for all, even the ungrateful and wicked. Even for those that know not where their good comes from. The Lord is merciful.

But what of this exchange between the living dead and the one that gives true life? Our diseases are not usually so healed. Our troubles are not usually dealt with, with such finality. Like leeches sucking us dry, our diseases and troubles cling to us with great tenacity even though we are here crying out with the walking dead, “Lord, have mercy upon us! Christ, have mercy upon us! Lord, have mercy upon us!”

Well it is simply this: it is not the healing that is the act of mercy, but the receiving. And the receiving doesn’t happen when that one faithful though foreign ex-leper returns, but rather when he with his fellow nine cry out for mercy in the first place.

In other words, the Lord is not merciful to you when He heals your diseases and cures your cares and washes away your troubles. The Lord is merciful when He receives you. For He receives and eats with sinners. The healing, the restoration, is the product of being in the presence of the Healer and Restorer. It is a given. There is no question just as there was no question on the lips of those ten lepers when the Lord said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” They did not ask if they had been healed, but heard the word of Him who heals and saves and by His word they believed. For if the faith of the one made him well, then did not the faith of the nine do the same? Since it says that as they went they were cleansed (v.14).

So on that final Day, there will be no lepers or sinners, for the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world. He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brings us peace, and by His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) Healing is a done deal. It is finished.

What there will be on that last and final Day are the nine that do not return to give thanks to God and fall at the feet of Jesus and worship Him. To them He will say, “Were there not ten? Where are the nine?” Or to say it another way, “Depart from me; I never knew you.” But this foreigner, the Samaritan, a Gentile sinner, him I know. He has fallen at my feet and worshiped me, thanking God for salvation and healing and restoration. He will go his way, which is the way of life, for his faith has saved him.

I can’t help but wonder if part of the thanksgiving offered by that ex-leper wasn’t thanksgiving for leprosy in the first place. For were it not for that death-ridden disease that so cut him off from the living, he would not have cried out for or been granted such mercy as to be received by Christ. If it was not part of his thanksgiving then well it should have been, for we rejoice in our suffering as the apostle writes. For when we are weak – such as one infected with leprosy with one foot in the grave – then He is strong, able to lift us out of the grave since He Himself has conquered the grave.

Count it all joy, my children, when you face trials of many kinds, and do not consider it strange. For these trials and troubles drive you to prayer and to the Christ who answers prayer. They drive you to call out to the Lord, “Master, have mercy on us!” And behold, the Master has had mercy. He has received you, for here you are at His footstool, worshiping at His feet. Here you are receiving His blessing and His word of healing for the body and the soul; His word of life and resurrection. Here we, the walking-dead, are received by the High Priest who declares us clean and leads us in the way of life, into the holy city from above, the heavenly Jerusalem.

Go your way, your faith has saved you.

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