[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.”
Uncleanness, Made Well
The ten lepers. Leprosy is a term that included a variety of contagious skin diseases. These leprosies made you unclean under God’s Law. Leprosy excluded you from the kingdom – from the temple and from the life and communion of God’s kingdom on earth. Leprosy meant being alone, outside the camp [Leviticus 13:46].
Yet, a leper could be restored to the life of the kingdom. If his or her leprosy were to clear up, he could then go to the priests and show himself. The priests, upon seeing that the man or woman is clean, would then declare him or her clean. That declaration that you are clean restored you.
However, such healing was likely rare, and, because contact with leprosy would make another unclean, the man who is a leper was to wear torn clothes and cry out with a loud voice, “Unclean! Unclean!” if another was nearby [Leviticus 13:45]. Yet, these ten unclean lepers in today’s Gospel cried out differently.
Instead of “Unclean!”, these ten lepers cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus has mercy. While still leprous, all ten are sent to the priests to be declared clean. On their way to be declared clean, they are suddenly made clean.
Nine of the ten continue on their way to the Levitical priests of the earthly temple in Jerusalem. One of the ten turns back, praises God with a loud voice, falls at the feet of Jesus, worships Him, giving Him thanks.
This one out the ten saw the greater reality of what was going on. Jesus had said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” This one of the ten realizes who is the true High Priest. He goes to the true temple, which is the body of Jesus [John 2:19-21]. He goes to the only one who could truly, and eternally, declare him clean. And he is therefore thankful.
This one of the ten was a Samaritan – one who was already outside the camp and outside the temple by nature. Yet he is included in Jesus who takes away uncleannesses.
It is significant that Christ tells these ten to go to the priests first while the leprosy is still in them, and then they are cleansed after they begin to go. Typically, you would only head on your way to the priests to be declared clean after the skin disease had already cleared up.
And, so often, we think we ought to clean ourselves up first, and then go to our priest, Jesus. Yet, as with these lepers, Jesus says to come to Him first. While your uncleanness is still clinging, head on your way to your High Priest Jesus right away, who declares the unclean man or woman clean, and also is taking away your leprosies as often as you come to Him.
What are the leprosies that infect us, and how has Jesus made the unclean clean?
Sin of the soul and sin of the body. Our Epistle lesson today speaks of human sin, sin in us, which is the leprosy that excludes us from both the earthly and the eternal life of God’s kingdom. The leprosy of sin adheres to our nature from conception, puts us outside God’s camp from our beginning like a Samaritan, and from our first moments forward our will is cooperating with this leprosy.
The leprosy that makes us unclean to God and to His kingdom, under His just Law, includes both what we call “original sin” and what we call “actual sin”. Original sin is the sinfulness – the sin-nature – that is inherent in us. It’s the ‘way-we-are’ of sin. This makes me by nature something that can’t be with God – a creature outside the camp.
And original sin means that by nature I will do wrong. Though parents and teachers may have had to work hard to teach me to do right, I never had to be taught to do wrong. This original sin-leprosy includes the absence of true fear and trust of God, the absence of true knowledge and love of God, and an inclination toward what is displeasing to God.
This original sinfulness produces in me all sorts of “actual sin” – sinfulness produces sins-committed in thoughts, words, and deeds – the wrong I do and the good I leave undone. In short I have both a sinfulness and sins-I-commit (and good-I-omit).
“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].
These are all my leprosy. Like the ten lepers in the Gospel, each one places me outside the camp. I must honestly confess with my mouth, “Unclean! Unclean!” Yet, like these ten, my lips also cry, “Jesus! Master! Have mercy on me!”
My sin began at conception. But Christ has loved me from eternity. Sin-leprosy set me outside the camp from my beginning. Yet, before the ages began, God had devised how He would make the unclean clean by sending His Son.
Jesus truly is your Hight Priest from God. A priest acts not for himself but gives a sacrifice on behalf of another. Jesus has given Himself as such a sacrifice on your behalf.
Jesus alone is pure and clean. Jesus alone is without blemish. Jesus gave His pure and holy flesh on behalf of your unholy and impure flesh. His pure and sinless life fulfilled what God required of you and was offered up to God on your behalf.
His death on the cross was death for your sin. He died outside the camp, outside the walls of Jerusalem, for those unclean with sin. Jesus, the only pure man, became every impure man on the cross and died in place of all. His death paid the debt of death and punishment owed.
Now it is finished. The impure man or woman is declared clean because a sacrifice has been given that makes satisfaction to God. Even for the newly conceived and the newly born, and for the child filled with wrongs, the whole of sin-leprosy has been forgiven and healed by Jesus’ death.
Sin, original and actual, no longer calls the shots between you God. By His death, you have a place in the camp – declared clean, and to be made clean – forgiven, and being made well.
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” [Isaiah 1:18]. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” [Ezekiel 36:25].
You are pure in Jesus, full and complete, though still impure in time. And, in time, He is making you pure, freeing you from sins, by the power by which He is able to subdue all things to Himself.
What is the only proper response to all of this? Thanksgiving. The Samaritan-leper came and gave Him thanks. “Praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.” He worshiped. Thankfulness and worship are inseparable from that faith which receives salvation.
Therefore, in thanksgiving, let us worship the One who has made the unclean clean and who is healing us now by the power of His Word as we come near to Him. Amen.