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Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, July 7, 2019


The Proper Response to Blessings


Text: Luke 17:11–17

Years ago, a neighbor of mine told me a story about a job his parents volunteered him for. It seems that an elderly woman they knew needed to have her heating ducts cleaned. She had a coal-fired furnace that left soot in the ducts that needed to be dealt with occasionally. Apparently, she felt that the professionals charged too much. My friend’s parents volunteered him to go to the woman’s house on a Saturday to perform this task, that usually was done by a professional. When my friend, Al, arrived at her home she had ready a bucket, some cloths and ammonia to be mixed with water. Al was small and could fit into the duct system of this old house. They didn’t discuss Al’s pay and he assumed that she knew what the job was worth and would treat him fairly.

He spent all day cleaning the duct system and he was obviously filthy at the end of the job. When he finished he returned the bucket, cloths and ammonia to her. She thanked him warmly for his hard work and told him that she had something for him. Moments later she returned and handed him a banana. Al told me that he was uncertain what to do, so he just stood there staring at the banana, when the woman spoke to him, “Well, aren’t you going to eat the banana?” He told her respectfully, “No Ma’am, I’m going to show this to my parents” and he left.

Clearly, the woman’s response to Al’s hard work was way out of proportion considering what he had done for her. Admittedly, he should have established with the woman his expectations up front, and that was the point that he was making in telling me this story. He had assumed that she would respond appropriately.

Today, I want us to look at the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11–17 and consider their responses to what Jesus had done for them. Before we do that let’s look at what it meant to be a leper in the ancient Middle East. Whenever someone discovered that they had a skin disease they were to go to the priest for him to determine if it was an infectious disease or not. The person would be initially quarantined for seven days to see if it cleared up. However, if eventually it was determined by a priest that the person had leprosy, the Scriptures were clear as what must be done for the good of the community. Leviticus 13:45–46,

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

The person was no longer allowed to attend corporate worship in the tabernacle or temple or any synagogue. The places of worship were the center of social life within Israel, so essentially they were banished from their families and communities and forced to live in colonies that were set aside for lepers. Whenever they drew near to someone without leprosy they were commanded to cry out, “Unclean, Unclean!” They were forced to live like this until the disease cleared up on its own or they died, which often took many years. Dr. Allen Gillen in his book, The Genesis of Germs, wrote this,

Leprosy has terrified humanity since ancient times and was reported as early as 600 BC in India, China, and Egypt. Hansen’s disease is still a major health problem in many parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For many centuries, leprosy was considered a curse of God, often associated with sin. It did not kill, but neither did it seem to end. Instead, it lingered for years, causing the tissues to degenerate and deforming the body.

Leprosy is spread by multiple skin contacts, as well as by droplets from the upper respiratory tracts, such as nasal secretions that are transmitted from person to person.

Its symptoms start in the skin and peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord), then spread to other parts, such as the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to form the characteristic claw hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose.

Tumor-like growths called lepromas may form on the skin and in the respiratory tract, and the optic nerve may deteriorate. The largest number of deformities develop from loss of pain sensation due to extensive nerve damage. For instance, inattentive patients can pick up a cup of boiling water without flinching.

In other words, It was likely considered Hell on earth. So, with that in mind let’s look again at Luke 17:11–14,

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.

As I have pointed out in other sermons from this section of Luke’s gospel, it is within what is called the “Jerusalem Discourse” and runs from verse 9:51 to 19:27. Jesus intentionally turns his face towards Jerusalem with the understanding that the cross awaits him there. Throughout this discourse Jesus is teaching his disciples what it means to be a disciple and instructs them in Luke 14:27–30 to consider what it costs and the necessity of taking up their cross and following him. In Luke 11:1–4 Jesus teaches them how to pray to their Father in Heaven which gives a deeper understanding of his intimate love and authority. He teaches them about the kingdom to come and the benefits of following him as their eternal King.

