Summary: The suprising but important points in the story of the 10 lepers.
Sermon: The Ten Lepers: The Excessive Ingredient
Text: Luke 17:11-19
Occasion: Trinity XIV
Who: Mark Woolsey
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, August 28, 2005
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last time we met we used our imagination to bake a plate of cookies. Today I would like us to think about something equally pleasant, homemade bread. We mix the flour, water, salt, egg, yeast, and other ingredients, making sure that unlike last time we leave nothing out. We knead it, let it rise, and finally put it in the oven. The house is filled with a heavenly fragrance. The buzzer goes off, the oven door comes down, and out comes a golden loaf. Your knife slices off a thick slice and slathers on the butter. It’s in your mouth and WOAH, THAT’S SALTY! What happened? You think back and you know you added the cup of salt it called for. It was a CUP of salt, wasn’t it? Oh ... . Yes, you screwed up again. Not leaving out, but adding too much salt. This is a danger today as we interpret our Gospel passage. Many times, when the story of the 10 lepers is told, the emphasis is given to the thankfulness of the Samaritan. Certainly that is a legitimate point, and certainly we are not nearly thankful enough in our own lives, either to God or to others. But in interpreting this passage, many times the preacher latches on to this one aspect and misses other, more important points. So what are the salient points of this passage?
Before we can understand what this passage teaches us, we must undestand some of the various elements it contains. One of these is leprosy - what it is and what it represents. Although today with proper medical treatment this disease is not too difficult to contain and cure, such was not the case 2000 years ago. Once infected, you were afflicted in both body and soul. You became a kind of living death, forced to live apart from the rest of the community. As the condition progressed your extremeties - nose, fingers, toes, etc - began rotting off, much as if you had died and your corpse was rotting away. Nor is this a fanciful comparison; Leviticus 13 & 14 give detailed laws concerning this scourge, calling the person who has it unclean. The Hebrew word itself is sara`at which literally translated means "a smiting" or "a scourge". In many sermons today this is the point at which the preacher will usually say something like, "The Jews of the time considered it to be a curse from God because of sin, but today we know it is caused by a bacteria. Today we do not ostracise sick people, as if the malady was their own fault, but at that time they knew no better". However, such a condescending view of our ancestors is simply chronological snobbery. Worse, it reveals a complete misunderstanding of the nature of sin, it’s pervasive effects, and God’s right to judge. Before we get any further let me clearly say that leprosy, although it’s proximate cause is a bacteria, is assuredly a judgement from God for sin. While there is a rather dangerous tendancy to spiritualize the Scriptures such that they are almost unrecognizable, this is a legitimate inference from the text. The Jews were right about this because this is what the Bible teaches. The word itself means "a smiting", and the people so afflicted were required to warn others from afar off, calling out, "Unclean! Unclean!". Indeed, it was a priest, the one who usually dealt with people’s sins, that was specifically commanded by the Bible to spot the disease and cast out the smitten lest they infect others. Where the Jews were wrong was to ascribe this disease to a particular sin of that person. They assumed God was punishing this person because of some especially evil deed he did. This attitude allowed the unafflicted to look down upon the sufferrer as especially wicked while he himself was obviously approved by God. In reality the leper may have been no more sinful than the next person; the reason everyone is not similarly smitten is not because they are better than the leper, but because God, in His mercy, forbares to stike us all as we deserve. Leprosy, then, is a visible picture of the judgement of death upon sin.
III. Jesus’ Sovereignty over sin and judgement
Having this Biblical perspective, we now can see the conflict presented to us. Jesus was confronted with sin, judgement, and death in the form of leprosy. Thus, the first point to be made in this story is Jesus’ utter sovereignty over sin, death, and hell. Satan, through Adam, brought evil, sin, and death into this world; Jesus completely defeats them. It’s no contest. He doesn’t even break into a sweat. In fact, He does not so much as even tell the lepers that they are healed. He just commands them to go to a priest, which was necessary if they were to be declared clean and allowed back into society. Their healing, although not instantaneous, was thorough. It happened at a distance, so even that is not a barrior to our Lord’s power. Our first lesson, therefore, is that Jesus is Lord over even the most intractable situation, the most evil sin, and the most desparate of circumstances. He has no match. Another way in which this point is brought out is the way that the lepers address Jesus. They call him Master. Many of their contemporaries addressed Jesus respectfully, calling Him Rabbi, Teacher, Sir, and so forth. But these outcasts recognized something that the well-to-do and well-taught failed to see. Jesus is Master, Lord. In this country we are for the most part affluent, healthy, well-educated, and so on; yet we fail to see or bow to this simple, yet profound insight grasped by the scum of society. In fact, much of the time we use this learning to avoid Jesus’ demands. Soren Kirkegaard is a mixed bag, but I think he addresses this point right on the money when he says: