Jesus heals the lepers (Trinity 14)

[I am indebted in part to my friend Ken Kelly, for his insights into the text.  He probably won’t like the sermon anyway, but I’ll mention him nonetheless…-LL]


There is always a temptation when it comes to the healing miracles of Jesus to look for a deeper meaning, to find the hidden message in the bottle of the story that takes an expert to find. What does this story have to do with the doctrine of justification, or thankfulness, or stewardship, or whatever it is that you are interested in right now? When we come to a story and read the bible, it is very easy to draw our own needs and wants and desires into the event, so that the actual event gets lost.

So what happens in this story? Let’s unpack it to make sure we understand everything.

Jesus is traveling from Galilee south to Jerusalem. He is going around the land of Samaria, right on the edge of it. This is the part of the country where no good Jew would voluntarily travel. You know what parts of town we’re talking about here. The Jews and the Samaritans did not intermingle. They were just close enough to each other to be very, very different. The differences weren’t economic or strictly racial. The difference was religion, that most divisive of things. The Samaritans only accepted the first five books of Moses, and rejected the Temple in Jerusalem entirely. So the Jews would have nothing to do with them. And Jesus is right on the edge of their country.

As he is traveling and enters a border town village, Jesus is met by 10 lepers. We can understand the plight of these ten lepers to a certain extent, although not as well as we might think. In our society today, if you have a terrible contagious disease, you are treated for it. Even the poorest in our country would receive medical care, and the politicians would fight later about who is going to pay for it. But it was not so in Jesus’ day. In Jesus’ day, these men had to wear black, and probably had to wear something that looked almost like a cowbell around their necks. They have to cry out unclean, unclean when others came near to them. So they are shunned by their family and friends alike. But perhaps the greatest pain and sorrow that these men had to endure is that they were shut off from the house of God. In our Introit for the day from Psalm 84, David cries out, How lovely is Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD. There was a longing in Jesus’ day to be in the house of God. Maybe it come from the travel of the Israelites. Maybe it came from their years of Exile and wandering. But there was no question that in the piety of the people of Jesus’ day, to be in the house of God, well, that is as good as it gets.

Yet that is precisely where these lepers were left to fend for themselves. Because they were ritually unclean, they could not enter into God’s house, they could not be in the very presence of God in His Holy Temple. They longed for it. They knew that this is where the children of Israel belonged. But it was not to be so. Their disease prevented them from entering into God’s house.

So they come to Jesus and beg Him for mercy. Jesus tells them to go visit the priests, who could judge whether they were cleansed or not. While they are on the way, they are cleansed of their leprosy. Wonder of wonders! Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to gain eternal life that he must be born again. Well, these men now look like they did go back through their mother’s womb and came out whole on the other side! It’s hard to imagine for us what kind of joy that must have brought.

One of them turns around and does the polite thing that your mother always told you to do. He returns and gives thanks to Jesus. He falls at Jesus’ feet and thanks him over and over again.

So what is the miracle here? What is the point of this story? It would be very easy to make it about thankfulness, or one of the other many themes that kind of run through our heads after hearing the texts so many times. But at the end of the day, the point of the text is very simple: Jesus healed the man. It is really that simple.

Jesus, God in the flesh, came down to earth to fix what was broken in your life. The big and the little. The eternal and the temporal. Jesus comes to make things right that have gone oh so wrong. He does it by the authority of His Word. Proverbs reminds us to be attentive to the words of Jesus, for they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.

So the question for you today, who come to hear the words of Jesus, is this: what has Jesus promised to do for you? Do you know? Do you believe His words? He promises forgiveness of sins, life and salvation for you. He promises to heal your diseases and to make everything right that is wrong. That is His promise to you.

Believe His Word of promise to you, just as this Samaritan believed His Word. Jesus gives you a pledge, a sign and token that is proof of His Word. He gives you His own body and blood to you so that you might live. It is as if Jesus says to you, “here I am. My word is my bond. Trust in me, for I will give you all that you need for this body and life. And to prove this to you, I give you my own body and blood. I pledge myself to you. You are clean by my uncleanness for you.”

Trust in His word of promise for. Jesus is as good as His Word, and His Word for you this day is a great one indeed. Amen.

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