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Show Yourself to the Priest

September 13, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our mediation on this 14th Sunday after Trinity comes from our gospel text, especially where Luke records, “When [Jesus] saw [the lepers] he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’s feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

We hear this pericope every Thanksgiving, regardless of which lectionary series we’re using. It’s also the reading every once in a while at other times during the Church year – like today – so we know it rather well. We are introduced to this small group of men plagued with leprosy, standing at a distance away from Jesus. Like others who had contracted this horrific dermatological disease, these ten men were forced to live amongst other lepers in colonies. They were barred from visiting non-infected family, from offering sacrifices at the temple, and from partaking in everyday life until they were cured of the disease and performed the proper rites and sacrifices and observances.

This is not a disease where one simply takes two pills and calls the doctor in the morning. Howsoever this disease would be known by modern medical standards, it was truly debilitating, affecting every aspect of one’s life, altering the body in a way that could not have been pleasant and was likely exceedingly painful. These men had lived this life for who-knows-how-long. They were literal outcasts, shunned by all who saw them. They were avoided at all costs by society at large, lest the healthy get too close and catch the dreaded disease. Lepers were alone. Surely, they’d have leapt at any chance to be rid of their ailment, so when they heard that Jesus the renowned miracle-worker was approaching, they figured they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” they cry from a distance. No doubt, they’d heard the reports about another man, “full of leprosy, who fell on his face and begged [Jesus], ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean,’” and Jesus reaching out His hand to touch the man, saying, “I will; be clean.” These ten lepers clearly desire the same outcome. But this time … Jesus doesn’t reach out His hand. He doesn’t touch them and heal them instantaneously. Instead, He commands them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Unusual … unexpected … jarring, but nevertheless the ten lepers attempt to obey what Jesus commanded, and they begin journeying toward the temple and the priests that await them and their leprous flesh.

But we’re told that “… as they went … they were cleansed.” No details are given about the exact moment when one of them noticed that his leprosy was gone, but soon all beheld their new unblemished, disease-free skin, and this was undoubtedly the cause of jubilation that few people have experienced. They had their lives back! They could see their families once more! They could worship and offer sacrifices again! They could enter civil life once again! And one of their number “… when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’s feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.”

It’s about gratitude, right? Thankfulness for what God had done for him, yes? Well, that is part of what we’re supposed to take away from this passage – it’s not the gospel reading for Thanksgiving every year for nothing. And by no means is it a bad lesson to pull from our text, but there’s more here. Take another look at how Jesus responds to this foreigner returning to – rightly – worship Him and render his thanks and praise: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? … Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

At some point as he was going along, this Samaritan realized something that the other former-lepers did not. He had heard the same command from Jesus to show themselves to the priest. He knew the rituals that the Levitical code required and how daunting they were. Most of all, however, he knew that he had been healed … and he simply chose the best priest of all to present himself before.

Jesus’s words to this double-outcast (being both a leper and a Samaritan) tell us that this man, whether he fully understood what was going on or not, recognized Jesus for who He is. He didn’t ignore Jesus’s command to present himself to the priest; indeed, he believed that Jesus was and is the great High Priest … who was, incidentally, on His way to Jerusalem to make atonement for the sins of the whole world. He did not say, “Your thankfulness has made you well;” instead, Jesus told the Samaritan, “your faith has made you well.” By trusting Jesus as this great High Priest, believing His word to make him clean, Jesus declares that the Samaritan is exactly that: clean. Clean from his disease of leprosy and from his mortal sinful condition.

The beautiful thing is that we share much in common with this Samaritan former-leper. No, not in terms of any dermatological diseases we may have. Not even in terms of the present pandemic that has caused us all to assume a rather leper-oriented mindset. No, the great High Priest that we come before week in and week out has seen your affliction as well. He knows your sin. He sees your harmful actions and hears your unkind words. He sees the brokenness in your bodies and your minds and your spirits.

Here, we come before Him – not at a distance, but drawing very near – and we raise to Him our own cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us! Forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life!” Here, He speaks His life-giving absolution to you, saying, “I will; be clean and forgiven!” Here, you taste His forgiveness as you eat and drink His very body and blood given and shed for you. Here, we see that the Lord is, indeed, good, and we render to Him our thanks and praise for His great and precious gifts! Here, His benediction sends you on your way out to wherever you’re going, for your faith in His word of forgiveness “has made you well.” Thanks be to God that we don’t have leprosy, and thanks be to God that He does have control over all creation, including diseases. But more than all this, thanks be to God that He has sent His Son, that same great High Priest, to sacrifice Himself on our behalf and rise again! Thanks be to God that He has bestowed upon us the faith which trusts His word when He says, “In the waters of baptism, you are washed clean, your sins are forgiven, and I am with you always.” Render to Him your thanks! He is, after all, our great atoning High Priest.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.