When seen through this context, this section opens up to us the depth of the relationship that the Father is offering through the Son. This morning’s passage appears to be a simple healing account. However, this miracle is not like most other miracles, since the healing itself is not emphasized as much as the reaction to it. As with all five miracles in the journey section, the miracle is less important than its results. Jesus heals as he continues his journey to meet his fate in Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples are passing along the border between Samaria and Galilee because traveling through Samaria would not be safe for Jews. Moving east to west, Jesus’ journey of destiny continues.

Every time I consider this portion of scripture I think that if I were in Jesus’ position I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else than what was coming. I always find this section very moving because God’s Word teaches us that his journey is in obedience to his Father. He knows of his Father’s great love for those that are created in His image, through greatly marred by sin. Jesus isn’t hoping that he will be spared, of that he is certain because he and the Father had agreed on this course for the salvation of all who embrace Jesus’ sacrifice in repentance and faith. Because he has chosen this route, it is not surprising that he would meet a Samaritan or that the lepers would meet him outside of the village. They lived outside of the village and would have seen him coming. Jesus was well known by many in Samaria and surrounding areas and they would have heard that acts of miraculous mercy were a large part of Jesus’ ministry, so they cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They address of Jesus as "Master" is Luke's way of saying that Jesus has authority since Luke uses it in texts where the other Synoptics have "Teacher" or "Rabbi" (Luke 5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33).

When they cry for mercy Jesus doesn’t move towards them but simply instructs them to go the priests for verification that they were healed. That was what the Word of God instructed them to do. Leviticus 14:1–32 instructs those who have been healed of infectious diseases to show themselves to the priests who will examine the person, and finding no evidence of the infectious disease, will declare him clean. There is then a protocol for making a sacrifice of thanksgiving and various washings so that the person may be ceremonially clean. When this happens, the person is restored to the community and to the places of worship. In other words, they got their life back.

When Jesus tells the men to go to the priest to prove that they have been cleansed, it is clear that Jesus has acted to heal them. Jesus mentions going to the priests, using the plural, because there are so many of them. The priests will be busy receiving testimonies about Jesus' work! The request calls for faith since the men must turn and go to the priests without having experienced the healing first. In that sense the miracle is like Elisha's telling Naaman to go wash himself in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:10–15). As they depart, they find that they are cleansed. That doesn’t just mean that the infectious disease is gone but all of the symptoms with it: pain, misery and deformity. Jesus does not touch them as he had the leper of 5:12–14. The messianic authority is present as Jesus heals from a distance as he did for the centurion’s servant (7:1–10, 22).

The prospect of normal life was returned to the ten through the Master’s power and mercy. What Jesus told them to do was correct according to Torah, in the Levitical law, so technically when they turned around and headed to town to find one of the priests, that was what they should do according to the law. As they turned and walked away, they saw that they were cleansed, completely healed. Their obedience brought about their physical healing, which was miraculous and wonderful, but for the Samaritan the first order of business was not to find the priests but to thank the one who had healed them. Let’s read Luke 17:15–19,

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 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.

Charles Spurgeon makes this observation:

All ten were willing to do a religious ceremony; that is go to the priest. Only one was filled with true praise and thanksgiving. “External religious exercises are easy enough, and common enough; but the internal matter, the drawing out of the heart in thankful love, how scarce a thing it is! Nine obey ritual where only one praises the Lord.

Jesus’ last statement to the Samaritan sums up the story very well. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” All ten of the lepers had their bodies healed but the Samaritan realized that something else had happened too—he had encountered the one they had been looking for who could bring about the healing of his heart and soul as well. The Samaritan not only received back his health, but he knew that he had encountered the healer in a very personal way. His faith was directed to Jesus as the only one who could heal him. Every one of the lepers cried out to Jesus acknowledging him as (epistates) Master. They weren’t calling him Rabbi or Teacher but Master signifying one who had authority over their disease. They were being very specific about what they were asking. “Master, look at us and have mercy.” They had obviously heard stories of Jesus’ healing power. Perhaps they had heard of the account later recorded in Luke 5:12–15,

While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.

