Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

Thanksgiving, 2017
Deuteronomy 8:7-18
Psalm 65
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Luke 17:11-19
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Massillon, OH

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, this is a very nice Gospel text for Thanksgiving, right?  The one leper comes back to thank Jesus, now go and do likewise.  However, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that giving thanks is what heals that one guy.  But we’ll get to that.  First, let’s turn the clock back . . .

When I was a child, I was unfamiliar with the word leper.  But I was quite familiar with the word leopard.  The Jesus I learned about in Sunday school was an awesomely brave man who stared down leopards.  10 of them in this one story alone!  Everyone else was afraid of the leopards, but not Jesus.  No, he would reach his hand out, touch the leopards, and they would heel!  My father spent months trying to get our Brittany Spaniel to heel, and she never would.  Jesus could just reach out with his hand, and get TEN leopards to heal.  Just like that.  Leopards!

Of course, at some point, I learned that a leper is a person, and Jesus didn’t seem so tough anymore.  But then, eventually, I learned what leprosy was, and suddenly Jesus seemed even braver than he had, back when I thought he worked at the circus.

As you may know, leprosy is an awful disease, and was much scarier in Jesus’ time because there was no cure.  (Though, even then, leprosy didn’t make your limbs fall off.)  It was considered among the worst diseases, and also made you ritually unclean.  Anyone who touched a leper was considered unclean, and no God-fearing Jew would go anywhere near them, let alone touch them.  So, actually, for Jesus to be touching lepers and healing them was even braver than getting a leopard to heel.

And, as you heard, in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus encounters 10 lepers at one time.  Although in this case, he doesn’t lay hands on them.  They call to him from a distance (since lepers were forbidden to approach others, for fear of contaminating them with their unclean disease).  So, these lepers stand at a distance and call out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  Ten unclean people, standing at a distance, pleading with Jesus for mercy.  Notice, that Jesus does not heal them in that moment.  Instead, Jesus says “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went they were made clean.

Several things are significant here.  First, to a pious Jew (like Jesus), there were things to be done after being cured of leprosy.  At some point when you’re up to finding out, you can turn to the 14th chapter of Leviticus and read all about what a former leper has to go through.  32 verses involving birds and yarn and hyssop and fresh water and shaved eyebrows and a lamb and grain and fire and blood and an earlobe, a thumb, a big toe, and a log.  Unless the person is poor; then there’s a whole different set of things.  But the first step of all this is to present yourself before the priest . . . AFTER being cured of leprosy.  And given what the priest has to do to make you ritually clean, all that stuff with animals and big toes and fire and stuff, I would imagine that a priest would not be too excited to see a former leper show up on his doorstep.  They didn’t get paid overtime.

But, you’ll notice that Jesus sends them to the priests before they are cured.  Before there is any evidence that they need to turn to Leviticus 14, the lepers do as he says, still covered with horrible sores, and they head off toward the priests.  Jesus has not promised to heal them.  He has not done anything except to see them, and send them to the priests.  AND THEY GO!  Is this faith?  Is this stupidity?  I don’t know.  But they go.

And on the way, one of the lepers realizes he has been healed.  He praises God with a loud voice, and turns back to go to Jesus.  He falls at Jesus’ feet and thanks him.  It was his natural response of gratefulness for what God had done in his life.  When Martin Luther was asked to describe true worship, it is said that he pointed to this leper for his definition: Praising God, bowing down, and giving thanks to Jesus.  Our natural response to what God has done in our lives.  Praise, worship, and thanksgiving.

The one healed leper comes back to Jesus, and offers praise, worship, and thanksgiving.  The other nine we might say are being ungrateful.  Or rude.  They are showing what my grandmother might call, “bad breeding.”  The temptation is strong to turn this story into an object lesson on the importance of writing thank you notes.  And maybe you’ve heard that kind of lesson yourself.  You could read this gospel to your kids and say, “and the moral of the story is, remember to always say thank you when someone heals you of leprosy.”  Don’t be ungrateful.  Saying thank you is a sign of good breeding.  But the ONE person who returns to thank Jesus is a half-breed.  A Samaritan.  A mud-blood.  Samaritans do not have good breeding; in fact, they have wrong breeding.  Again I remind you that he returns because he can’t help it.  His worship of Jesus is a natural response to the joy he feels in being cleansed and redeemed.

This is not a lesson about good manners, writing thank you notes, or being kind to others.  If this kind of story were just a morality tale designed to remind us to say thank you . . . well, first of all, the 9 ingrates would not be healed, right?  I mean, you can’t make the point of the importance of being grateful if the people who aren’t grateful get the same reward, right?

So what do we make of this story then?  Jesus finishes by saying to the leper, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  And the word used for “well” here could also mean  “whole,” or “healed”  Aha!  Maybe the point is that Jesus offers salvation to the people who are grateful.  Could that be the point?  Maybe Jesus only saves the people who are thankful that he saves them?  But not only is that kind of backward, it also doesn’t fit what the text says.  All ten lepers were healed on their way to see the priests.  One turned around because he could not help it.  The other 9 were doing as they were told.  But all ten were healed.  It is not the gratefulness that heals this one leper.  It is not the good deed of showing thankfulness that heals him either.  Jesus does not heal him because he is grateful.  Jesus heals him because of his faith.

And of course we WANT it to be his gratefulness that saves him, since we want our children to be grateful.  But it seems to me that his faith is shown in doing as Jesus says, despite all evidence to the contrary.  And faith is a gift from God.  Jesus says go, and faith makes us go.  Jesus says to ten lepers, who still have leprosy, go and show yourselves to the priests.  All ten lepers head off to see the priests, apparently sure enough, or desperate enough, or filled-with-faith enough that they start toward the temple.  Still lepers.  Still unclean.  Still outcasts, whom the priest will not even speak to, let alone perform sacrifices for.  They go off, given the gift of faith, trusting that Jesus will heal them, make them well, make them whole.  And Jesus does.

All are healed.  All are made whole.  One in ten comes back to worship.  One in ten responds with gratefulness to God’s unmerited healing.  And today, you could say, a small percentage gathers because of what God has done, and they sing songs of praise, they proclaim God’s love, they profess their faith, they pray together, and they share God’s peace with one another.  And then in gratefulness they come to the altar, where God feeds them with a life-giving meal.  And then they hear the reassuring words, Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.

Jesus loves the lepers and he makes them whole because of their faith.  Jesus loves you, and does the same in your life.  Whatever it is that makes you feel unworthy, or unloved, or unclean, leave it behind as you go on your way, and come back to worship Jesus.  Together, we cry out “Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!” Together, we bow down in praise, worship, and thanksgiving.  Together, we come to the Altar of Jesus to be made whole.


No comments:

Post a Comment