Dearly beloved in Christ:
Failure to respond to a gift with a “Thank you” is usually considered bad manners. Teachers of etiquette suggest that even when a thank-you has been voiced upon receiving a gift, it is still best to send a written thank-you. Thanklessness or ungratefulness shows not only a lack of consideration and courtesy, but also a lack of respect for the one who gives the gift.
The 9 nine lepers in our Gospel today who didn’t return to Jesus suffered from more than just a case of bad manners. They suffered from a much more serious malady, something called unbelief. All of them were cleansed by Jesus of their leprosy, just like the one who went back to say “Thank-you.” All of them were the recipients of Jesus’ kindness and grace. All were healed. But rather than recognize Jesus as the source of that healing, rather than returning to thank Him, they went on their way. Their leprosy was gone, but now they were blind.
The Samaritan, on the other hand, seeing that he was clean, returned to Jesus and glorified his name for this gift. His heart was full of gratitude toward Jesus because he knew that Jesus was the source of His healing. What is remarkable is what Jesus says to the man: “Your faith has made you well.” Were not all ten of the lepers cleansed? Why does Jesus say that this man’s faith made him well? The other nine obviously did not have faith in Jesus, and yet they too were cleansed. It must be that Jesus was speaking about something else. Christ had cleansed all the men of their leprosy, but this one leper who had faith in Jesus was made well, that is, His soul was cleansed of the leprosy of sin.
Is this not how it is with the people of the world? Christ heals the diseases of both the faithful and the unbelieving. He sends rain upon the just and the unjust. He makes His sun to rise both on the righteous and on the wicked. He gives clothing and shelter to all alike. But only those who have faith in Christ are truly made well. Only they are clean on the inside. Only those who are baptized into Christ and trust in His Name have been restored to a right relationship with the Lord. That is what distinguishes believers from unbelievers, not that God does not help and take care of unbelievers, but that the one who believes is freed from the curse of sin and God’s condemnation.
What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? That is the question that we all must ask ourselves each and every day. Every day we are tempted to walk right back into the Egypt of our sins, right back to the welcoming arms of Satan. Each and every day the world beckons us to follow its wisdom, and to abandon the wisdom of Christ. Our sinful nature constantly produces in us unclean desires, thoughts, and deeds. And it would be very easy for many of us to do this, to say, “To hell with you and your wisdom, God. I have a better and more enjoyable way.”
And perhaps we would have a more comfortable life. Perhaps we would feel more satisfied for a while. Perhaps we would feel like we were living life to the fullest. But is losing our salvation in Christ really worth it? Is our personal comfort and pleasure really worth the alternative to heaven?
Those lepers in the Gospel who failed to acknowledge Jesus as the Creator and healer of their flesh got what they wanted. They were healed. Their lives most definitely improved. No doubt they went on to bigger and better things. But consider what they lost by walking away from Jesus, by failing to see in Him the true Temple, the true High Priest, the true Sacrifice for sins. Consider what they gave up by not believing in Him.
They may very well have been healed of their leprosy, but they had an even bigger problem that they were not aware of. They thought that their leprosy was their real problem, but their real problem, and that of every man, woman, and child on the face of this earth, is sin. By walking away from Christ, not just physically, but spiritually as well, by not having faith in him, they abandoned their only hope for salvation.
And this is true of everyone who does not confess the name of Christ. They gain the whole world. They strive for prosperity and happiness. They are often more satisfied, content, and happy than those who follow Christ. But they forfeit their souls. That is, they give up eternal peace, comfort, treasure, and happiness.
That is why Jesus says: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal. Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.” And how is this done? By believing in Christ. By crucifying this world to ourselves. By trusting in the Words of Christ and forsaking the treasures and delights of the world.
Those who do so, those who trust in Christ’s merits, who look to His sacrifice on the cross for their forgiveness and salvation, they are like this one leper who returned. To them Jesus also says: “Your faith has made you well.” And this is true even for those who never receive the healing of their bodies in this life. This is true for the Christian who fights cancer as much as for the one who never gets sick. Both are well, perhaps not physically, but spiritually. They both have what the rest of the world does not: the forgiveness of sins. They have the promise and seal of eternal life, placed upon them in their baptism.
This is how we Christians can comfort ourselves in the midst of trouble and sorrow, sickness or sadness. We can say to ourselves, “Self, it is true that you are very full of trouble. Your sins plague you each day. Your body is very frail and ill. You do not know from day to day what is going to happen. You have many things in life that cause you grief and sadness. But even on that account you should not despair and weep and lament. For Christ has made you well. He has taken your sin and suffered for it upon the cross. He has bestowed this forgiveness on you in baptism. He has given you His Holy Spirit, and fed you with His eternal manna. You have faith in Christ, and access to God the Father. What is physical health compared to this? What is earthly wealth compared to this?”
We can say with confidence that since Christ has cleansed our souls from sin and has promised to raise our bodies from the dead on the last day, we have nothing to fear or worry about in this life. Most of all, we need not fear death, because Christ has conquered death in His own death and resurrection. Those who lack this faith cannot comfort themselves in this way. They can only look to tomorrow or next week and say, “Perhaps it won’t be so bad next week or next year.” All they can do is cling to their earthly gods, their pleasure, their wealth, their good name, because in the end, this is all they have.
Are you not more blessed than they? Was the one leper who returned to Jesus not more blessed than the others, even though they all had received the same gift from Jesus? Indeed he was, for only to him did Jesus say: “Your faith has made you well.” Only he had received both an external and an internal cleansing. Not only was he free of his miserable leprosy, he was also free of guilt and shame.
We ought to have pity on those who do not confess Christ. Can you imagine how they must be tormented night and day by despair and guilt? We shouldn’t look at the prosperous and the rich and those who have everything going for them and envy them. Are we not more blessed than they? Are we not more blessed, even those of us who are plagued with illness or grief or sorrow, than those who have everything but do not have Christ? They will envy us on the last day, for though we did without many things in this life, though our lives were often full of problems and difficulty, we nevertheless had faith in Christ. We forfeited the world, but gained our souls. We returned with this one leper, and clung to Christ, our Redeemer from sins.
Is this not why Jesus says to His disciples: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Amen.