Ever notice that Jesus often instructed people to tell no one what he had done for them. Ever notice how they couldn’t help themselves. In 1979 singer, song-writer Don Francisco recorded the song, "I Gotta Tell Somebody” based on the story of a synagogue ruler named Jairus from Mark 5. His daughter was dying, and he came to Jesus asking him to heal her. While they were in route someone came to Jairus telling that there was no reason to bother the teacher anymore, his daughter was dead. Jesus told him not to worry but believe and when they arrived at Jairus’ home the mourners were already on the job. Jesus told them that the little girl was only asleep, but they laughed and jeered at him. Jesus went into the room where the body lay and simply speaks “Talitha koum” which meant “little girl get up”, which she did. Jesus instructs the parents to tell no one but to give her something to eat. The refrain of the song is

I gotta tell somebody,
I gotta tell somebody what Jesus did for me.
Ya know He gave me life
When my hope was dead
When there was grief
He brought joy instead,
Got to tell somebody what Jesus did for me!”

There were a lot of things about my father that I did not want to emulate, but his faith in God was extraordinary at times. When I was small he suffered from terrible depression and hatred toward certain people who he perceived had done him wrong. He fantasized about killing his mother and it became so acute that he spent time in a mental health facility while they tried to stabilize his moods. When I was 12 years old my uncle Cy came to Roanoke and shared with Dad what Jesus had done for him. My father found the Gospel to actually be the good news that he had waited for. He had gone to church all his life but never understood the gospel message before.

That afternoon he gave his life to Christ and was filled with the Holy Spirit. I have never before or since seen anyone change so abruptly and completely. His joy and relief were so profound that he went up and down our street knocking on doors and tearfully sharing with our neighbors what God had done for him. My mother was mortified and embarrassed and I didn’t know what to think. He couldn’t hold back, he had to tell somebody. We couldn’t go anywhere without my father sharing with complete strangers what Jesus had done for him. It revolutionized his life and like the Psalmist in Psalm 30:10–12,

Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord be my helper!” 11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, 12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

In our Epistle reading from Galatians 1:11–24 Paul briefly tells the story of his encounter with Jesus Christ and how it completely changed the direction of his life. I especially love verses 15–19,

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.

So, apparently Paul sat at the feet of Christ for three years, just as the other apostles had done when Jesus was on earth and before the resurrection. This not only established Paul as an Apostle but it also developed in him a passion for the one who had called him and saved him.

In reading the Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul you can easily see that he was a totally different person than when was known as Saul. He was considered a fanatic and a zealot who was dangerous to Judaism and a real radical nut job. In Acts 26, Paul a prisoner in Rome testifies about his faith in Jesus Christ before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa. In Acts 26:24,

And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”

The governor couldn’t understand why Paul would have given up his great success as a Pharisee and teacher to pursue a course that eventually brought him to Rome and execution. Festus couldn’t yet understand what it was like to encounter the risen Savior and to be filled with his Holy Spirit. He couldn’t conceive of what compelled Paul to make such a radical change in his life. He had encountered Jesus Christ the King of all creation and he simply had to tell somebody, everybody.

What about you? Has your encounter with Jesus been so life-changing that you just “gotta tell somebody?” The nine lepers were obedient to the requirements of the law of God and that’s good. I suspect that the Samaritan also went to the priests that he might be declared clean but first he felt he needed to bow at the feet of the one who healed him so completely and praise him for who he was. When is the last time that you fell on your face before the risen Savior and praised him just for who he is? I have found that when I encounter Jesus it makes me want to tell somebody.

Let me close with the conclusion of my father sharing with our neighbors what Jesus had done. One of our neighborhood families could be heard screaming and hollering sometimes at each other. I was friends with their oldest son, and he would tell me about his mother being so angry that she would chase his father around the house with a knife. My father shared what Jesus had done with John and Norma and they bowed their heads and invited Jesus to save them and bring healing into their lives and marriage. The change was immediate which was wonderful because they would soon go through the death of one of their children from a health problem and then another in a car wreck. Jesus bore their pain and they made it through with a powerful testimony of his love and healing. Suddenly, my father didn’t seem like such a fanatic after all. Our world needs those who claim to follow Jesus Christ to bow before him in praise and adoration for who he is and give him an invitation to change and use them however he sees fit. That’s when we will develop a passion to tell somebody, anybody and everybody all that he has done.

Let’s pray.

©2019 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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