The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Thanksgiving Eve, 22 November 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This story is unique to Luke’s Gospel account. You can’t find it in Matthew, Mark, or John. While this teaching is revealed elsewhere in the New Testament, this narrative presents it in a unique way. We know Jesus can heal. We know Jews and Samaritans did not get along. Jesus provides us food for thought as we observe a national day of thanksgiving tomorrow. He wants you to think about the relationship between faith and giving thanks. He also wants you to think about the One.
On the way to Jerusalem he [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13and lifted up their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." 14When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests."
Skin diseases were serious business in ancient Israel. Leprosy was among the worst, so those so afflicted were all lumped together as a category and called lepers. The Lord gave Moses specific directions so that His people would be set apart as holy to the Lord. They also preserved the people from devastating communicable diseases. After a period of observation, a person believed to have recovered was to show himself to the priests. They would certify that the person was now clean, remove the quarantine, and welcome the person back into the community.
This is a wonderful way to describe our forgiveness in Christ. Our sinful human nature and the sins we commit ourselves exclude us from God’s community. Jesus comes to each of us, cleanses away the leprosy of sin with His blood, and welcomes us home. As with the healing of the paralyzed man lowered through a roof by his friends, these physical healings show that Jesus has authority to forgive sins.
14When he saw them he [Jesus] said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed.
Jesus never does a healing miracle isolated from teaching. These Ten Lepers recognized Him as a teacher, a rabbi, even a healer. But One saw something more. Faith saw God Himself. Jesus’ Word directed them to the priests to keep the law of old. The healing was done to create faith in these ten.
15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.
How many were healed? Ten. How many returned and gave thanks? One. And he was a Samaritan. We’ve gotten used to Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. It doesn’t have the same impact it once did. In brief, the Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. One helping or even talking to another was unheard of. The Samaritan returned to give thanks to God. This one man praised God in Jesus. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, a worshipful position of humility.
Faith united this Samaritan to Jesus. Everything else in history and culture separated them. Faith unites us to Jesus. Jesus created that faith within you through His Word and Holy Baptism. He sustains that faith through His Word and the Sacrament of the Altar.
Those who do not believe and give thanks are excluded. Many in our culture consider thto emselves religious or even spiritual, but not Christian. They want some connection God, but not in Jesus. By His Word and the Holy Spirit, the Lord would love to create faith in all who hear. But He does not force Himself upon people. He allows Himself to be rejected. All Ten were healed. How many respond in faith and thankfulness?
The way of salvation is narrow—as narrow as Jesus’ cross alone. Yet, salvation is as wide as Jesus’ arms spread out on the cross for those who have faith in Christ alone. Ethnicity, gender, language, nationality, and age do not matter! All are equally sinners and all are equally in need of what Jesus gives: forgiveness, life, and salvation. There is no salvation apart from Christ. That angers people today, even some who consider themselves Christians. We should remember the point of that exclusivity: God has provided a way of salvation, salvation itself as an unearned, undeserved gift in Christ!
17Then Jesus answered, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
One returned to give thanks. Not ten, five, or even two. One. He thanked God, specifically located in Christ Jesus. We should give God thanks that the one returned. We should thank the Lord for those with faith who do give thanks. That’s important for us to remember as a congregation. I thank the Lord for you. I thank the Lord that you regularly receive the means of grace where God has promised to be. We go to church because this is where the Lord delivers the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross. Thank the Lord for one another. Show that thankfulness in words, loving actions, and encouragement. The Lord has gathered to Himself a people with faith in Him. He has gathered you together in this place around His gifts.
Where are the nine? Elsewhere Jesus speaks of a shepherd who temporarily leaves the ninety-nine as he searches for the one missing sheep. That is my call as your pastor, and your call as a baptized Christian. We can cover a lot more territory and reach many more people if pastor and congregation work together to reach those who are lost. We are given to share the healing forgiveness of Jesus with them. He Himself is the Good Shepherd of Ezekiel 34. He gathers His scattered, hurting people to Himself.
You know who they are. You may know their hurts better than I do in many cases. Christmas is only a month away from Friday. Invite your fellow congregation members, your family members, your neighbors, classmates, and coworkers home for Christmas. Bring someone with you to Bible class for the first time, or prioritize coming for the first time yourself. The Lord has good Gifts for you. We dare not anger Him by rejecting His Gifts in Christ.
19And he [Jesus] said to [the Samaritan], "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."
Luther says, “He [Jesus] does not remove the gift of healing [from the other nine because of their lack of faith]. His is the divine love that “risks betrayal.” (Quoted in Franzman’s NT Commentary) Jesus allows Himself to be rejected for the sake of those who believe, those who have faith and trust in Christ Jesus rather than themselves. He gives daily bread to everyone, even evil people. We pray that the Lord would lead us to realize that He is the giver of daily bread and to receive it from the Lord with thanksgiving.
Jesus is the One we are to think about. We thank God for the godly example of the Samaritan who, by faith, returned thanks to the Lord for His healing.
Often, the good gifts the Lord gives us are twisted by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh so that the gifts wrongly become more important than the Giver, God. A better understanding of the relationship between God and His Gifts is expressed in this hymn to the Lord: (Caedmon’s Call “You Created”) “You created nothing That gives me more pleasure than You And You won't give me something That gives me more pleasure than You.”
This Thanksgiving, thank the Lord for your daily bread, daily turkey, and almost daily football, but remember Jesus, the One who died and rose to give you all that you need to support your life, and also the gift of eternal life. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.