Has the tradition sort of died out? I don’t know, I’m actually curious. Is writing a “thank-you” note still a fairly common thing? I gotta tell you, that was always the worst as a kid. The best part was receiving gifts from friends and relatives, but then when mom or dad made you sit down and write a thank you – that was just the worst. I mean of course you’re thankful for what you received, but now you got to write it? I mean often it says it for you right there on the card – THANK YOU. Here let me just sign that, and we can put that 55 cent stamp on there; send it off. It’s even worse when your kids are young. When my kids write thank yous, it’s like a warzone. We got glitter out, and glue, and stickers, markers – it’s a disaster! I don’t know how my wife does it. Maybe it’s not as big a deal anymore. Maybe with Skype, and Facetime, and those sorts of things, the traditional “Thank you” note will slowly fade away. I could be wrong.
But this makes me think of those ten lepers in our lesson today. I’m thinking of the conversation they likely had, a conversation that wasn’t recorded for us. You see these ten after “standing at a distance” – look at that, social distancing before it was even a thing – these ten called out with a loud voice to Jesus, “Jesus, master, have pity on us!” or, better, “Jesus have mercy!” They were looking to be healed. And you know what Jesus said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” The ten listened to Jesus. On their way, we read that they were “cleansed.” So, my question is, “What happened next? What was said?”
Did that one, the Samaritan, just run off on his own back to Jesus without saying a word? I kind of doubt that. So, did they argue about it? Did they take a vote? “All in favor of going back to thank Jesus…” “All in favor of going and seeing the priests…sorry, Jim” (I guess the Samaritan’s name is Jim now). Finally, we don’t know, but one did go back. One went back to say “thank you.” But before we go further, let’s go back. How does this all start? With Jesus.
Where does Luke say Jesus was headed? He was on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus was going to Jerusalem; he was on his way to make the sacrifice that had been appointed to him at the beginning of time. And, on his way, look what happened: he encountered death. 10 lepers, 10 men who were as good as dead. They were treated like dead men walking. They were outcasts, believed to be cursed by God, so despised and loathed that they were not allowed to live in any community with their own people.
Here was life, a breath of fresh air amid rotted leprous flesh, a light to eyes darkened by the blindness of their disease, a cure, a Savior. These ten knew who came their way and with broken voices cried out, “Jesus! Have mercy!” Those are familiar words to us; we say them too, almost every Sunday. “Lord, have mercy!” Those words are a plea. They are a cry for help. They are words of desperation. And that cry shows a very real connection between us and those leprous individuals in our story.
Here is what I mean: we need mercy. You and I do, just like those ten. We may not have the effects of sin literally festering away in our flesh numbing and killing us slowly while separating us from all those whom we love. But sin is there in each of us, and it rears it’s suffering and pain in your life in a way only you can understand. It’s personal. Your temptations are yours. Your secret sins, yours. It’s your guilt. And, maybe, maybe you’ve learned to live with your personal sins and your personal guilt, you give it a space hoping to confine it, control it. But, it’s there, and whether we try to bury and hide it, or finally embrace it, those sins and that guilt leave us… horribly alone.
That’s the worst part of leprosy. Not the disease itself, which varied in its severity, but it’s consequences. It was the ultimate social distancing. Imagine knowing someone you love – a spouse, a parent, a child. That person is out there, but they won’t come near you. You can’t hug them. They won’t hug you. Their eyes too frightened to look at what you’ve become. They avoid you. Perhaps, that is worse than death. Now, we are starting to understand what sin can and will do to us. It separates us. Permanently. Yes, possibly from those whom we have loved on this earth, but ultimately that separation is even worse, it’s unimaginable. It’s a separation from God. It’s hell. “Lord, have mercy.” That’s all we can say.
I wonder when those lepers shouted those words…did they expect him to stop? Did they think he would answer? I doubt it. Why would he bother? Why would he give his important time to men who were rejected by all others? But isn’t that what Jesus does? Isn’t that why he came? He came for the rejected. He came for the despised, the weak, the worn, the sick, the sinner. He came for you. Remember what Jesus once said, “It isn’t the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Here before him were the sick and they needed him, they cried out to him. “Lord, have pity!” And he answered. Life looked at these ten men and said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” and they were cleansed. God cared. And his love for a sin-sick world is seen in that man, “on his way to Jerusalem.” And that, that is your Savior. Call to him. “Jesus, have mercy!” Hear his response. It isn’t go make a pilgrimage to some holy site. It isn’t, be better and try harder. His response isn’t “No.” His response was seen in his footsteps – he didn’t stop.
After cleansing those ten men, Jesus continued on his journey to Jerusalem. He didn’t come here to just heal away some diseases and cure a few people of their ills. He came to this earth to rid it and us of the sin that kept us from him. He responded to our personal cries for mercy in the most personal way possible: he gave his own life. He did have mercy. He died. He died for you and for me, and he sent us away cleansed.
Those lepers were lepers no longer after Jesus scrubbed that disease from their flesh. They didn’t have to remain separated from family and friends. They didn’t have to live in pain and fear. They were healed. They would never live as lepers again. That’s us. Ours is not a temporary saving. It’s not conditional. It’s complete. Your sin. Your guilt – all of it – is no more. We are the saved. Never again will you be separated from your God. You are his child. He looks at you with eyes of love. He points to a seat next to him and says “This spot’s for you, and when it’s time you’ll sit here with me for all eternity.”
Which brings me to this last thought. Go back to verse 13, did you catch that all ten “called out with a loud voice”, we read, for Jesus’ mercy? But only one came back praising God “in a loud voice” How often don’t we find ourselves doing the same in our lives? We look at God as though he’s only a supplier not a Savior. We call to him when we need stuff or want things, maybe even getting angry when he doesn’t seem to hear and answer, and we neglect to remember what he has already given us. That’s why Jesus was so disappointed when only one came back. Here it in his voice, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” And it wasn’t as if those other nine weren’t thankful for their healing. You know, if those ten lepers were collectively interviewed, nine would likely say the most amazing thing about this encounter was that their leprosy was healed. The Samaritan, however, would say it was that he met Jesus. He met his Savior. And it is this person, overlooked and marginalized, discarded and discounted, ostracized and rejected, who embodies what it means to see yourself as Jesus sees you. I am someone Jesus loves. Someone he wants to save.
And, so it was, as Jesus’ feet kept walking, that the footsteps of one leper stopped. We don’t know how that conversation went down with the other nine, but we do know one pair of feet turned back, the Samaritan’s. He had to – his life had been restored. And he did the only thing he could, he fell at “Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” If you think about it, thanksgiving is really the only thing we can give to God. Everything else we have is from him. But our thanksgiving is uniquely ours. It is something we choose to do. It is an offering of praise to God. It’s an act of faith.
And that act of faith pleases our God. It brings him joy. That’s why that Samaritan heard these words which were far greater than the words that sent him on his way healed to the priests. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Your Jesus has saved you. Tonight, you and I can rise and go knowing the same. Jesus has saved us – we have been made well. Blessed physically, restored spiritually, safe, and secure eternally. Now, how will you choose to thank him? Amen.