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Whom to Thank

November 21, 2018
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 that we meditate upon this evening before Thanksgiving Day is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Luke records Jesus’s answer to the Samaritan’s 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?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

 “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field. And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days. And on the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair from his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. He shall shave off all his hair, and then he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean.”

“And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish, and a grain offering of three tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil. And the priest who cleanses him shall set the man who is to be cleansed and these things before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the priest shall take one of the male lambs and offer it for a guilt offering, along with the log of oil, and wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. And he shall kill the lamb in the place where they kill the sin offering and the burnt offering, in the place of the sanctuary. For the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest; it is most holy. The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then the priest shall take some of the log of oil and pour it into the palm of his own left hand and dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand and sprinkle some oil with his finger seven times before the Lord. And some of the oil that remains in his hand the priest shall put on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. And the rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed. Then the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord. The priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. And afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.”

In case you didn’t know, that’s the process prescribed by God in Leviticus 14 for the cleansing of a leper in the nation of Israel. It’s long, it’s arduous, it’s exhausting – just reading all of that was kinda tiresome! This was the process that was awaiting 10 lepers as they trudged on their way to do as Jesus had told them. Undoubtedly, some of them were thinking to themselves, “Well, this is going to be pointless. Jesus didn’t actually clean us; He just told us to go show ourselves to the priests. When we show up, still clearly with leprosy, they’re just gonna turn us around to go back to the leper colony…”

Now we’re not told precisely when these lepers were cleansed, but at some point, on their journey, they were rid of their horrible, disfiguring, highly contagious disease. We’re also not told at what point the others noticed that they were healed and cleansed, but we are told that, when he noticed that he was healed and cleaned, only one of the ten of them returned to Jesus, giving Him praise and thanks in a loud voice.

Only one of them.  Jesus had given these men their lives back – not just healing them in body, but also in mind and spirit! They were able to rejoin society, see their family and friends again! Have normal relationships once more without the pall of disease hanging about them! No longer would they be shunned. No longer would mothers hide their children’s faces from their deformities and sickliness. No longer would they be banned from bringing their sacrifices and praises and thanksgivings to God! So, the question becomes … why didn’t they all return to thank God – that is, God incarnate? They had all asked for mercy, for healing, for cleansing, and Jesus gave it. And only one – a Samaritan, by the way, a foreigner, not belonging to the people of Israel – returned to thank Him.

Why? Well, the answer is, at the same time, simple and complicated. It’s complicated because, obviously, our text doesn’t give us any clue into the inner workings of these lepers’ minds. We have no idea if they were preoccupied with the aforementioned labor-intensive and costly rituals prescribed in Leviticus. We don’t know if they were simply so caught up in their leprous frame-of-mind, that they wouldn’t notice until much later that they were clean. We don’t know if they were angry that Jesus hadn’t healed them in that moment. We simply don’t know what was going through their minds … and yet, in a way, we do.

We do know because, while we may not have one of the myriad dermatological diseases that fall under the umbrella of “leprosy,” we nevertheless are all ill. Deathly ill, in fact. We all share a disease – in fact, the same exact disease that the 10 lepers also had … as well as the disciples, and the Pharisees, Sadducees, Romans, Greeks, Germans, Japanese, Mexicans, Africans, Americans, and every other human being on this planet. We all share the same genetic predisposition, the same inherited disease … sin.

But no code in Leviticus can fully cure that ill. No priestly prescription can cleanse from that disease. “Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain…” No, I don’t care how many bulls or lambs or birds you buy and slaughter; they will not be able to wipe away that stain or cure us of our warring madness. “But Christ the heav’nly Lamb takes all our sins away – a sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they!” Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem at the time the ten lepers cry out to Him for mercy. He’s got His eyes set upon Golgotha, knowing what must happen to Him there, how He will be beaten, flogged, spat upon, cursed, crucified, and killed. Knowing how He will take the full measure of all sin from all time into Himself, and how He will endure the full and just wrath of God, in order to spare us from enduring the same punishment. How He will do all of this … only out of His holy and perfect love for us, His sinful and imperfect creatures. There, upon a cross lifted up as a bridge between heaven and earth, the sinless Lamb of God, who became sin for us, will be sacrificed to cleanse us fully, once and for all, from the damning and damned disease of sin.

That’s the greater context of our Gospel lesson, and such love, such selflessness is so wholly foreign to us, that perhaps we think that it’s too good to be true. Perhaps that’s the reason why the nine lepers did not return to Jesus; Lord knows this is one reason, among many, that people reject the proclamation of the Gospel today. But as those whom God has called, who are the recipients of His great and precious promises, we know just Who it is that we are to thank: Jesus. He has cut us off from the bitter sting of death, and promised to us life everlasting. My friends, knowing this … knowing how He has healed us in body, mind, and spirit, how can we help but, with the Samaritan leper, turn back, praising God with loud voices and hymns of praise? How can we help but fall down on our faces at Jesus’s pierced feet, knowing all He has done for us, and render to Him our humble and genuine thanks? The Spirit of the living God has given us the faith that makes us well, that will raise us on the Last Day to live forever with Him! How can we help but praise and thank Christ our Lord for all He has done for us? May God help us both to will and to give Him the praise and thanks that are due Him.

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