Summary: A Thanksgiving Eve sermon preached 11/25/2009 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Audubon, Iowa.
Our Gospel lesson for this evening introduces us to a group of 10 “mystery” men. I say this because we don’t know much about these guys. They may come from completely different backgrounds, be different ages, and for all we know, they may not get along very well. But, they had one common experience that ended up joining them together. They had lived relatively anonymous lives up until something happened. Maybe it started out as a white patch on the skin, or an open sore that just wouldn’t seem to heal properly, but whatever the symptom, they knew they needed a diagnosis So they went to the priest, to determine what was going on, and received a diagnosis no one wanted to hear. Leprosy. In those days, there was no known cure. It was, essentially, a death sentence.
But instead of the patient being placed into hospice care, and be surrounded by family and friends in their remaining time, the law of the day stated that they were to leave the city. They were, in essence, outcasts from society, out of fear that the leprosy would spread and infect others. The fear was so great, that that if someone who was not a leper approached them, the leper was required to cry out “unclean, unclean, stay away!”
Somehow, these ten men who have leprosy are banded together by that common denominator. They may not have otherwise known each other if circumstances were different, but here they are, together, with this dreaded disease, along a lonely, remote border between Samaria and Galilee. Their only hope was to be miraculously cured of their disease.
Suddenly, one day, He appears. They’ve heard the Word about Him. They heard He has the power to do some miraculous things: He’s given the blind their sight, He’s made the lame walk, He’s made the mute shout out for joy and unstopped the ears of the deaf. If He could do all of that, maybe He could help! And He appears to be coming in their direction!
So instead of crying out “Unclean, Stay Away!” which the Law required, they cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And He hears their cry. He sees their situation, and simply tells them to “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” There’s only one reason that Jesus would say that. The priests, the ones who initially declared them “Unclean”, were the ones who had the power to declare them “clean”, offer up the appropriate sacrifice, and allow them to return to their lives.
As they’re headed to the priests, these ten men look and see the white spots and the open sores disappear. It’s true! They’re healed! They’ll be declared clean, and they have their lives back! 9 of them keep running to the priests to receive this gift of new life right away. One of them stops dead in his tracks, turns around, runs back to Jesus, praises God in a loud voice, falls at Jesus’ feet, and gives Him thanks and praise.
It’s astonishing enough that only one of these ten comes back to do this. But this is the part of the sermon where I have to share with you the last thing we know about these 10 lepers that shows you why this is an even bigger deal than it initially appears. Nine of them are Jews, considered to be part of the “people of the covenant with God.” The other, the one who returned to give Jesus thanks and praise, well, he was a Samaritan. Considered an “outsider”, cut off from God’s covenant. Samaritans, you see, descended from Israelites left behind after Samaria’s destruction in 722 BC and included foreigners imported by Assyrian kings. Because of intermarriage between the Jews and the non-Jews that took place over the years since, the Samaritans were not viewed as part of God’s covenant people anymore, and endured being called derogatory names by the Jews such as “half breed” among others, and Jews avoided them every chance they had. Needless to say, long standing, deep-seated hostility existed between Jews and Samaritans. Considering the Jews attitude toward Samaritans, and vice-versa, and the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew, it’s beyond belief that a Samaritan, of all people, would be the one who would come back to give Jesus thanks and praise for this gift of healing.