Restored (Luke 17:11-19)
Rev. David French
Outcasts - every culture has them - people who for one reason or another are not allowed to fully participate in the culture of their society. Sometimes people are looked at as outcasts for reasons beyond their control. The physically deformed or handicapped are among those who many today still shy away from.
Certainly, mental illness has been a hot topic lately. What to do with people who for unknown reasons are lashing out, attacking strangers in the street, seemingly trying to make people around them uncomfortable.
In his last sermon to Israel, for sins highlighted earlier in Deuteronomy, God directed Moses to declare; no Ammonite or Moabite may enter the Promised Land, that is both were outcast. Lepers were also on the list of outcasts. We read in Leviticus (13:45-46), “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
Our Old Testament reading for today is the opening words from the book of Ruth. If you’ve never read it, you really should. It’s only four chapters long, and it gives us insight into the culture of the time, into family life, financial dealings, and even courtship rituals.
Finally, by constantly referring to Boaz as the kinsman redeemer, it gives us good reason to consider the love between Boaz and Ruth and learn about the love Christ has for His bride, the church. The thing is, Ruth was a Moabite. And so, looking at the big picture of the book of Ruth, we see how, through the gift of faith, God mercifully brings even outcasts into His family.
In today’s gospel lesson we read about Jesus and the ten lepers. Certainly, of all the diseases mentioned in the Bible, I would guess none is a better metaphor for sin than leprosy. Easton's Bible Dictionary describes the disease this way: “This disease is a bacterial disease that … begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward to the bones, (eventually) rotting the whole body ….”
I suppose most lepers, at some point, became used to people turning away in horror or running away screaming. They probably came to appreciate being outside the camp or the “community.” The life of those affected with this disease must have truly been a lonely and wretched life to live. Through no fault of their own, they became infected with a disease and were labeled “outcast,” no longer permitted to take part in the activities of daily life.
In today's gospel lesson we see how the Son of God mercifully restores or brings outcasts back into His family. Now, it’s true that Ruth and the lepers were outcasts for different reasons. It’s also true that they, along with all of humanity have been cast out of God’s kingdom really for the same reason. You see, from the time Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden; Ruth, the ten lepers, you, me, and all of humanity - we are all born outcasts, separated from God because we are all conceived in and born of sin. And being sinners from the time of our conception, we do throughout our earthly lives the only thing we can do - we sin daily, adding to our guilt. Always remember, one of the most devious things about our sinful nature is it often uses what we call “good” to disguise its work.
Ruth knew that she was an outcast because of where she was born. The lepers knew they were outcasts because every day they could compare themselves to healthy people. Sinners don’t have that knowledge. This world has no sinless standard for us to use as a measure of our own depravity. It’s the nature of our sinful pride to believe that we live in a perfectly healthy and normal world.
The truth is, when we judge others by the twisted standards of the world around us, as opposed to God’s standards as revealed in the Scriptures, we can easily begin to believe that, in some ways, we really are better than some of those outcasts around us. It’s not until the Holy Spirit opens our eyes, minds, and hearts through God's Word of law that we begin to see that we don’t just say it, we really are poor miserable sinners.
When we see our reflection in the mirror of God’s law, we can clearly see that we have a serious and deadly disease. Without Christ and His saving gospel, even though we may grow physically stronger, our spirits would die and rot within us.
Just as a leper was a dead man walking, so also a sinner separated from God is a damned man walking. Only when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and shows us the truth through God’s law can we see that we are indeed still sinners, spiritual lepers, outcasts in need of forgiveness. And since outcasts are not allowed to enter the city of God, the law does the only thing it can do. It condemns us to hell. But thanks be to God, who by the giving of His Holy Spirit in the waters of our baptisms has, by grace through faith, opened our eyes through His word of law and then mercifully opens our hearts and minds to the truth of His love and His life restoring Gospel.
Remember when Jesus healed those ten lepers physically, he was literally on His way to Jerusalem to pay for their sins or spiritual leprosy, if you will, on the cross, but not theirs alone. From the time Christ’s blood was shed at the temple seven days after His birth until the day His blood was shed on the cross, Jesus took our spiritual leprosy, the sin that affects us all, upon Himself. In Jerusalem He would offer His blood on the cross to pay for the cure of this worldwide, all-consuming disease called sin. And with His resurrection, Jesus began to freely offer that cure to all through His Word and sacraments.
It was after He died that Jesus showed how different He really is. Every living thing that dies soon begins to decay. Eventually, that decay returns every dead thing to dust. As God promised, Jesus did not see decay because Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven that He might fill all things in heaven and on earth. And so, we believe by faith what we can never truly understand. Jesus is here with us right now. He is here to keep His promise to come to you through His Word and in, with, and under the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. He comes bearing gifts of forgiveness and life for you and for all who meet with Him again this day.
My friends, you had a disease that was much worse than you know, but by grace through faith in Christ, you have been healed. True, we will all one day die and our bodies will decay, but it’s also true that the day will come when Jesus will raise our bodies to new life, and He will take us to our heavenly home where you and I and all who trusted in His promise will live with Him forever. You see, while all of us are born outcasts, you and I and all who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins have graciously been sought, found, and mercifully restored as a child in the family of God.
In His name, Amen.