How are you today? Really, how’s it going? You ever notice how those two questions are often more of a greeting these days than an actual inquiry about your day and your feelings? Which is why – right? – the response you often hear when someone says, “How are you” is something like, “Oh, I’m good”, or “Fine, thanks.” And we go and walk our separate ways, which is why sometimes when someone asks me, “How I am”, I like to throw the person off by saying, “Just terrible! Awful!”, because they weren’t excepting that, and now what do you do? Do you keep walking because you weren’t actually interested in how the person was doing, or do you stop and (scoffs) have a conversation. Recently, though I heard a different response to that question, “How are you?” The person when asked how he was doing said this, “I’m grateful.” That was a new one for me – “I’m grateful”
This idea of being grateful 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” 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? As these ten were walking along, what was said?”
I do wonder if, as they were walking, they felt and noticed their bodies healing. And, as they started to feel those changes and see them in their companions if one of them didn’t just ask, “How are you guys doing?” How do you feel? Because I feel great!” And I would assume that their responses then ranged from overwhelming shock, to shouts of joy and happiness, “We’re fantastic! We are healed! Let’s go to the priests and get our lives back! I can’t wait to see my family, kiss my wife, hold my children.” That walk away from Jesus was likely one of pure joy and awe for all 10 of those former lepers. And I don’t think it’s wrong to think that all 10 of those men were grateful, but only one went back. Only one went back to express his gratitude and to say, “thank you.” But before we go further with that thought, let’s go back. How does this all start? It starts with Jesus.
Where does Luke say Jesus was headed? Do you see it there at the beginning of these verses? 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.
But then here came life, Jesus, 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, Master, have pity on us!” 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 ways that 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. Can you imagine? Their eyes too frightened to look at what you’ve become. They avoid you. Perhaps, that is worse than death. And 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.
Go back to those lepers. When they shouted those words, “Lord, have mercy!” what did they expect? Again, no one else had time for these people, not even their loved ones. So, why would Jesus? 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. And so often you do call to him. “Jesus, have mercy!” And he responds, but his response it isn’t to go make a pilgrimage to some holy site. It isn’t, be better and try harder. His response isn’t “Good luck” or “No”. His response is seen right here…in his footsteps – he didn’t stop.
After cleansing those ten men, Jesus continued 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.”
This brings us back to that thought of gratitude. Go back to verse 13 all ten – right? – “called out with a loud voice”, we read, for Jesus’ mercy. How often don’t we find ourselves doing the same in our lives? If your child or your parent is sick and not doing well…if you are on the verge of financial ruin…if your marriage is on the rocks…if we have done something that has really gotten us in trouble…if we are in need…we passionately cry out to God for his help! And that’s good, that’s great! And that’s the right thing to do! But do we carry that same passion and intensity into our thanks, praise, and worship of God? Are we more inclined to cry out to God in want than in worship? Are you more like one of the nine, or are you like that one, that one who turned back to praise God with the same loud voice he used in his time of need?
And, by the way, it wasn’t as if those other nine weren’t thankful for their healing. I’m sure they were. Just like I’m sure you’re often very thankful for what God has given to you, but if we only thank Jesus for the stuff he’s given us, if we’re only grateful when he gives us what we want, we are missing something, just like nine of those lepers.
You see, if those ten lepers were collectively interviewed, the nine would likely say the most amazing thing about their encounter with Jesus was that their leprosy was healed. The Samaritan, however, would likely 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 once we see that, how can we not stop and in gratitude give thanks, even if our other cries of need seem to go unanswered.
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.” He was grateful. 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. Today, you and I can rise and go knowing the same. Jesus has saved us – we have been made well. Which means when someone asks you “How you are doing?”, I pray you can be grateful. For you are blessed physically, restored spiritually, and safe and secure eternally. Now, how will you choose to express that gratitude? That I leave up to you. Amen.