Ten lepers cry out to Jesus with one voice: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” All ten share in the same condition. They are all leprous. They are all outcasts, cut off from society. But for the moment, all of them seem to have faith in Jesus to heal them. “Have mercy on us!”
And all ten are cleansed by Jesus. The skin of every leper is restored as they go their way to the Temple. Only the Samaritan, however, goes back to Jesus to give thanks. And Jesus commends him for his faith. “Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.”
The rest had nothing more to do with Jesus. They were quick to forget the poor condition that they were in, and quick to cast the healing that Jesus gave them aside. They loved the gift, but not the giver. And Jesus wonders where they are. “Where are the nine?” Did they want nothing more to do with the one who had healed them? Did they want only this blessing and no other?
Here we see a picture of what happens all too often in the holy Christian Church. All of us here, every single one of us, are in the same boat on account of our sin. As one hymn puts it, “One common sin infects us all.” Every one of us, indeed, every single human being in the world, from oldest to youngest, is infected with the leprosy of sin.
And just in case we aren’t exactly clear what is meant by sin, we get a pretty exhaustive laundry list in the Epistle of St. Paul: “The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”
Like leprosy, our sins are disgusting and unsightly. They make us unclean inwardly, and they merit God’s righteous condemnation. And so we have all called out as one: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And see how the Lord has answered our prayer! Out of pity and compassion for his fallen creation, he sent His beloved Son into our place, to dirty himself with our sins, to share fully in our lost condition.
On Good Friday, it was our Lord that was the outcast, the leper, the one forsaken and cut off from God and man. He who knew no sin became sin for us—became the greatest sinner—so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Every sinner, every idolater, every adulterer, every liar and murderer was pardoned in the death of that holy one. No one was “left behind” on the cross. No debt was left unpaid.
And, as proof that God had accepted that holy sacrifice as payment for the sins of all, Christ rose from the dead on the third day. But the Lord didn’t stop there. He has washed you with His precious blood in holy baptism. By baptism all of you have been cleansed of the leprosy of your sins, just as all ten lepers were cleansed of their disease. By water and word, God peeled off that sinful nature, along with all of its wretchedness and ugliness, and put in its place a new skin.
But of all those who have been washed; of all those who have been made clean and declared innocent by the Lord, precious few see this gift for what it is and return in thanksgiving to the Lord. Most go their merry way, like those nine who did not return, causing our Lord to ask, “Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give thanks but this foreigner?”
It’s not that the Lord is not pleased and happy about those who do return in thanksgiving. Certainly it brings great joy to the Lord when those who have been cleansed of their sins recognize the blessing they have received and come with gratitude in their hearts. To them Christ quickly says, “Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.”
But it surely must grieve the Lord that the rest seem to be so ignorant of the great blessing they have received, and fail to return in humble gratitude. “Where are the nine?” It’s as if they are completely unaware of just how terrible their condition was under the curse of sin, and even more, how bitterly our Lord had to suffer in order to save them from that lost condition.
Consider our own congregation. Of the 600 or so that are baptized, and almost 450 communicants, only about ¼ of those come to church on a regular basis. In the back of my mind, I wonder myself, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” It’s not that you who have come are without importance or value, for surely the Lord says to you: “Your faith has made you well.”
But it is hard to understand what keeps people from making even an annual trek to God’s house to render thanksgiving to the Lord for his great and immeasurable kindness. It pains me to say it, but when it comes to religious devotion, those who serve false gods such as Muslims often outdo the majority of Christians!
Praise God for that one Samaritan! Praise God for those faithful few who can be found regularly giving thanks to the Lord, not only in God’s house on Sundays, but even in their own homes, as they sit down for meals, as they get up in the morning, as they go to bed at night. “Rise and go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
But here we must be careful, for it is easy to pat ourselves on the back, and think that we are off the hook merely because we are more religious in our Christian devotion than others. The human heart is ungrateful to the core, and we have not entirely shed our old skin just yet. It shows itself in perhaps more subtle ways among the faithful, but it is there nevertheless.
How many of us, for example, having come to the house of God to hear His Word and receive the nourishment of our souls, will not exit these doors today and not give another thought to what we have received? Or how many of us will go our merry way today, and fail to utter one word of thanksgiving from the heart or one prayer throughout the week to the Lord?
How many of us will, in the distress of illness or temptation, cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” only to forget God when the storm clouds have passed, or when our health is regained? Chances are, the grand majority of us will. Which is why, of course, we cannot rely on our devotion, or on our thanksgiving for our standing with God—it is there one minute, and gone the next.
Let’s look, though, at just one more example. It has not yet been six months since we started offering the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. And while some have been very grateful for this, others do not yet see it for the blessing that it is. From time to time the grumbling bubbles to the surface. “It makes the service too long.” “It’s too ‘Catholic’.” “It’s too repetitive.” But isn’t this a bit like grumbling that God is too good?
What if, instead of the Lord’s Supper, the Lord Christ himself stood before us every Sunday offering to heal us of every ailment and disease? Would that get old? Would that be something you would only want to happen every other week? And yet, it is the Lord Christ Himself that we meet every Lord’s Day in Word and in Supper.
Is the problem perhaps that when we see the Lord’s Supper, we do not see Jesus? Does the problem perhaps lie with our inability to recognize that the Lord’s Supper is nothing else but the Gospel in edible form? It is the Calvinist, not the Lutheran, who believes that the human nature of Jesus is somewhere far up in heaven while Christians partake of the Supper. Have we perhaps become Calvinists?
Beloved children in Christ, there is a huge disconnect in our churches today between what is believed, and what is done or practiced. And sadly it has been true of our beloved Church for many, many years. In our Catechisms, in our Confessions, we say we believe that the Lord’s true body and blood are present, eaten, and drunk for the forgiveness of our sins.
But folks, we don’t act like it. We don’t act like it when we grumble that the Lord’s Supper is offered every week. We don’t act like it when we think that no one should be kept from receiving it, regardless of what he or she believes about it or what church they belong to or what their manner of life is.
God forgive us for our ingratitude, for our inability to recognize all of His gifts for the blessing that they are! Thanks be to God that He does not simply withdraw his gracious hand from us for our propensity to grumble about his gifts rather than give thanks for them! But the Lord is patient. He is long-suffering. He bears with our ingratitude, just as he bore it with patience in the wilderness forty years with the children of Israel.
To those who do see with eyes of faith, be assured, the Lord says: “Rise, and go your way, your faith has made you well.” May this be true of every one of us. May we all be like the one foreigner who returned to give thanks to God, not forgetting God, not grumbling about his gifts, or that there is too much of them, but giving thanks.
For we have crucified the old nature with all of its sinful characteristics, the apostle says. And the Spirit of Christ dwells in all of us by faith—the same Spirit who is responsible for producing in us the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.
Beloved, your faith has made you well. By faith you are healed, redeemed and forgiven from the leprosy of your sin. So then rejoice! Give thanks! In Jesus’ name. Amen.