Trinity 14 Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Regarding leprosy. Thus says the Lord:
“When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to [one of the priests], and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body…” (Leviticus 13:2-3).
“…[And] if the eruption has spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a leprous disease” (Lev. 13:8).
“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-46).
First, the Law required the unclean to show themselves to the priests. The priests would determine cleanliness, make the right sacrifices, and send you on your way.
That’s the basis of Jesus’ command to the lepers in today’s Gospel.
Second, there are obvious practical benefits to what the Law requires. We’re familiar with the idea of quarantine, which is a French word meaning forty, as in the number of days to be quarantined. That allows for observation and hopefully prevents the spread of the disease.
For the leper to ignore the Law, for the leper to ignore his leprosy, is selfishness of the worst kind.
What damage can be done if a communicable disease doesn’t carry with it the proper amount of shame?
Generally speaking, as a society, we’ve lost the proper sense of shame. We’re so inundated with cursing and lust, to name just two, that we end up making excuses for the cursing and lust around us.
It’s come up before that I watch a lot of movies.
Naturally, there is some useless trivia I’ve picked up along the way.
For example: what was the first feature film to include a spoken curse word?
The year was 1939, and we all know the line: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
One curse word in 238 minutes, and everyone noticed. Everyone today knows the line.
Now, fast-forward 74 years to 2013 and the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. That movie is three hours long and it contains 3,192 terrible words. That’s around 18 terrible words per minute.
It’s easy for us to scoff at that, but how many of you curse? How many of you curse at home but not at the restaurant? How many of you curse wherever you are?
How many of you have lost your temper or been needlessly violent? How many husbands have been disrespectful to their wives? How many wives have usurped the authority of their husbands?
And—to make matters worse—how many of you have done any of that in front of children?
We should be ashamed of our sins.
We should be ashamed of who learns from our sins.
For the Law to have such strict regulations regarding leprosy shouldn’t surprise us. It does. But it shouldn’t.
Proper shame is good.
The ten lepers show their shame in that they stand at a distance. Their dwelling is outside the camp. They would’ve been calling out “Unclean! Unclean!” but, as Jesus entered the village, “they lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’” (Lk. 17:13).
They ask for the right thing.
In the Bible, when God looks at Man, it’s most often the case that God is showing compassion and mercy to us.
The lepers, because of the preached Word, have heard of who Jesus is. In shame, they cry out for mercy, for relief, for help, for a change.
How different the world is today.
Depending on the affliction, if you were to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” you might receive ESPN’s courage award or get your own reality tv show.
For a man to desire to be a woman is to desire to be what God did not make. He should be ashamed.
For a man to claim to be a woman and so use the female facilities in a high school is hideously shameful.
For a wife to keep her husband silenced and usurp the role that God has given to men is shameful.
Those things are shameful, because those things are sinful.
But we’ve heard so many curse words, we’ve seen so many sins, we’ve made them part of our vocabulary.
When it’s somebody else’s kids, it’s a sin.
But when it’s our kids, everyone else lacks understanding.
We’ve forgotten Peter and the apostles’ words: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Like unconcerned lepers, we care less and less about disease and feel, less and less, the shame that should come with.
And so sin spreads like leaven through the whole lump.
The lepers, because of the preached Word, have heard who Jesus is, and in shame of their condition, they cry out for mercy.
Jesus looks at them and says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (Lk. 17:14). And that response is interesting, because it’s different than before. In chapter five, a leper saw Jesus and begged Him to make him clean. Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “Be clean” (cf. Lk. 5:12-13), then and there.
Here, Jesus tells the ten to go and show themselves to the priests. Why? Why not heal them immediately?
We don’t get the answer just yet, but “as they went they were cleansed” (Lk. 17:14). All ten.
“Then 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’” (Lk. 17:15-19).
Jesus heals them all. They all receive outward cleanliness. But only one recognized that it was God who healed him.
Verse 19 should be translated, “Rise and come; your faith has saved you” (my translation).
Jesus isn’t telling him to rise and go away. He’s telling him, “Rise and come with us like the faithful disciple that you are.”
All ten are healed. Only one is saved, because only one thanks God. Only one worships God. Only one would rather spend a day in the wilderness with Jesus than a thousand days feasting in Jerusalem, dwelling in the tents of the wicked.
By telling him that his faith has saved him, Jesus is telling him what faith is, that faith receives everything that Jesus says, and that it’s in the nature of faith to return to God in thanksgiving, to cling to Jesus.
Such returning shows the faithful confidence gained in trusting God who’s willing and able and does give so much more than clean skin.
By attributing the cleansing of leprosy to faith, Jesus is teaching him and us to see that saving faith takes Jesus at His Word.
Only faith that humbles the self and thanks God is saving faith that expects more than isolated, temporal benefits.
Faith expects everything the benefactor is and has.
So faith looks to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and says “Thank you, Lord.”
Thank You, for your life for me. For your death for me. For your resurrection.
For relief from guilt and shame.
For my Baptism. For the Absolution. For the Body and Blood for my forgiveness. Thank you Lord.
Jesus said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
“Go and show yourselves to the ones who determine cleanliness, make the sacrifice, and send you on your way.”
In a manner of speaking, only one of the ten did.
It’s a safe bet that the Samaritan ex-leper knew today’s Introit by heart:
O God [our Father], behold our shield [Christ], and look upon the face of Your anointed. For a day in the wilderness following Jesus is better than a thousand feasts in Jerusalem with the other nine. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. The Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold.
Go and show yourself to Him.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!