Updated: Sep 22, 2022
[Luke 17:11-19] On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Faith, Thanksgiving, Fruit of the Spirit
Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. He passes along on a route between Samaria and Galilee. Between the rightful residents of that homeland and foreigners – between Jews and Samaritans.
This is the second Sunday in a row in which our appointed Gospel text has a foreigner, not only as a main character, so to speak, but as the “good guy” (so to speak). Last week was the parable of the Good Samaritan – the Samaritan man, a foreigner, who proves to be a neighbor to the man beaten and left for dead by robbers – a man who is a foreigner to him. The Samaritan proved to be faithful. He helped as the Lord has helped us.
Today, we get not a parable but an event that happened in the life of Jesus. Ten men with leprosy stand at a distance. Leprosy is a terrible skin disease and contagious. Under the Law of Moses, it makes a person unclean – cut off from the Temple and from your household. Therefore, lepers flocked together.
The Law required you, if you had leprosy, to stand at a distance and cry out, “Unclean!” These ten men with leprosy stand at a distance from Jesus but cry out an even better word – they “lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’”
They cry out to the One who makes the unclean clean. And He does. Jesus tells them to go in faith – He sends them off to show themselves to the priests, to be declared clean, even before they themselves see that they have been made clean. They go, and on the way the leprosy leaves them. They are clean.
Upon showing themselves to the priests in the Temple, they will be inspected and declared clean by the priests – and then will go about their own business as usual. Nine out of the ten will. One out of the ten will not go back to anything usual but will now go about his days in thanksgiving to God. “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.”
“Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” Your faith has saved you.
This foreigner was saved by faith alone in Christ and gave thanksgiving and praise to God. He is the one out of ten who recognized Jesus as his true High Priest and Savior.
(As a side note, I think it’s unavoidable that when you hear Gospel lessons about a foreigner, a Samaritan, you’re going to think about foreigners in your life, immigration, illegal immigration, and the destructive effects of lawless, open borders. It’s in the news.
And there are false teachers who misuse the Gospel for the sake of politics, claiming that to love your foreign neighbor you must support lawlessness around your nation’s border. That is false teaching. Lawlessness harms your neighbor, harms your foreign neighbor, and is sin – “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities… whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed” [Romans 13:1-2].)
Lawless is sin. Heartfelt love, mercy, and compassion, however, are not - and these ought to rule our thoughts, actions, and words.
Why does Jesus mention foreigners so often, brothers and sisters? Because you are a foreigner. You’re not from Judah. You’re not an Israelite. You’re a gentile – a foreigner to the line of David, Judah, and Abraham. Thanks be to God that Jesus came not only to save His countrymen but foreigners. You and your ancestors. Not by disregarding civil laws, but by dying on the cross for your sins – “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (every nation!)” [John 1:29].
Brothers and sisters, the Lord is the Son of Mary, the Son of David. You are foreigners to Him according to the flesh. But more than that – much more than that – every person, Jew or gentile, foreign or native, is both a foreigner to God and a leper because of his or her sin.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” [Galatians 5:19-21]. You have unclean flesh. The leprosy of sin.
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” [Mark 7:21-23]. Leprosy as deep as the heart.
Sin stemming from the heart – sin in the flesh – disobedience to God’s Law in thought, word, deed, passion, desire, wants – not wanting His but your will to be done. This defiles you. These things stop a person from inheriting the kingdom of God. They make you a foreigner.
Thanks be to God that Jesus came to save foreigners. Thanks be to God that Jesus came to save men and women full of leprosy. God sent the One who makes the unclean clean, for you to call upon Him.
On the cross, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. Jesus became your leprosy of sin on the cross and there your sin was crucified – “so that in Him you become the righteousness of God.”
On the cross, Jesus became the foreigner to God – “My God, my God, why have your forsaken Me?” “Why are you so far from saving me?” [Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1].
On the cross, Jesus, the innocent one, carried the curse of the Law’s condemnation of your sin in your place – “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles (the foreigners), so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” [Galatians 3:13-14]
“Your faith has made you well” – faith in Christ who draws the foreigner near and makes the leper clean. The Savior – who alone could do it – has come and has saved you. Forgiven, pardoned. Made clean by His blood.
What can we do in response but give thanks? The Samaritan “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.”
Thanksgiving runs back to Jesus again and again. Thanksgiving is not happy to continue in what displeases God. Thanksgiving desires the fruits of the Spirit which Jesus supplies. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” [Galatians 5:22-23].
Love, in thanksgiving that He has first loved me. Joy, from a heart thankful that I am no longer far off from Him. Patience with others, in thanksgiving that He is still patient with my sins. Kindness to others, because He is kind. Goodness – a good heart for foreigners, because I am thankful that He brings to heaven this foreigner.
Faithfulness, as He is faithful. Gentleness because He is gentle to me in His corrections and rebuke. Self-control, so that my flesh is never the cause of losing Him, my Greatest Good. The fruits of the Spirit flowing from thanksgiving for what God in Christ has been and has done for me – without any merit or worthiness on my part.
Brothers and sisters, don’t return to the business-as-usual of the sinful flesh. Run back to Him where He comes to you – where He comes to you in His Word and Sacrament – praise Him, worship Him, thank Him, and walk in the ways of a thankful heart. Amen.