Sometimes we forget how much things change over time. For example, if you were at this same spot two hundred years ago in 1817, there would be no city of Marion. It wasn’t incorporated until 1841. In fact there wouldn’t even be a state of Illinois. It wasn’t founded until the following year in 1818. And if you headed out toward the western part of the United States … good luck, because it was likely that you would run into American Indians who would not be happy to see you.
The same can be said about the biblical world. Today in our text we find Jesus on the way to Jerusalem as he travels on the boarder of Samaria and Galilee. Two hundred years earlier the area was ruled by the Seleucids. The Maccabean revolt that would kick out the Seleucids and bring Jewish rule was just beginning.
Galilee wasn’t Jewish at that time. There was a reason that in Isaiah chapter nine the prophet called it “Galilee of the Gentiles.” In Samaria, the Samaritans’ temple stood on Mt. Gerizim. The Samaritans were the descendents of the people that the Assyrians had brought into northern Israel in the eighth century B.C. when they conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and took the people into exile. The Assyrians “swapped populations” among the conquered lands of their empire in order to keep the people off balance and make them easier to control.
Over time Samaritans took on what can only be described as variation of Judaism. They had their own version of the Torah and they had their own temple which was located on Mt Gerizim in Samaria. After the Jews finally kicked out the Seleucids, the ruling family of the Hasmoneans began to build a little kingdom of their own. In 128 B.C. Hyrcanus I and the Jews attacked and destroyed the temple at Mt Gerizim. They conquered Samaria and treated the people cruelly. In 104 B.C., his son Aristoblus I conquered Galilee and forced the men there to be circumcised.
Over time, Galilee became a very Jewish area – so much so that in 66 AD it was a hot bed of Jewish zealot activity against the Romans. The Samaritans, on the other hand, remained Samaritan. Needless to say they didn’t forget how the Jews had destroyed their temple and treated them. There was a hatred between the Jews and Samaritans, and once the Romans took over they were both always trying to use their new rulers to hurt the other side. In my favorite Jew-Samaritan incident, Samaritans snuck onto the temple grounds in Jerusalem and strewed it with human bones in order to defile it.
In last week’s sermon I mentioned that Jesus had just begun his final journey to Jerusalem. Near the end of chapter 9 we learn, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, and when the people there realized that he was a Jew headed to Jerusalem, they refused to receive him. James and John asked, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them and they went on to another village. As my favorite professor at Concordia College, Ann Arbor, Dr. Shuta once said: “Jesus must have been thinking, ‘Guys you just don’t get it. I want to save them, and you want to zap them!’”
Now the first verse of our text again reminds us about Jesus’ journey as it says, “On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” As Jesus was entering a village he was met by ten lepers who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
I wish I could explain to you for sure what this leprosy was – but I can’t. Leprosy in the Bible is some kind of skin condition that according to the Torah rendered a person unclean. As you are no doubt aware, lepers therefore couldn’t live in a village and had to cry out and warn others that they were unclean. They couldn’t work in a job, because that meant being around people. And so they were dependent on family and friends to provide for them as they lived outside the village.
These lepers met Jesus and cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” “Have mercy on us” has the same basic meaning as “Lord have mercy!” It was a cry for help – a cry for help directed toward the One they addressed as “master.” This is significant, because in Luke’s Gospel the only other people who call Jesus “Master” are his disciples.
We find here our first hint that the lepers have approached Jesus in faith. And then we learn something that leaves no doubt about it. Our Lord says to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And they left to go to where the priest was.
Quite often, we find ourselves called to trust and believe in God in spite of what we see. You hear declarations of God’s love for you – of his care – in spite of the fact that the circumstances of life sure don’t look like it. This is the challenge of living a fallen people in a fallen world. And we know that there are times when we doubt God. There are times when we even get angry with God. While in worldly terms that seems understandable, the First Commandment says this is not how we are to relate God. Instead, we are to fear, love and trust in him. And that includes the times when his ways make no sense to us.
Jesus said to the lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The Son of God spoke those words … and then nothing happened. They still had leprosy. They were still unclean. Who could have blamed them if they had exclaimed, “Are you kidding me?!?”
But these were lepers who had come to Jesus. They had called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They believed in him. And so at Jesus word and in spite of the leprosy that was still present they headed off to Jerusalem to see the priest – the one person who could certify an individual as being clean.
They went on their way. And then we learn that “as they went they were cleansed.” They believed in Jesus and they received their healing as they went in faith.
In a healing miracle like this we see that Jesus Christ is in the incarnate Son of God. He is true God, begotten from the Father. No one else could perform this miracle. This is certainly true … or I guess I should say, “This is most certainly true.”
However, as it occurs in the Luke’s Gospel it tells us something else as well. We need to remember the first verse of our text which said, “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In chapter nine, just before he began his journey Jesus said to the disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” He is going to say it again in the next chapter, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”
Jesus heals the lepers and in doing so he shows that in his person the kingdom of God – the reign of God is present to free people from sin and all that it has caused in this world. Immediately after our text Jesus is asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come. He answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” The kingdom of God – the reign of God – was standing right there in front of them. It was in the midst of them in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ accomplished the goal of his journey to Jerusalem. Though holy and innocent, he was numbered with the transgressors for you. By his death he has redeemed you. He has freed you from slavery to sin. And by his resurrection from the dead he has provided to you the living hope that your freedom from death has already started. It started in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You know that you will share in his resurrection on the Last Day because Sprit who raised Jesus is now in you. How do you know this for certain? You’ve been baptized!
As the lepers went they were healed. 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. Then we are told, “Now he was a Samaritan.”
It’s a double surprise. First, none of them except for one individual returns to give thanks. And then, this one person turns out to be a Samaritan! Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" And he said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
The topic of thanksgiving and praise can be a tricky one for fallen people. In this text we see a failure by nine of the healed lepers to respond with thanksgiving to God. Only one returns giving thanks. We know that at times we do this too. And here I am thinking more in terms of the many blessings that we take for granted. The phrase “daily bread” comes to mind. Today you have a roof over your head, food in your stomach and clothes on your body. Today, in complete freedom you are able to come to church and receive the Means of Grace. Today, you live in setting of peace and order. These are incredible blessings – just ask any of the millions and even billions of people who don’t have them.
At the same time, there is also the opposite error which doesn’t appear in this particular text. Praise and thanksgiving are things that I do. Fallen man likes to think to terms of what he can do in relation to God. And so there is always the risk that we will construct our worship of God in ways that are fundamentally structured to go from us to God. We show up at church so that the real thing in worship can take place – praising and thanking God.
In our text, it is Jesus’ word that works healing, and then praise and thanksgiving follow in response. The priority of God’s gracious action towards us needs always to run through the way we think about things in the Church. We see this in what will happen next in the Divine Service. Thanksgiving and praise are certainly present in the Service of the Sacrament. But they are always viewed as secondary and derived. The main thing – the most important thing – is Jesus Christ giving us his true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We kneel in faith as we receive his forgiving body and blood. Then he sends us away, and the words our text are true for us as well: “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you.” And how can we not respond with praise and thanksgiving for that?