Summary: Thanksgiving Day: We are cleansed and made pure through Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection. This blessing far surpasses any trials and burdens that may come into our lives!
There’s a story of a man who lived in Budapest. He goes to the rabbi and complains, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?” The rabbi answers, “Take your goat into the room with you.” The man just couldn’t believe what he heard. But the rabbi insists. “Do as I say and come back in a week.”
A week later the man comes back looking even more distraught than before. “We cannot stand it,” he tells the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.” The rabbi then tells him, “Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week.” A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat -- only the nine of us.” (George Mikes, How to be Decadent, Andre Deutsch, London)
Do you keep any old goats in your life? Boy life can be made difficult and almost incapacitating by the mess, can’t it? Of course you know that I’m using the word ‘goat’ as a metaphor for sin – something that makes our life unclean. Something that keeps us estranged from God. We met a 10 lepers who had this kind of problem through our Gospel Lesson.
If you happen to look up the definition to the word leprosy in a dictionary, typically, you’ll find two meanings: 1) A person affected by leprosy; 2) A person shunned for moral or social reasons. The Gospel Lesson tonight talks about lepers. It seems obvious that we are dealing with the first dictionary meaning of ‘leper’ – somebody who suffers from leprosy.
“Jesus, Teacher, have mercy on us!” That was the cry that Jesus heard as He traveled along the border of Samaria and Galilee. To suffer from leprosy during the time of Jesus was a horrible thing.
Disfigurement and pain and rejection and isolation from society generally came with the diagnosis. The only real company that a leper could really have is another leper. Often those afflicted with the disease would gather in leper colonies. People didn’t want lepers around. Lepers were anathema because people were afraid that they would contaminate them.
This encounter between Jesus and the lepers is stunning. Why? Because we read that Jesus did not shun the 10 men who were infected with leprosy. Certainly Jesus could have told the lepers, “You know what the law says. You know what Moses wrote. Here it is, listen: The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45-46) In essence, your are to stay away from all people because of your disease.
But Jesus didn’t do this. In his treatment of the lepers, Jesus bared his heart – the heart of God. He showed us what had been evident and on display for all who were interested to see. Let’s me share an earlier encounter that Jesus had with a leper. St. Mark writes: “A man with leprosy came to [Jesus] and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.” (Mark 1:40-42)
What moved Jesus to heal the lepers? Compassion. Compassion. Love and concern for the condition of humanity. In this encounter with lepers we see a glimpse of the depth and breadth of God’s love for us. He knew about the suffering and the pain, and Jesus was not about to ignore it. No old goats would separate them from Jesus’ love. And so Jesus healed the 10 lepers that asked for mercy.
Let’s talk about the second dictionary definition of leper – a person shunned for moral or social reasons. I’d like for us to think for a moment about the very fact that our condition before God is exactly that. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says Paul the Apostle. (Romans 3:23) We are lepers before God because our sin causes us to be outcasts. We carry a disease that is deadly. Again, Paul says: “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a) There is no way that we can be part of God’s Kingdom as long as we remain in this sinful and leprous condition.
But what happens when we recognize our brokenness? What happens when we come to Jesus as the 10 lepers did? “Jesus, Teacher, have mercy on us!” When we cry out to the Lord, we know, Jesus will respond in love. His compassion us will be the same as it was for those 10 lepers. That’s why the Apostle John could write: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”