Trinity 14 (September 13, 2020)
“Jesus, Master, Have Mercy on Us” (Luke 17:11-19)
Shared pain can bring people together. There are support groups for all kinds of people … those with addictions, those dealing with grief, those with various health issues. You name it, there’s probably a support group out there for it. And people from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, all ethnicities, are drawn together to find strength to work through whatever they are experiencing.
Shared pain brought together the men in our Gospel reading for today. They were lepers. In the Bible, “leprosy” is a generic name for some type of obvious skin disorder which made people unclean in the eyes of their community. The Law of Moses declared that they were supposed to live outside the city walls and wear torn clothes, let the hair of their head hang loose, cover their mouth with a mustache or their hand, all of which were external signs of grief. When anyone approached, they were to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” It was a miserable existence, isolated, alienated from their families and friends, and unable to participate in the worship life of the community unless they underwent certain cleansing rituals after their disease cleared up.
In this group that Luke describes, most were apparently Jews, but there was one Samaritan. And you may remember from last week’s sermon their history and how Jews and Samaritans hated each other. But for these lepers, their ethnic differences didn’t matter any longer. Barriers were broken down. Their alienation from their communities, their loneliness, their brokenness, their pain brought them together. And with one voice, they cry out as they see the Savior approaching, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”
If only people today would recognize their shared pain. That would go a long way toward solving so many of the ills in our world today. I don’t mean the pain that is shared in a support group. The brokenness in our bodies and our lives is evidence of a greater brokenness … the brokenness in our souls. It’s the leprosy of sin, the disease that mars our human nature. And more than mars. It utterly corrupts. The uncleanness inside of us leads to all the rotten works of the flesh that Paul enumerates in Galatians 5: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” And he adds this stern warning: “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” You probably figured some of those things deserved condemnation. That’s a pretty nasty list. But even things like jealousy and rivalries and divisions and envy will keep you from the kingdom of God. Is that really what you want?
You, see, Paul lays out the symptoms of our problem here, which reveals the diagnosis that we are all desperately broken, desperately in need of healing. Too often, though, we ignore it, like a proud, stubborn man who refuses to go to the doctor and just decides to suck it up. You might even brag to yourself about how together you have it, how much better you are than the rest of the common rabble. You don’t think you need help. You can handle this on your own. And so, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me,” is not naturally your first cry.
It’s obvious that something is seriously wrong with our world. Look around. Listen to the news. We see what Solomon observed: “For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” But we also need to recognize the problems in our own hearts … our own sin, too … and cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
And he does. Jesus came and shared our pain in order to reconcile us to the Father. As the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus knew suffering his entire life. He was chased out of town several times, even once before he reached the age of two by King Herod who sought to kill him. Jesus knew temptation and hunger. Jesus knew what it is like to grow tired and weary. Jesus knew grief and sadness, evidenced by the tears he shed for his dead friend Lazarus. Jesus felt compassion for all who endured the consequences of Adam’s Fall … the blind, the lame, the deaf, the demon possessed. Jesus knew the hurt of being falsely accused and mercilessly mocked. And Jesus knew the pain of being tortured with whips and thorns and nails and a cross. All to bear the punishment of the sin of the world … your sins and mine … and to shed his blood so that we could be forgiven and brought back into a relationship with God.
As the living Word of God, Jesus brings the Word of God to our hearts and souls. And his healing word works. The lepers obeyed the word of Jesus even before they were healed … that in itself is an act of faith. They departed and discovered along the way that they were healed. But only one returned to give thanks … the Samaritan, of all people … the one who was originally one of the outsiders, outcast, doubly despised because he was a foreigner. He fell at Jesus’ feet in reverence and awe and gratitude. And Jesus says to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well,” which literally is “your faith has saved you.” It’s not that faith in itself has any saving power. Faith is simply receiving and trusting in the saving gifts that come from God. And along with those saving gifts comes the promise of wholeness … shalom, as it is in Hebrew … peace, as it is sometimes translated. All things were new again for this man. All the things that once made him whole were restored to him. He was clean before God and could now return to his family and friends. No longer would he be lonely and isolated and looked down upon. No longer would he feel as if he was cursed by God. He knew God’s compassionate care. And he demonstrated the presence of true faith in his heart through his grateful return to Jesus.
The word of Jesus comes to us today and fills us and forgives us. Baptized into Christ’s death, the desires and passions of our sinful flesh are crucified. And we are raised up to new life. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Rise. That’s a resurrection word. We rise up from the waters of baptism to live a new life, united to Christ’s resurrection, and we enter into God’s Shalom … God’s wholeness. We have a restored relationship with God. The Spirit gives us a desire to restore our relationships with others. We have a life of community with the Church, peace of mind and heart, and hope for eternity. And among the baptized, the barriers which once stood between us are broken down, as St. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Having been raised up, we can fall again at the feet of Jesus in reverence and awe and gratitude. The faith that we are given and the faith that saves us is demonstrated in the fruit that the Spirit produces in us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Instead of craving the bread of wickedness and the wine of violence, we crave the bread of righteousness and the wine of peace … the body of Jesus that earned the verdict of “not guilty” for us, and the blood of Jesus that covers our sin so that we can be at peace with God. From this table, we rise and go our way. Jesus, our Master, has had mercy on us. For that, we give him thanks. INI