Sunday, October 10, 2010

God Gives So Much More

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 10, 2010
Luke 17:11-19

Nine were healed. Only one was made well.

Ten walked away from Jesus having been cleansed of their leprosy. You can safely assume they were glad of their new lease on life. One of them returned to actually express his gratitude. They all had been healed. It is this one who was made well. He was like all the rest in that he was no longer shrouded in a disease that had consumed his body. We was distinct from the rest in that he had been given something else.

The others, nine of them, could show themselves to the priests and be declared clean. They could now go about in normal society and do the everyday things normal people do. But they we were not well. That’s because they had not been made well by the one they had cried out to for mercy. Was it that Jesus didn’t want to give them more than just what they had asked for? Maybe they didn’t want more than that. Perhaps they didn’t realize there was more than that. When you are defined by a disease that rots away your skin and your are barred from society, being cleansed of that is all you could really ask for.

As it happens, the one who returned to Jesus didn’t want more. He had asked for mercy and had received exactly that. He walked away in recognition that he didn’t deserve it for a moment. The priests would have to wait. Jesus needed to hear his confession. No, Luke doesn’t tell us he confessed his sins to Jesus. But it’s there in what this man did when he is now before Jesus. His falling on his face, his giving thanks, these were signs that he was unworthy. He could ask nothing more of Jesus, he had received more than he could have ever imagined.

And that’s when he now saw that he was receiving exactly that. More than he could ever have imagined. Your faith has made you well. Go on your way. Isn’t it interesting that this time He doesn’t tell him to go to the priests? He had already been cleansed. He has now been made well.

Is it because he was more thankful than those other nine ungrateful slobs? Was it because he had more, or better, faith? Could it have been because he was a Samaritan and therefore unencumbered with all the religious baggage of the other nine?

No, it wasn’t because of himself. That’s why he went back to Jesus and fell on his face before Jesus. He knew he was unworthy, he knew he was sinful, he knew that he could do nothing but simply give thanks and praise God. He was made well because his faith was in one who was not himself. It was in one who was another. And his faith was not just in some other person. Say, for example, in the priests he had been sent to. No, it was faith in the one who is the only one in whom you can be made well.

You probably have known people who do not believe in Jesus who have been healed of illness or injury. But you will not find anyone who does not trust solely in Christ for their salvation who has been made well. We see this here in these ten men. Nine were healed. Only one was made well. The account of the Ten Lepers isn’t so much about the one leper as compared with the other nine. Of course we should be more like the one leper who was grateful. But mostly we should see the one in whom we have our wholeness, our being made well, our salvation. Things start off with eleven people, Jesus and ten lepers. Nine are out of the picture quickly and we’re left with two. But almost as quickly, he’s out of the picture as well and we’re left with only Jesus. We’re left with His words to the man: “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And even as He says those words to the man He Himself will continue on His way He had already been going on. Luke tells us that at the beginning. He was on His way to Jerusalem.

He was going there because it was the place where He would accomplish the act that would make people well. Jesus could have been born, grow up, set up shop in Nazareth, or perhaps Jerusalem, and accomplish all day long every day what He had done for those ten lepers. There’s lots of sick people. Lots of people who need help. Many people cry out to God for help. Jesus could have been more than busy just taking care of all these needs.

But what did He do? He made His way toward Jerusalem. He didn’t buy a permit and set up a clinic. He entered Jerusalem and got Himself killed. He proclaimed a message that was blasphemy to the religion in power: salvation is in the one whom God has sent. Oh, and by the way, that’s Me. If all you do is help people you’ll probably get government funding. But if you’re telling people that they are lost forever apart from you, you’ll get yourself killed. This is why Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. He didn’t come to help people, He came to save them.

I looked at twenty-nine English versions of the last verse of the Gospel reading, and all but five of them gave the words of Jesus as “your faith had made you well,” or something similar. Only five gave His words as “your faith has saved you.” Languages usually allow words to be used in several different ways. If you say, “God saved me,” you’re referring to the fact that you are a sinner but God has saved you from your sin and its punishment. You could also say, “I was out in the hot sun all day and working hard, drinking that water really saved me.” No one is going to think that you believe that drinking that water is your literal salvation from your sins and hell. You are using the word ‘saved’ in a figurative way: without it, things would have been much worse for you, but with the water you were able to make it through.

