In May Matthew and Abigail graduated from high school. People were very generous in giving graduation gifts to them. I was impressed because, of course, we are talking about two people. If you give a gift to one, you are kind of committed to giving a gift to the other. And two gifts do add up.
Now not that we really needed to tell them … but just in case … Amy and I reminded the twins that they needed to write thank you notes. They discovered that the act of writing out thank you notes for those gifts took some time. It involved some effort. And that is the point. A thank you means that we take the time and effort to acknowledge some good that another has done for us.
In our Gospel lesson this morning we hear about a miracle Jesus performed as he healed ten lepers. Surprisingly, only one returns to give thanks to Jesus. In our text we learn about the nature of Christian faith. We see how God works to increase our faith. And we are reminded that our response to the forgiveness and salvation God has provided is one of thanksgiving.
In the Gospel lesson we learn that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem as he traveled from Galilee in the north to Judea in the south. Geography dictated that in order to make this trip it was necessary to pass through an area where Galilee and Samaria bordered one another.
The Samaritans were not Jews. They were also not Gentiles. They descended from the people that the Assyrians had brought in to replace the population of the northern kingdom when they were taken into exile. Over time, these people created their own type of Judaism. They had their own version of the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament. They had their own temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria.
The Samaritans were very similar to the Jews. But they were also certainly different, and this caused great tension between the groups. During the second century B.C. the Jews destroyed the temple on Mt Gerizim. The relationship descended into acrimony. We see this in chapter nine of the Gospel. When Jesus approaches a Samaritan village, it refuses to receive him because he is headed toward Jerusalem.
In our text we learn that as Jesus was traveling between Galilee and Samaria he approached a village. Ten lepers met him, stood off at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The term “leper” in the Bible describes a person who had some kind of skin condition that made the individual ritually unclean according to the Book of Leviticus.
Touching a leper made a person unclean as well until the proper rituals were done to address this. Lepers could not live in the village with other people. They would live near a village so that family and friends could support them. It’s not surprising that we find a group of lepers living together as they shared in the only community that was available to them.
The lepers approached Jesus while remaining separated from him at the necessary distance. They had heard the news about Jesus and they believed in him. They cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The lepers addressed Jesus by name and called him “Master.” In Luke’s Gospel, the only other people who use this term to address Jesus are his disciples. Their cry was “have mercy on us.” This language meant “help us!” as they appealed to Jesus.
The lepers teach us about the nature of faith. They have heard the word about Jesus. They approach our Lord in bold expectation. They cry out to him in confidence that he will help them. They turn to him, not claiming any merit, but instead relying solely on Jesus. They show us what confident trust in the Lord looks like.
They had come to Jesus in faith. And then our Lord acted to increase their faith. He acted to cause their faith to mature. He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The lepers had come to Jesus in faith. Now he told them to go to Jerusalem and show themselves to the priests who could certify that a person was healed and clean.
Jesus told them to go. Yet nothing had yet happened. He sent them to see the priests while they were still afflicted with leprosy. The Greek grammar makes this clear as it tells us, “And as they went they were cleansed.”
The lepers believed Jesus’ word. Though they had not yet been healed, Jesus had told them to go and show themselves to the priests. So they began the journey. They travelled when there was not yet any healing – when there did not appear to be any reason to go see the priests. Yet because they had Jesus’ word they went.
This is often how God deals with us. We believe in Jesus. We have his word of promise and love. Yet we continue to experience health issues, or depression, or challenging circumstances in our life. We encounter what seems to be the absence of God’s love and care. This can cause us to waiver in doubt or even feel anger at God.
However, God uses these circumstances to cause us to grow in faith. They become the means by which he leads us to trust in him even more. He prompts us to turn to Christ and his word alone. We have nothing else except Christ, yet in Christ we have all that we need. We cling to Christ’s word, and through that word the Spirit causes our faith to deepen and grow strong.
The lepers had called upon Jesus in faith. They trusted his word as they went to see the priests though they were still leprous. And then as they were going they were healed. They had trusted Christ’s word, and it was Christ’s word that healed them in his time and his way.
We turn to Christ in confident faith because of what he has done for us. We learn what he has done in the words with which this Gospel lessons begins: “On the way to Jerusalem.” St. Luke has structured his Gospel so that the final journey to Jerusalem frames much of the material. We are told in chapter 9, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem. Repeatedly, our Lord told the disciples about what would happen when they arrived. Just before entering the city Jesus said, “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 goes to Jerusalem as the fulfillment of what God had promised in the Old Testament through the prophets. He goes because of our sins. Jesus’ purpose was to be numbered with the transgressors. He went to be numbered with us. He went to take our place. He took our place in order to receive the judgment that should have been ours. St Paul told the Corinthians, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Christ did this to reconcile us to God. In our sin we were alienated from God. We were cut off from him and could expect nothing but judgment. But by his death on the cross he has given us peace through the forgiveness of our sins. Now we are again able to live as God’s children. Paul said, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
Our sin brought death to Christ. But Christ submitted to death in order to pass through it and defeat it. As he had predicted, on the third day God did raise him from the dead. We now believe and worship the risen Lord. And he has not only has risen. Luke describes the goal of his journey has his being “taken up.” Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus was exalted as he ascended into heaven and was seated at God’s right hand.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the source of our confidence and strength. Because we know that God has acted in his Son to save us we are able to believe and trust in our heavenly Father no matter what may be happening. We walk by faith in the crucified and risen Lord. This is the great answer God has provided that carries us through the challenges we face. We have seen God act in the midst of suffering to save us, and so we can trust that God is present and at work even in the midst of our suffering and hardship. We do because God raised Jesus from the dead.
As they went, the lepers were cleansed. We learn that one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He fell at our Lord’s feet giving him thanks. Luke then adds the surprising piece of information: “Now he was a Samaritan.”
Christ noted the circumstances as he said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then our Lord said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Of the nine men healed only one returned to give thanks. And the surprise is that he was a Samaritan. The lone Samaritan teaches us about how faith responds. It responds with praise and thanksgiving to God. We do this first and foremost because of the forgiveness and salvation that God has given us in Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God because in his grace and mercy he has acted to give us life with him.
But our thanksgiving does not end there. God is the One who provides us with every blessing in life. He has given us our life and our family. He gives us all that we need to support this existence, and so much beyond that. He has given us a peaceful land and the freedom to worship him. We need to pause and take account of these blessings. We need to respond with thanksgiving to God for these many gifts.
The ten lepers in our text teach us that faith calls upon God with confident expectation. Our heavenly Father often prompts that faith to grow and mature as we are called to believe in him in the midst of challenging circumstances. Yet we are able to trust because of what we have seen God do in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As his forgiven children, we give thanks for the salvation he has provided, and we respond with praise for the many blessings he has given us in this life.