One day Jesus was on His way from Samaria to Galilee. On His way ten men who had leprosy met Him. At this point in the story we are not told of their nationality we are simply told of their disease, leprosy. Leprosy was a disease that had no cultural or national boundaries and if leprosy did anything it united those who would have otherwise been divided. A leper was a person who had a skin disease that was so bad and so infectious that they had to live outside of town. The person with leprosy was literally rotting to death and for the safety of others they must yell “unclean, unclean,” when anyone came near, in order to warn them to stay away lest they might get this dreaded, fatal disease. Not much was known about the disease, how it was communicated from one person to another so lepers were not allowed contact with the rest of the world. Certainly these lepers lead very lonely, deary lives. Their only companions would be other lepers.
What is evident from the response of the lepers to Jesus coming is that they must have at least heard of Him, even if they did not necessarily believe that He was the Messiah. It is evident that they had heard of His ability to cure and heal so that when He did come into town they cried out to Him for healing. Well, even if one did not believe, the rest did and besides, what could it hurt to try? Notice that their felt need was to be healed. They believed they needed physical healing and that is what they asked, for physical healing from leprosy.
Although their desire was for physical healing their cry was a cry for mercy, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Now notice what Jesus does on His part. He does not wave His hands around or up in the air. He does not put His hand on their head and push them over. He does not say, “Be healed” (said in a deep “faith healing” voice). Instead, He simply asks them to demonstrate their faith. He says, “Go show yourselves to the priest.” They were to show themselves to the priest because he was the one who could announce that they were clean and no longer infected with leprosy. He was the one who could give them back their lives. But they were leprous. Perhaps the question on their mind was, should they go? Did they believe that Jesus healed them?
Now, we may want to pause here in this story and make sure that we understand it was not their own personal faith that healed them. Many times Jesus healed people and although, as here, He alludes to faith making them well, it is not one’s faith in Jesus that brings healing. Certainly that would limit God’s power. Their healing was effected by God. And actually, it was their healing that effected faith in their hearts. In other words, Jesus’ healing the lepers is what confirmed Jesus as God and is what confirmed their faith.
Getting back to the story, on their way to show themselves to the priest they are healed, all ten of them, but only one man notices. Or at least only one man notices and returns to Jesus to give Him thanks. When he gets to Jesus, he throws himself at Jesus’ feet, a sign of unworthiness and our text adds that “he was a Samaritan,” that is, he was a foreigner. Now we get to this social, national distinction. Again, as a leper this social/national barrier was knocked down, but now that they are healed it comes back into play. Actually, Jesus uses this social/national distinction to strike at His fellow Israelites for their thinking more highly of themselves. Jesus asks (rhetorically) “where are the other nine?” And He tells the man that his faith has saved him, saved him as in healing him and saved him for eternal life. We might suggest that this man had faith, saving faith. The other nine believed more in the healing than in the healer.
Now, that is a nice story and a nice story for this day of Thanksgiving, a nice story to remind us to be thankful. Yes, we know that Thanksgiving is not necessarily a religious holiday, rather it is a secular holiday. Yet, we might compare this secular holiday to the Old Testament festival of Pentecost which was a harvest festival. And as Christians, certainly we should be on the forefront of thankfulness and demonstrating that thankfulness. But, we might ask, how does it relate to our story?
In a very real way we are like the ten lepers. We are sick, spiritually sick. We are full of sin, enemies of God, we are outcasts, leading lonely, dreary lives. We know we are in need of healing, especially in need of spiritual healing.
And we know Jesus. We know even more than the lepers knew about Jesus. We have hind sight. We can look back and know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior. We know that He did live perfectly, that He did take all our sins upon Himself, that He did suffer and die the eternal death penalty for us in our place, that He did rise and ascend into heaven, that He did send His Holy Spirit to be with us to guide and lead us in life. We are continually reminded of all that Jesus did for us; all that He still continues to do for us; and all the He will do for us especially as He comes to us through the means of grace. As we read His Word we meet Him. As we make regular and diligent use of reading our Bibles we meet Him. As we come to Bible class and divine service we meet Him. As we read our Bibles we meet Him. As we remember our Baptism, as we partake of the Lord’s body and blood in His holy supper, as we confess our sins and hear His most beautiful words of absolution He gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
Jesus comes to us daily and weekly through His means of grace. Daily we are confronted with the question, do we believe? The temptations of the world are to put our trust in the creation rather than the Creator. Do we see Jesus’ hand in all things in life? Do we notice His good gifts and blessings? Each new day, the rain, the ability to work, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the roof over our heads and so on. Do we believe these are from our good and gracious God or that somehow we may have earned them, even a little?
Are we the one about whom Jesus asks “where are the others to whom I have given life?” Do we forget, or maybe we should ask, how often do we forget to give our Lord the thanks and praise He deserves. Or are we the one who came, throwing ourselves at Jesus’ feet in unworthiness and thanking Him for all His good gifts and blessings? Do we live for the creation or for the Creator? My prayer is that we are all like the foreigner.
Yet, whether we are like the foreigner or one of the nine, the fact remains that even for us, Jesus has given us healing, perfect healing through the forgiveness of sins which He earned for us and which He gives to us through His means of grace. He gives us perfect healing with forgiveness, He gives us faith and we know that we are saved. Thanks be to God.
Thanksgiving is a time to be like the leper who returned to give thanks, but not just at Thanksgiving, but all year long. As God has given to us, we respond, with His help in giving thanks to Him. We respond by speaking and singing words of thanks and praise. We respond by giving of our time, talents and treasure, as we are moved by the Lord to do so. We respond by simply offering ourselves and our lives to the Lord and living our life to His glory. I thank the Lord that you have come and began your Thanksgiving by coming here first and recognizing and giving thanks to the Lord for all His good gifts and blessings. My pray is that the Lord will continue to work through His means of grace to strengthen and keep you in faith and that He will continue to bless you as you give yourself back to Him. To Him be the glory. Amen.