HIS MERCY ENDURETH FOREVER
On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." When He saw them He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed. Luke 17:11-14
IN the ninth chapter of St. Luke's gospel we learn that the Son of God had set His gaze on Jerusalem, and that He was going there with the full knowledge of what awaited Him: suffering, death, and resurrection, but also with the full knowledge of what would be accomplished there, the defeat of sin, the death of death, and the reconciliation of the world to its one, true God and Father.
The Lord did not magically transport Himself from Galilee to Jerusalem, but He travelled the normal route instead which took Him through Samaria. Now there was an interesting place! Samaria was a region of half-breeds; people who practiced the Jewish religion, but who mixed it up with any number of pagan cults as well. While the average Jew had contempt for the gentiles, he reserved his most bitter scorn for Samaritans. The Gentiles, at least, were recognizable for what they were, but the Samaritans polluted the Jewish religion.
Yet it was in Samaria that the Lord met the woman at the well who, upon being catechized by Jesus, left her Samaritan ways and became a true worshiper of the true Father, at the true temple, which is Jesus on the cross. There was also the Good Samaritan, the man who was voted least likely to help a Jew in trouble, who came through with flying colors, and in today's gospel it is only the Samaritan leper who gets it! Only the Samaritan who understands what Jesus had just done when the nine Jews who should have known, did not.
Leprosy was a terrible disease in the first century. It was a painful and debilitating illness of the body, but it also had religious overtones, religious connotations. A leper wasn't only sick, he was also a sinner, and now God was paying him back for his sins! That was the chatter at any rate. Moreover a leper did not only need to be healed, if he could, but he also needed to be purified before God, so this Samaritan leper had a lot of strikes against him. But so do you!
You live in a body that is dying day by day; one that is subject to every ailment known to man, to any happenstance, any freakish accident. Every person has an expiration date, but no one knows when it is. You may be here tomorrow, or you may not, who can say? Further, sin is often identified with the flesh in Scriptures. Not that flesh is bad in any way, it is not! God made it, provides for it, and will raise it up on the last day: but above all Jesus assumed true human flesh and blood when He became incarnate. Flesh is not the problem except that your body becomes the servant of the sinful heart. Your mind cannot batter a child, but your hands can. Your mind can't crush a timid person and shatter his confidence, so that he may never have the courage to rise up again, but your tongue can. And while it's true that you can commit adultery in your heart, to actually carry out the deed in real life blackens your guilt, sets off a chain reaction of deception, and brings down other people in the process.
Needless to say these lepers required cleansing in the worst kind of way, but neither the medical profession, nor the religious establishment was of any help. You need cleansing, too, from the sin and death that infect your body, and the judgment of God that troubles your soul, but the medical profession can't help you there. Neither can new age dietary fads, or the world's latest version of religion. Without Jesus and His mercy, Jesus and His Word, Jesus and His love, Jesus and His absolution, Jesus and His Spirit, you are done for! When you read St. Paul's' catalogue of the works of the flesh in today's epistle, it is like looking into a mirror that exposes the real you, as God sees you in your sins. You are all that and more.
So what is the meaning of this event in the Lord's ministry? First let us learn what it is NOT. The account of Jesus healing the ten lepers is not a morality tale teaching us to be grateful, even though we most certainly should. Even though it is "meet, right and salutary that we should at all times, and in all places give thanks ..." no morsel of food should enter Christian lips without first blessing it. No day should open or close, without prayer, praise and thanksgiving; No gift granted, or prayer answered, should ever come your way without returning glory to God who is the Giver of all Good Gifts, especially His Son to be our Savior, but there are several vital points this account does make.
First, it teaches us that Jesus is our Great High Priest, who sacrificed His own holy life on the altar of the cross in order to give life to the dead. You are those people, born dead in trespasses and sins, but now resurrected in holy baptism and made one with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is nothing better than that! The Lord tells the lepers, "Go show yourselves to the priest," but even as they leave the job is already done because Jesus is the only priest that matters. He is the One who fulfills what the Old Testament priests only typified. He is the end/telos of the Law/Torah for all who believe.
Secondly, in His flesh on the cross, all distinctions between people are gone. Jesus gathers the whole world to the Father by His cross. He provides all healing, all remission, and is worthy to receive all glory, laud and honor. We do this most perfectly when we celebrate the Eucharist: a word which means Thanksgiving, and the Eucharist has its most perfect way with us when the grace we receive in it produces the fruit of the Spirit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Then we render most perfect thanksgiving to Jesus our Lord whose mercy endures forever. O give thanks unto the Lord. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras