18th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/9/2022
For most of us, there is not too much that is unfamiliar to us about our Gospel reading this morning from the 17th chapter of Luke. We have heard, read, and studied it many times. It is put before us every Thanksgiving Day as it is the appointed Gospel lesson for that occasion. And, as we see once again today, it is one of the three appointed readings for this 18th Sunday after Pentecost in the "C Series."
Accordingly, we might tend to treat it in a rather ho-hum fashion. "Yea, we have heard this before. Nothing new here. Let's just move on!" The typical sermon or attention focus is on being grateful. We join Jesus in being appalled that only one of the 10 lepers cleansed by Jesus bothered to come back to him to render their grateful appreciation. Indeed, giving thanks is quite central to this account. "Were not the ten cleansed?" Jesus laments. Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
I believe, however, that by referring to the fact that this thankful leper is a foreigner, Jesus is helping us to look at this whole account with different eyes to see another important, if not more important, point of emphasis. You see, the Greek word translated as "foreigner" is one of another race or an alien. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this same word is consistently used to refer to non-Jews, those who were not of the children of Abraham and Isaac, that is, not of God's people. Under the Mosaic Covenant, such foreigners were not permitted to eat the Passover. They were considered to be unsaved. (Gen. 17:27; Ex. 12:43). This prompts Luke to point out that of all people, the thankful, healed leper was a Samaritan, one whose lineage stems from heretic Israelites intermarrying with gentile Canaanites!
By doing so, this shifts our attention as readers and/or hearers of this text away from the healed lepers and toward the Healer, Jesus. Instead of the headline of the story being, "A Foreigner Gives Glory to God" it becomes "The Holy People's Messiah Heals, of all People, a Samaritan!" It's no longer merely an exhortation to give thanks, but a declaration of the amazing mercy of Jesus Christ!
And is that not where the account begins, with the plea for Jesus' mercy? Luke writes: "And as he (Jesus) entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."
The Greek does not employ the helping verb "have" but instead says the lepers implore Jesus, "Mercy us!" Now we often use the word "mercy" as a noun. But at its root and core, it is a verb. "Compassion" is a feeling, a state of the heart. Mercy, on the other hand, is compassion in action. These lepers weren't simply asking Jesus to feel pity for their plight. They wanted Him to compassionately heal them—cleanse them of this dreaded, flesh-eating, ultra-painful, and death-inducing disease! Jesus was showing mercy by doing so!
The extent of Jesus' mercy is highlighted in the fact that of all 10 who were healed, at least one was a foreigner, who by all rights had no claim upon which to expect to be healed. He was not of God's covenant people. He was a disgusting Samaritan. He certainly could not in any way claim that he had the right to ask anything of Jesus, let alone to be cleansed! Nonetheless, Jesus had mercy on him!
Is this not what you and I live for every day—the mercy of God in Jesus Christ? Who or where would we be without the mercy of the LORD? We live in a fallen world. It is fraught with danger, illness, disease, pain, anxieties of all sorts, conflicts and fights, attacks and temptations by the evil one and his minions, slavery to our lusts, the weaknesses of our flesh, and the constant threat of death.
Now, in our stubbornness and self-righteousness, we may have convinced ourselves that we don't deserve such painful or bad things and that we deserve God's help and deliverance because we fashion ourselves as faithful Christians and paragons of virtue. And perhaps that's why the other nine lepers did not see their way to give praise to Jesus for their healing. In their minds, due to their status as Jews or even as good moral people, they felt they were deserving of Jesus' healing.
The simple fact is, though, as Holy Scripture points out, whether we be of God's holy people, faithful Lutherans, moral giants, or manifest pagans and the most openly wicked persons on the planet, each one of us deserves, as we regularly confess, nothing but God's present and eternal punishment. The wages of sin is death (Ro. 6:23). Quite simply, then, what we need is the unearned, unmerited mercy of God!
And that is what you confess and plead for every week in the Divine Liturgy. With the 10 lepers, you plead the very same words, "Kyrie, Eleison!" You are saying, "Lord, mercy me!"
And if you notice, this Kyrie follows the Holy Absolution pronounced by God's servant, the pastor. "In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ," he says, "I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
These are not just words or mere sentiments or hopes or prayers from a caring pastor. They are Jesus' own words, through which He mercifully gives you what in His grace He promised to give to you: the very forgiveness of all your sins that He already won for each of you on the cross.
Your greatest need is for the mercy of Jesus to save you from the eternal punishment due you on account of your sin. The Holy Absolution from Jesus assures you that you have already received that great mercy. As a result, drenched in the mercy you received through the forgiveness of your sins, you now implore Jesus to show mercy to you in all the other ways and places sin has brought misery and affliction into your lives. You are crying out, "Lord, Jesus, mercy me in my struggles in my marriage… Mercy me in my loneliness. Mercy me in my pain and suffering. Mercy me in my illness. Mercy me as I seek to make amends with my brother, whom I have offended or hurt... Mercy me, that I may be successful in resisting those lusts or temptations that seek to separate me from you. "Mercy me to be a bold confessor of Your truth in this world that, through its threats, seeks to keep me silent."
The good news we see through the healing of these 10 lepers is that Jesus does not have to be coaxed into being merciful to us in all these ways. For we are shown that His mercy flows freely to the afflicted from a heart already full of love and compassion for us all.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Jesus' mercy on this poor Samaritan leper. In it, we are truly emboldened with confident faith to cry out, "Lord, mercy me!" After all, in the society of his day, this man has two strikes against him. He is a leper and a Samaritan. Yet, Jesus' final words to him, "Your faith has saved you," demonstrate that His mercy toward him goes beyond mere healing.
Most strikingly, this statement applies to the Samaritan leper in a way that does not apply to the other nine. In Jesus' mercy, he has not only experienced healing and cleansing of his body but, more importantly, he has received the very salvation of his soul. How great was the joy of this Gentile, not only in his healing but in the very eternal salvation he was receiving? "The joy of that salvation praising God is an integral part of the salvation which the Samaritan has experienced through faith" (Tannehill, p. 119).
So the joy of that salvation praising God ought to be an integral part of the salvation you are also experiencing through faith in Jesus as your Savior. He has mercied you by becoming a man to take your place under the law. He has mercied you by taking upon Himself your sin and punishment and putting them to death on His cross. His cross is His mercy toward you! He has mercied you by washing you clean in holy baptism. He shows you mercy by presenting His very body and blood in the Holy Supper for the forgiveness of your sins. In that mercy you have received, you can be confident He will visit you with His mercy at every other time and place where you cry out in faith, "Lord, mercy me!"