Sunday, September 5, 2010

Homily for The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 14)


Luke 17:11-19; Galatians 5:16-24; Proverbs 4:10-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian faith and life is one of mystery and paradox. Many of its claims and teachings are counter-intuitive – they do not follow or make sense according to human reason, wisdom, and perception. For example, if you want to be rich with heavenly treasure, then you must be poor in spirit. If you want to save your life, then you must lose it. If you want to live, then you must die. For, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, came, not to save the righteous, but sinners, and only sinners can be saved. This is the lesson that your Lord would teach to you again, today, from yet another perspective, that if you hope to enjoy resurrection to new life, then you must face and accept your death.

So, the Holy Spirit has inspired St. Luke to include in his Gospel an account of Jesus miraculously healing ten men afflicted with leprosy. In the story, there were ten lepers who, because of their leprosy, were dead to ordinary social life. They were unclean and thus cut off, separated, from the community. They had to stay a good distance from other people and shout out “Unclean!” when in the presence of others to warn them of their disease. They could not participate in the ceremonies of the temple or the fellowship of the synagogue. They were lepers, outcasts, dead to their families, dead to their former friends, dead to ordinary social life, and utterly incapable of being healed or changing their status on their own. They had nothing of their own – not health, not wealth, nor good reputation – so they had nothing to keep and they had nothing to lose. Thus, they were in the perfect position to receive mercy. And it was mercy, and only mercy, that they cried out for from Jesus.

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” all ten lepers cried from a distance. And, what did Jesus do? How did Jesus respond to their plea for mercy? Jesus looked at them, and then He spoke to them saying, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Did Jesus touch them, wave His arms in the air, and shout “Be healed”? No! Jesus did nothing of the sort. Rather, He told them to go and to show themselves to the priests. While they were still lepers, still outcasts, still dead to ordinary life, Jesus commanded them to act as if they were healed and no longer outcasts. “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” That was the protocol according to Leviticus 14:2-3 which specified the necessary ceremonies for the removal of ritual defilement from a leper who was already physically clean. Luke does not tell us what the lepers thought about Jesus’ response to their plea for mercy: Did they take Jesus seriously? Did they merely walk away confused and in dismay? They came to Jesus pleading for mercy, and He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. Regardless of what they thought of Jesus’ response, however, they went as He commanded, and, as they went, they were healed.

Jesus did not heal them then and there on the spot, though He certainly could have done it that way. But why not? Why did our Lord choose to heal the lepers in such an unspectacular way, in a way which allowed for the likelihood that most would not see a connection between the healing of the lepers and Himself? Indeed, the Christian faith and life is one of mystery and paradox in which we walk by faith and not by sight, confident that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore us to wholeness in the resurrection. The ten lepers had nothing to lose and anything, everything, to gain; they were dead to the world and couldn’t help themselves in any way. Thus, they were prepared to receive mercy as a gift. They had the gift of faith, and it doesn’t matter if it was great faith or small faith, strong faith or weak faith, they had the gift of faith, first to call upon Jesus for mercy, and second to do as He commanded even though it seemed unspectacular and useless foolishness. They went as Jesus commanded, and, as they went, all ten were cleansed of their leprosy.

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” One of the ten ex-lepers makes the connection. He knows that His cleansing was the result of God’s mercy in and through the unlikely means of this man Jesus. The man recognized that Jesus had not only cleansed him of his leprosy, but that he had restored him to his people, his community, his friends, and his family – that he was a son again! But to drive the point home all the more Luke informs us that this man was not only a leper, and therefore dead to ordinary social life and an outcast, but he was also a despised Samaritan. Thus, he was a twofold outcast, a double loser, a duck twice dead. Ten lepers were cleansed, but only one returned to give thanks, and he was a Samaritan.

Doubly dead, that is how you must see yourself in relation to your Lord. You have nothing to bring to the Lord to merit His favor. You have nothing to do for the Lord with which to earn His favor. You have only to pray Kyrie eleison, “Lord, have mercy.” You must walk by faith and not by sight, confident that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore you to wholeness in the resurrection.

Yes, in the resurrection – your confidence and faith is in that future and final healing and restoration. Through Holy Baptism and faith in Jesus Christ you are, even now, healed from the leprosy of sin and death, and you have, even now, the gift of eternal life. You live, even now, as a forgiven sinner, every bit as much as the ten men lived as cleansed lepers. You have died to sin in Christ and you have been resurrected to new life in Christ. But, just as this resurrection has occurred spiritually, so must it, and so will it occur physically in the resurrection of the body. Just as you died spiritually to sin in Holy Baptism and were raised to new life in Jesus, so too must the body die and be raised to new life in Jesus. Thus, by dying, you live and by losing your life in this world you save it. For, the Christian faith and life is mystery and paradox and you must walk by faith and not by sight, confident that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore you to wholeness in the resurrection.

And, this is where thanksgiving comes in. By returning to Jesus to give thanks and praise the Samaritan leper confirmed his faith in God through Jesus that it was God who had mercy on him and granted him cleansing and healing from his leprosy. God does not need our thanksgiving or our offerings, but we need to give them. In giving thanks, by offering our praise, our time, or talents, and our treasures and wealth, we are acknowledging that all that we have comes from the gracious hand of God. We give back to Him only of what He has given to us and thus glorify Him as our God, the Creator, giver, and sustainer of all things.

As we celebrate Labor Day this weekend, it is an opportunity for us to reflect upon how God provides for all our needs of body and soul through the multitudinous vocations of others. God heals through the vocations of doctors, nurses, and surgeons. God feeds through the vocations of farmers, millers, butchers, and grocers. God protects through the vocations of military service, policemen and firemen, and government. If God wants people to glorify and honor Him, why does He hide Himself in lowliness and weakness? God hides Himself in these ways because we need Him to. We need to become like the thankful leper and recognize with the eyes of faith how dead we are before God and merciful He is towards us, forgiving our sins at His own cost and providing for all or needs of body and soul.

Even now He requires nothing of you, He needs nothing from you, but He has called you here to receive His gifts: mercy, grace, forgiveness, faith, love. He is the God who came, not to be served, but to serve, and to lay His life down for the sins of the world. Let us return in thanksgiving, glorifying the Lord our God for the mercy He has shown to us in His Son Jesus.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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