Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 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.”” (Luke 17:11–19, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I know, your ready for a good scolding. After all it is Thanksgiving, you need to feel guilty so you can be thankful. So here goes.... You have been given so much, there are starving people in China, what you eat tomorrow for your feast would feed them for a week. You need to be more thankful. Like the unexpected Samaritan leper. The other guys, the nine, weren't very thankful they were just like you. Look at what they got. And they can't even be bothered to say thanks. You should be more thankful, but your not, but Jesus forgives you anyway. Amen.
I think I've preached that sermon on this text before. I'm sure you've heard any number of preachers do it that way. I'll bet if you turn on the radio tomorrow you'll hear a sermon just like that, too. But the thing is that way makes the text about the lepers and you. And I'm pretty sure the bible isn't about you. Ok, so who is the text about... well I think we can figure this out if we notice a couple of things about the text and make a couple of well warranted adjustments to the English translation.
First, Jesus is "On the way to Jerusalem." Never underestimate Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. Remember what Jesus is going to Jerusalem to do. Especially in Luke he sets his mind and heart there. He is heading there to die on the cross for the forgiveness of sinful people. He is heading there to die on the cross to end the curse of sin on the world. He is heading there to restore creation to its rightful order. Forgiveness, healing, restoration: That is what Jesus and his journey to the cross is all about. He is God in human flesh making this journey for you.
So on his way to Jerusalem the ten lepers come to Jesus expecting healing. "Master, have mercy!" Have mercy is a common prayer but the use of the word "master" shows that they know something about Jesus that seems to escape others. They expect to be healed. They are willing to ask for it and do whatever Jesus says.
We see the same thing from Peter earlier in the Gospel. The disciples were fishing all night without a catch. Jesus tells them to try again. "Whatever you say Master." is Peter's reply. He knows something is special about Jesus. Jesus says "Try again." He does what Jesus says. They catch more than they can carry. Peter responds in terror. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (5:8) Jesus is more even then Peter expected. Peter sees Jesus as God, himself.
It's there for the lepers, too. Jesus answers their prayer by sending them on their own journey of healing to the priests. They get what they asked for while they go. Indecently, do you know what the priests will tell them to do after they show themselves to be clean and free from the disease? They are to go to the temple and offer sacrifices. These bloody gifts at the temple are God's way of showing them where healing really comes from. They remind us again that Jesus is on that journey to Jerusalem. He is going to shed his blood for forgiveness, healing, restoration. He sends them on the same journey.
When they see that they are healed nine of them speed to see the priests. Only one returns to Jesus. He comes back to give thanks to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice. He has figured something out. He knows something more than he knew before. He has figured out a very important connection. He falls at Jesus feet in thanks. This is the only place in the NT where this kind of thanksgiving is given to Jesus. He now knows who he is dealing with. He praises God and gives thanks to Jesus (It is important to note that the Greek word for thanksgiving is εὐχαριστῶν). He had faith before, "Master, have mercy!" but now he has faith in Jesus as his God, the healer of his body, the sacrifice for his sins. He sees Jesus as Savior. He give thanks to Jesus and glory to God all at the same time. And look what Jesus does! He sends him on another journey. "Go your way." It's just as if Jesus said, "You don't need to make a sacrifice at the temple, you have me for that. You have faith in me." He is the only one found to do this out of the nine. That's the first correction I'd like to make in the English translation. Instead of a question, "Where are the other nine?" I believe it actually makes more sense as a statement. There are none found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner. This Samaritan leper is the most unlikely person to make this connection. He is the outsider. But he is the one who gets Jesus.
Once again we see this same thing in other places in Luke's Gospel.
The woman who wanted to be healed by touching Jesus' garment in the crowd. She knew Jesus had come to heal and forgive. She reaches out only to touch Jesus robe. When she does it she his healed of her long illness. Jesus tells her to go in peace.
The blind beggar on the road calls out to Jesus. "Have mercy!" "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks. "Lord, let me recover my sight." "You have it!" Jesus says.
And finally, the woman who poured ointment and tears on Jesus' feet and washed them with her hair and kissed them. Jesus tells her also to "Go in peace! Your sins are forgiven."
The one thing that they all have in common is the second correction I'd like to make to the English translation. The text says, "Your faith has made you well." But Jesus uses the very same words for all of these people. "Your faith has saved you." ("ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε.)" Using "made you well" is focuses on the healing. But all these unlikely people all see something more in Jesus. They figure out who he really is. They come to know Jesus as their Savior. That's what's going on with the leper, too. He shows his giving thanks to God by giving thanks to God in the Flesh, Jesus.
Now that's a model for you to take up on Thanksgiving. Not that you should be more thankful, but that you know where to give thanks. On this Thanksgiving, and every day for that matter, our thanks should be directed to God through Jesus Christ. After all, all God's gifts to you are pointless without the gift of Jesus Christ crucified, dead and buried. Without Jesus there is no real God. Just like Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV) That means you can give thanks to God all you want, but without Jesus and his forgiveness, it doesn't' mean a thing. Thanks that don't go through Jesus go to the void of the false gods that don't really exist.
The leper has it right. He gives God glory and thanks Jesus. It is one and the same. Jesus gives him access to the Father. Jesus heals and forgives. Jesus is the real savior and the real focus of the text.
So today is Thanksgiving. Tomorrow you'll have a feast, a family meal. Remember how I said the word Luke uses for the thanks given by the leper is εὐχαριστῶν. Well, our Christian family meal is set on the altar. We call it the Lord's Supper, but another name for it is The Eucharist. The Thanksgiving. When we do the liturgy in a few minutes just listen to how many times the words "thanks" and "thanksgiving" come up. It really is the great thanksgiving, the great thanksgiving to Jesus. It is the real thanksgiving meal. Here God gives to us what we need through the really present body and blood of Jesus our savior in, with and under the bread and wine. The body that took the journey to Jerusalem. The body that healed the leper. The body that walked, and ate and taught. The body that hung on the cross. The body that bled and died. The body that was stabbed by the Romans. The body that lay dead in the tomb. The body that rose again and ascended into heaven. The body now here for you, to bring you the forgiveness of sins won on the cross.
You see, this thanksgiving, I could tell you to be more thankful for what you've got. But I'd rather point you to Jesus. He gives you all you need.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.