Summary: A Thanksgiving Eve sermon preached November 26, 2008 @ Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa.
What kind of a leper are you? I know, that has to be one of the most unusual questions you’ve probably ever been asked by a Pastor from the pulpit. Especially when you consider that we’re here for a Thanksgiving service. Lepers and Thanksgiving, they don’t seem to go together, do they? So why am I asking you this question? It actually has quite a bit to do with Thanksgiving, as we’ll see as we explore our Gospel reading for this evening, and discover how a leper has something to teach us about Thanksgiving.
In our Gospel reading for tonight, we meet 10 men who have leprosy. As some of you know, Leprosy is a horrible, awful disease. For one, it severely disfigures a person, starting out as small white patches on the skin, and eventually spreading to other parts of one’s body, causing crippling of its victim and eventually, death. A diagnosis in Jesus’ day was essentially a death sentence, much the way a diagnosis of AIDS has been in our society in recent years. But instead of being placed in something like Hospice care, the patient was exiled from the community, or sent to a leper colony. Not only did a person afflicted with this disease face physical pain and suffering, they would also face emotional pain and suffering, as they would be forced to say good bye to loved ones, family and friends, and their whole way of life, so that they would not spread the disease to others. These 10 lepers in our reading are in that situation. They’re facing isolation from the outside world. If someone who was not a leper came near them, they were required to shout out “unclean, unclean, stay away”. It’s not exactly the way one would envision wanting to spend their days. In fact, these 10 men in our Gospel reading may not normally have been acquainted with each other, with the exception that they’ve banded together because of a common disease, leprosy.
The word about Jesus has spread by this point. Even these 10 lepers have heard about Him. They’ve heard about how He has healed the sick, made blind men see, help those who were mute speak, or those who were lame walk again. But what would their chances be of having Jesus come in their area, let alone take the time to heal them, outcasts from society as they were? Well, it just so happened they heard that Jesus was passing along that lonely boarder between Samaria and Galilee where these lepers lived. They even think they see him coming in their direction. Now remember, the law of the day said that these men had to shout out “Unclean, unclean!” if someone was coming their way. And they did cry out that day. But their cry was different. Instead, they cried out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They recognized their condition. They knew that without Jesus’ power to heal them, they would never be rid of the leprosy, they faced death without His help.
And what did Jesus do for them? He said “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Why would they be asked to do that you wonder? Well, one of the responsibilities that God had given the priests was to declare lepers healed. If, for some reason, a leper thought that he had been cured of leprosy, he was to go to the priest and the priest was to make the call as to whether or not the person was clean. If the evidence showed that the person was indeed clean, an appropriate sacrifice would be made, the patient would be declared “clean”, and allowed to return home and resume their life. Those words “show yourselves to the priests” would have only been spoken if Jesus promised that their leprosy would be healed. But, at first glance, the spots on the skin were still there. Yet, Jesus has told them to go and show themselves to the priests. What will they do? Do they believe the Word of the Lord and go? Or do they wait for some proof first before they go? Believing that Jesus has the power to heal and save them from their leprosy, they go on their way.
And then, it happens! Those dreaded spots were disappearing. They were healed. Think of the joy that they must have experienced! They were getting their lives back. They could go back and hug wives, play with their kids, meet with friends in the local marketplaces, they’d be able to live again!
Up to this point, the 10 lepers did everything together. But, as they made their way to the priests and saw with their own eyes that Jesus had healed them, one of them stopped, turned around, and went back to Jesus to give Him thanks and praise for what He had done. He knew the priest could wait, he wanted to return and give thanks to Jesus. The other 9, well, what happened to them? Did Jesus take away the gift He had given them? No. They were still cleansed from the leprosy, but they left before He was done giving.