On one particular day ten men were lepers but walked away from Jesus no longer as lepers. They walked away cleansed, healed. But one walked away from Jesus a second time, because he had returned to Him. He walked away having been made well. Or perhaps we could use the literal word Jesus used in the Greek: saved. So did Jesus make him well, or save him?

Ten men asked Jesus for mercy and received exactly that. One man received something more: he was made well. Ten lepers asked for mercy on their condition and received that. Their lives were consumed with leprosy, but now no more. They were cleansed, free. But one man received more than that. His faith was in this man who had freed him from his leprosy. Could he do anything to repay Jesus? No, he could only prostrate himself and express his gratitude. A new life had been opened up to him when he looked upon his clean healthy skin. But now he saw deeper within himself. A disease that infected his heart, that went to the core of his very soul. If the outside of me looked like that, what must I be like in my innermost thoughts? He didn’t need a priest, he needed the one who could make him well, save him from the illness that infected his soul.

When God’s people in the Old Testament, and still in Jesus’ day, were healed of their leprosy they were declared clean by the priests. Today we go to the doctor. But God was showing His people that the outward infections of our body are signs of our inward illness. Jesus is the High Priest. He is the only one who can declare you clean from the illness you carry with you from your birth and to the grave. He does it by His Word. He declares it in the speaking of it. “Go your way, your faith had made you well.” You are cleansed, healed, saved.

This particular man realized it. Often when you do, you’re speechless. Or at least in a way where you’re not able to give a cogent analysis of your unworthiness, amazement, and gratitude. So your actions usually speak louder than your words and your words are often simple. The man fell on his face and simply gave thanks and praise. From his perspective, Jesus had just happened to be passing his way. He didn’t know Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. And if he did, he didn’t know that Jesus was on His way to take on Himself the man’s sins. He just saw Jesus and cried out for mercy. Jesus healed Him and continued on His way to the cross. The priests could still declare lepers clean, but they couldn’t take on themselves the lepers’ disease. They couldn’t do that anymore than they could take on themselves another man’s sins. But Jesus could, that’s why He was on His way to Jerusalem, to take on Himself the sin of every person. Every person has been born into this illness. It doesn’t eat away at their skin, but their soul. You may not know the words to say to describe your unworthiness. You may not be able to formulate your thankfulness for your Lord making you well, saving you from your sin. But He doesn’t come down on you for that, He simply says to you: “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you.”

So what did the man do? He went his way. He went having been made well to live out the new life His Lord had given him. There’s a big difference between having the blessings God showers down on everyone and living a life of gratitude in the particular gifts of salvation God has granted in His Son’s suffering and death. Do you see that your Lord has not just simply blessed you with the gifts He showers down on all people but has delivered to you the particular gift of salvation in your Baptism and that He gives to you often in His Holy Supper?

You could go from here and try to be more like that one man, as opposed to the other nine. You could resolve to be more thankful, to express your gratitude, and try to give God more praise in your life.

Or you could realize that nothing you can give back to God would ever be enough. No thanksgiving, no praise, no dedication of your life to Him could ever compare to what He has given you. He desires not simply to give you blessings in this life but so much more. He gives you salvation. Don’t be content with just enough to get by. God has in store for you the very vault of heaven. You may go in peace. Your faith has made you well. The leper was the recipient of Christ’s words even as you are when He says to you, “Take and eat, this is My body; Take and drink, this is My blood, for you.” You go forgiven, restored, cleansed, renewed. If you want to express your thanks to God, live as one who has been made well, forgiven and redeemed. Read and study His Word. Share with others what Christ has done for them by suffering and dying and rising for all of their sins. Don’t just go, don’t just live, rest and rejoice in His giving you a whole new life, even to eternity. Amen.


No comments: