A Homily for Trinity 14
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
September 2, 2018
Text: Luke 17:11-19
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
As we turn from our summer series looking at the Psalms where delved into the nature of God, I want to start exploring the gospel lessons for each Sunday and ask the question who is Christ? This is the fundamental question in understanding our faith and growing in Him and His grace. With the fall bookmark series, we will also have the chance to read through all 4 of the gospel accounts of His life, and I think we will do something with St. Mark’s Gospel on Wednesday night to tackle the same query. The end goal of this is that we would be walking more deeply with Christ.
This will also have a personal benefit for me. I often struggle with preaching on narrative, in particularly the gospel narratives. In my mind, it seems so straight forward. The gospel says Jesus did this, so he did, but the Gospels can draw us into a deeper understanding of Who Christ is. Please pray for me as we go through this, that I would grow in this aspect of my ministry, that the words I say would open new understanding to those who hear, and that I would over come my fear of preaching through the narrative passages of Scripture. And please be patient with me as I grow in this discipline.
This morning, then, we will look at the gospel lesson taken from St. Luke’s account. If you spend some time reading St. Luke’s Gospel you’ll quickly realize that he is interested in the marginalized of society, with women, Samaritans, the poor, and the sick taking a prominent role in his remembering of the life of Christ.
There are two mistakes that are often made when people read Luke’s words. First some will focus on the social justice aspects of this, and twist Christ away from his central message – repent, and believe, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The other mistake is just as bad – they turn what Christ says about the poor, and hurting and make it into a message about the state of our souls. For certainly our souls are broken, darkened, and wounded. Without Christ we are all spiritually poor and as we will see this morning, Christ does tend to our spiritual needs. But Christ did cared for the outcasts of society, and we need both the message of physical redemption and the message of spiritual redemption.
As we read the passage this morning we want to read it at both levels, for Christ was concerned with the outcasts, but we see an odd statement at the end – that the leper’s faith has made him well and yet, he was already made well. Was Christ forgetting something, or was he talking about something much deeper? Hold on to this question, we will come back to it as we work through the passage.
We open to the story – we find that many commentators are a bit baffled by it’s positioning in St. Luke’s Gospel. There are a lot of questions as to how it fits in, and the geographical position bothers many people. If it is meant to be a chronological telling, many posit that Christ was actually heading the wrong way and it doesn’t quite seem to fit. While it may be chronologically told it doesn’t demand that we read it as such. St. Luke may have been writing and thinking about the people in the passages immediately before and immediately following.
It is entirely possible that Luke was using the event with the Samaritan and the other nine lepers as a literary foil. He contrasts the ability of the Samaritan outcast to grasp who Christ was in comparison with the disciples, and then the pharisees who both had the privilege of hearing Christ’s words but not grasping. If the chronological placement is indeed problematic, a literary understanding makes perfectly good sense.
Most commentators also note that a helpful way to read this lesson is to split this into a two part story. The first part is a story of physical healing from verses 11-14, and then of spiritual healing from 15-19 and we will look at it as such. However, we won’t want to have such a modern understanding of it that we elevate one and diminish the other, but recognize that Christ cares for our whole being.
As we come to the story we find Jesus traveling. He is about to enter a village where he is confronted by ten lepers. This is not as uncommon of a scene as you might think. Jewish ceremonial law required these men to isolate themselves. At the outskirts of the village they could beg and hope for some kind soul to help them.
Leprosy, was basically a catch all for any sort of skin ailment, it wasn’t necessarily clinically leprosy as we know it today. These men could have been suffering with a number of inflictions. However, they share a bond of the common misfortune of being exiles from their homes.
It is interesting to note that life often works this way, when misfortune befalls people, our prejudices often fall away. While we do not know for certain that only one of the ten was a Samaritan, we can presume that the majority of them are Jewish. The Jews looked down on the Samaritans and sharp divide existed between them. Yet, here, it would seem these divisions didn’t matter. Often, tragedy brings us closer to those whom we tend not to want to have anything to do with, tragedy often humanizes those whom we might otherwise call our enemies.
Now the lepers call our for mercy. They recognize Christ and it is clear what kind of help they desire. They know that this man has been noted for miraculous healing and they hope that perhaps they will be able to enjoy this kind of mercy as well.
His reaction may have seemed a bit odd to their ears, instead of telling them they were healed he tells them to go and show themselves to the priest. Before one who suffered with leprosy was allowed to rejoin society they would have been required to show themselves to the priest to be certified that they were clean. The priest would have acted as something like a health inspector. Christ asks the ten to act in faith and follow the ceremonial customs.
At the end of the first section of this lesson we have a couple of things which we can contemplate. First, we are remind of our human nature to want to avoid those who are different from ourselves. Whether they look different, or behave differently. However, as we will see Christ spiritually heals all who come to him in faith regardless of where they are coming from. We do not want to make the mistake of excluding those who are different. Rather, we want to be a beacon for the Gospel of Christ, a beacon of hope to those who are hurting and struggling.
Secondly, when we cry out to Christ in our misery, we know that He hears us. We know that he will heal and make all things right. However, sometimes it may seem that we need to jump through odd hoops to get to where we need to be. We are often asked to go through these hoops not so that we can get some sort of spiritual trophy but so that we can have the wisdom of the Samaritan and realize that we are petitioning the king of kings, the one who is worthy of our worship and come running back before Him, kneeling in prayer and worship.
Often times we diagnose ourselves with a spiritual malady and come to Christ with what we think will heal us. We demand that he heal us as we see fit, instead he sends us along our way, so that we can come running back to Him. Instead of doting on us like spoiled children, we pass through the journey of sanctification, so we can continually be growing in our knowledge and trust of Him, growing in the grace that He offers and desires for us to grow in.
