Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
“Cleansed from the Leprosy of Sin”
Seminarian Paul Norris, Vicar
St. Luke 17.11-19
05 September 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“Dead man walking, dead man walking here!” Perhaps you remember the scene in the movie ‘The Green Mile’. The prison guard shouts this phrase as a death row prisoner is escorted to the execution chamber. He has been judged guilty and sentenced to death. There is no hope and no future for life for this man. This expression lets all who see this man know he’s as good as dead.
In our Gospel reading, we hear of the ten men who had leprosy. Leprosy was the most feared disease of the time. In the Old Testament leprosy is a term denoting uncleanness or defilement and covered a range of diseases of the skin. Leprosy could include boils, fungus infections, impetigo, psoriasis, or any other skin disease that would cause visible blemishes. In the New Testament, as the trade routes expanded and different cultures contacted each other, the disease of Leprosy probably included what today is known as Hansen’s Disease. People afflicted with Hansen’s Disease suffer disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to form a claw hand. This disease did not kill immediately but did not seem to end. It lingers for years. The important thing is not the severity of the physical disease, but rather that they were unclean according to Levitical law.
Much like the call of “Dead man walking,” lepers are required to announce their presence to the people by shouting “Unclean”( Lev 13:45). They are unclean and are not a part of normal society. Instead, they are banished to die. Their only comfort is to band together in leper communities as their disfigured bodies die a long, slow, painful death. There is no hope for them as the disease not only affects their bodies, it also cuts them off spiritually from God. They were not allowed to go to the temple to worship God. There is no cure and they are dead men in body and spirit. In this condition, their outside matches their condition inside, and they can’t hide it.
Jesus is traveling and on his way to Jerusalem. The time for Jesus’ journey to the cross is rapidly approaching. As Jesus nears the outskirts of a village, he encounters a group of banished lepers. Levitical law says that the lepers have to stay at least 12 feet away from anyone. And we complain about 6-foot social distancing! There was a crowd following Jesus so these lepers would have been even further away. But they see Jesus and they want his attention.
The ten lepers, call out in a unison voice that perhaps was coarse from the disease; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” (Luke 17:13). They call him “Master” because word has gotten around that Jesus heals people. They are seeking grace and mercy from him. They want to be healed so that they can return to normal society. Jesus sees them and has compassion on them. Unlike some of the other miracles of Jesus, he does not touch them or command them to be healed. Instead, he instructs them to go present themselves to the priests.
Levitical law required that they present themselves to the priests and undergo the purification rite. This purification rite was an elaborate eight-day endeavor in which they would have to shave off all their hair, offer grain sacrifices, and offer blood sacrifices of birds and lambs. Only when all of this had been completed would the priest declare them clean, allowing them to return to home and live a normal life. (Lev 14:1-32) The lepers did not stand around and debate or try to rationalize what Jesus had said, they trusted his word, and as they went to the temple they were healed.
But one of these lepers is a Samaritan. Samaritans are a despised people by both Israelites and Galileans. He is called a “half-breed” and they are regarded by the Jews as foreigners. This Samaritan is not disobeying Jesus, but as he is rushing off to the temple his eyes are opened! He “sees” that he has been cleansed, and he sees with his opened eyes the One who has cleansed him, Jesus. He returns to where Jesus is and rightfully recognizes the source of his healing. He falls at Jesus’ feet, giving all praise and thanks to him.
Jesus responds to the situation and poses a question out loud for all to hear. “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18). It is easy to get hung up on this question and point out that the nine who did not return were Israelites. It does foreshadow the rejection of the Israelites of Jesus as the Messiah, but the point is that this Samaritan, a half-breed, is the only one that realized that the kingdom of God has arrived in Christ Jesus! His eyes have been opened, and he now sees and worships at the feet of the One who has cleansed him, the Word of God incarnate.
Jesus says to this Samaritan, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19). Jesus welcomes the Samaritan to journey and proclaims to the man that the faith that he possesses, has healed him. This faith was given to him by the Holy Spirit and it opened his eyes to the divinity of Jesus. This is the faith that has cleansed him inside and out. The word used in verse nineteen for “made well” can be translated as healed, cleansed, or saved. It means all of these things.
He has been saved from the effects of sin, the bodily disease of leprosy, and spiritual uncleanliness. Faith in Christ cleanses and heals diseases, sickness, loneliness, despair, and all eternal afflictions of body and soul which separate him from God. This saving faith reconciles him to God the Father and gives him access to God. This one leper, the half-breed, knows that Jesus is the One to turn to for deliverance, and praises God. Jesus tells the Samaritan, “arise” as it points to the bodily resurrection those in Christ will be given on the last day.
We are lepers. We have a crippling disease that makes us unclean and condemns us to death: sin. Since Adam and Eve, this leprosy has afflicted all mankind, condemning us, and making us “dead men walking.” Our flesh commits sins like sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, anger, envy, strife, and dissension…(Gal 5:19-21). These fleshly desires are against the Holy Spirit. Sin creeps into every aspect of our lives making us unclean and separating us from God. Our sinful self is at war with God and it does not desire what is holy.
Yet, our earthly sufferings are blessings from God. It is through these sufferings that we are shaped and strengthened by God (Rom 5:3-4). It forces us to be honest with ourselves and God. Without the visible disease of leprosy would these ten men have cried out to Jesus? Our diseases and sufferings on earth do the same for us. They remind us that we have a deadly physical and spiritual disease, and we need God’s grace and mercy. We cannot heal ourselves and our good works do not save us.
In our afflictions, we cry out to Jesus. Every Sunday we plead for mercy in the Kyrie, “Lord, have mercy upon us!” God the Father sees us and hears our cry. He has responded to our cry for mercy and sent the world his only begotten Son to pay the ransom for our sins. On the cross, our Savior suffered and died so that we might be cleansed and saved from the damning disease of sin.
In your baptism, you were cleansed and buried with Christ and you will be resurrected with Christ (Rom 6:1-23). Christ Jesus has triumphed over all sin, disease, and sickness. This healing and cleansing will be realized in its fullness on the day of resurrection. It is a never-ending battle in our earthly lives, and flesh and Spirit are at odds. Old Adam desires to do that which is contrary to the Spirit. (Gal 5:16-17) By daily contrition and repentance old Adam is drowned and dies with all the desires of the flesh. New Adam emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). By the blood of Jesus, you have been made clean and acceptable to God. Jesus Christ is the full and final atoning sacrifice; cleansing, delivering, saving, and reconciling you to God forever.
The Old Testament and Levitical boundaries are removed in Christ Jesus. You are free to fall at the feet of Jesus to worship and praise Him. The Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see Jesus who is the source of all healing, cleansing, life, and salvation. Christ Jesus has cured our disease forever. We are blessed to be in God’s house today, to receive his gift of cleansing, and we will praise and rejoice in our Savior as we sing the recessional hymn:
Oh, may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us
And keep us in His grace
And guide us when perplexed
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next!
(Now Thank We All Our God, LSB 895 stz.2)
In the Name of Jesus T Amen.