Finally, we are reminded that Christ does care about our physical bodies. It would be a mistake to take this lesson as a mere spiritual analogy, or to turn it into something purely about social justice, although those themes are there. We are reminded that Christ healed these men, and that Christ heals us. This is why we pray for those who are sick amongst us. For certainly, we are blessed with wise doctors and physicians who help us get better, but we pray for them to have wisdom.
It is a far more challenging thing to be a Christian in an age of plenty, in an age where we can be lured into think that we need nothing. But, when this is the case, how much more do we need Him! We want to remember that ultimately God breathes life into men, and it is in Christ that life is redeemed. So we do pray for our health, for our wellbeing, for all our needs. This doesn’t dismiss us from working hard, going to the doctors, and taking care of ourselves, but it reminds us to tend to the gift of our bodies. For indeed our bodies are a good creation of God, and as such we are to trust Him with them and use them to glorify God.
Now, we turn to the second half of the lesson. As these ten lepers go to the priest they are all healed, but only one turns around. Do the other ten not realize that they’ve been healed? Do they not care, are they simply doing as Jesus commands? We do not know, we only know that this one has come running back to Christ praising God.
It is here that we learn the twist in the story. The man who comes running back to Christ isn’t a Jew, but a Samaritan. The one who was a double outcast is the only one who recognizes Christ as worthy of thanks and praise comes running back. It is unfortunate, that ostracism, loneliness, and heart-ache are often the catalysts that cause us to come running to the cross. Too often we need to be broken before we come running back to the good shepherd of our souls. However, let us be building a faith that gives us hope and joy when the days are sunny and when they are cloudy, let us Trust in Christ whether we are crossing placid ponds and turbulent seas. Our Lord cares for us in all of these circumstances.
As we come to the end of this passage we have this verse that seems odd: “rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” We return to the question we asked earlier: Was Christ forgetting something, or was he talking about something much deeper? If we read this carefully, we see that all who had cried out to him at the entrance of the unknown village were already made well, so surely he isn’t recanting on that just because only one has come back to Him.
No, here we turn from physical healing to a spiritual healing. Here, Christ has tended to the man’s whole self. He is no longer an outcast due to leprosy, but he is forgiven of all the maladies that assault his soul. We have many needs and desires in this world but only one that we often neglect to see, that is the need for forgiveness.
As we mentioned earlier, the placement of this story in the context of the whole Gospel may seem odd to many. However, one commentator puts it particularly eloquently:
it sums up the whole of what Jesus is saying both to his disciples and to the Pharisees in the section from 16:1 to 18:14. Both groups have been given the immense privilege of hearing the word of salvation from the lips of the Saviour himself. The Pharisees, who, though privileged in this way, do not respond with acceptance and gratitude, represent the majority. But always there are some who, like the penitent sinners and tax collectors, do respond wholeheartedly. So, whether by Luke’s design or by the Lord’s own design, a particular miracle which took place in the course of the journey towards Jerusalem fits in here as a living illustration of what Luke has been describing. Of the ten men who are touched by the healing power of Jesus, only one realizes that what has happened deserves a personal, heartfelt response to the Saviour from whom that power has flowed; and the one thankful man is the Samaritan, the outsider.
We are often tempted to miss how the Lord is working, perhaps because the way He is working is in someone who is different from ourselves, perhaps, simply because we are far more hard hearted than we’d care to admit. Whatever it is, we want to emulate the Samaritan and have hearts that are deeply thankful for all the Lord does. We want to be cultivating in our hearts an attitude of thankfulness in all things.
As we finish let us first look at what we learn about Christ, and then make note of what this means for how we are to be the church. First – Christ came to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of heaven. However, he cared for both the soul and the body, He cared for the whole person. Second, Christ cares for us in our misery. It may seem that we need to go through various trials, but they are not trials for trial’s sake, we pass through them to build our faith and help us to grow into a deeper relationship with Him. Third, the gospel restores the whole person, it may not be miraculous like with our lepers in today’s, and it may take time, and it may even be unrealized until the fullness of kingdom of heaven is known, but this total restoration is a part of the gospel. Finally, Christ’s compassion reaches across social boundaries. All can come to Christ, it does not matter where they’ve been, it does not matter where they grew up, and it does not matter who they were before Christ. However, they are invited in and Christ changes the person. Christ requires that we die to ourselves and follow Him. So, a person stuck in a grievous sin is invited in, but he or she must leave that sins behind in order to be in Christ. Christ welcomes all, but not merely to let us stay as we were, but to transform us, heal us, and draw us into a relationship with Him.
So, what does this mean for the church – we are called to be representatives and image bearers of Christ. Like Christ – we are to be constantly preaching the gospel, but we are also to care for those who are broken, hurt, and in need of healing. Second, we are to take all our pain to the foot of the cross and trust Him to work it out for the good of our soul and His glory. Third, we are to care for other’s needs, but not simply to provide immediate relief, but to help restore them. To restore them to a good and healthy life in our community, and in in the community that is to come, that is the kingdom of heaven. Finally, we are to have open doors that all would have a chance to hear the gospel that changes hearts, minds, and souls. That heals the broken and the hurting. The gospel that gives a community and a family to the lonely and the orphans. However, we are not there to enable people to continue to live in sin, but to walk alongside one another, encouraging each other to grow deeper and deeper in the grace that we enjoy in Christ.
Let us therefore, may we learn what it means to be image bearers of the one who has redeemed us from our sin. The one who has healed us, and made us well, the one who is bringing us into the kingdom of heaven. That we might be bearers of the unchanging hope in Christ in a world where hope is often lost in the clamor of every new and trendy thought.
In the name of the father and the son and the holy ghost. Amen.