Faith of a Leper

Luke 17:11-19

The other day I was remembering that I needed to write a thank you note to someone. It called to mind a little learning episode that I witnessed at church when I was growing up.
My priest, Fr. Ewald, had given a little alarm clock to my friend, Freddy Bair, for his graduation. He asked Freddy, “Did you get the present that I sent you last week for your graduation?” Freddy answered, “Yes Father, thank you very much. I really like it.” That wasn’t enough.

Fr. Ewald told him, “Well, now, Freddy, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go home today and write me a thank you note. Can you do that?” “Yes Father.” I kind of cringed as I witnessed this whole encounter. But Fr. Ewald was the consummate teacher.
So he added something to make sure the lesson wasn’t lost: “Freddy, you’re not writing that thank you note for me, you’re writing it for you.” Two kids learned an important lesson that day.

I thought about Fr. Ewald’s little exchange with Freddy when I read this morning’s Gospel passage. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem – he’s on his way to crucifixion. And he chooses to pass through Samaria – a region that most Jews avoid. It’s in Samaria that ten lepers approach him.

Now we know that at least one of those ten was a Samaritan. It raises a question: What were Jews doing hanging out with Samaritans? Well, there’s something about calamity that brings about unity.

Do you notice that differences between people disappear when they find themselves sharing in a calamity or a tragedy? We saw that after 9/11, didn’t we? It wasn’t just the right wingers flying Old Glory. People had flags on their homes and on their cars.

We took a break from the political bickering. I remember seeing a remarkable sight on TV. President Bush was giving Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschell a hug . . . on the Senate floor. Two political enemies hugging on CSPAN!!

It’s when we face a calamity or tragedy that we see the common humanity in one another, don’t’ we? It’s in those times that the differences among us aren’t so noticeable. And those differences seem to disappear.

A leper was treated as the Living Dead. They lived segregated and apart from the rest of the community. And when you’re part of the living dead, you didn’t ask whether your fellow leper was a Jew or a Samaritan. There’s a unity in calamity.

Well, the lepers hear that Jesus is passing through town and they call out, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us!”

They must have heard about the leper that Jesus healed earlier in Luke 5. Word of that healing had spread like wildfire. So now, the Healer has come to town. You bet they’re going to cry out to him.

But oddly enough, Jesus doesn’t touch them. All he say is, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” They have to first take a step of faith before they received their healings. I wonder if they were disappointed. So these lepers go off to see the priests. And Luke says, “As they went, they were healed.”

Sometimes God does not heal instantaneously. Sometimes, God heals as we walk in obedience This is true particularly in emotional healing Wounds from childhood that continue to afflict Those wounds might have caused us to feel like outcasts But when Jesus pronounces forgiveness, and we walk in that forgiveness – things change So a lot of times, we expect Jesus to act in a certain way, and he doesn’t. It’s only after some time has passed, that we might see why.

Within the area of sickness and healing, there is some mystery. Jesus doesn’t always heal in the same way. Sometimes Jesus reaches out and touches people to heal,. One time he made some mud with spit and put it on the guy’s eye. Here, he just sends them off to the priests.

The Lord heals in different ways with different people. Even today, one person might receive a miraculous healing. And he really doesn’t deserve it! And someone else who might be devout and a Jesus lover. But he doesn’t get that instantaneous healing.

How and when God heals is something that we really can’t define or box in. And yet, there are some know-it-alls who will tell people that they just didn’t have enough faith to be healed. That’s wrong. All ten of these lepers were healed, but only one was commended for his faith.

Luke says that “as they went, they were made clean.” But only one of them returned to give thanks. Nine people went to the priests. But only one person became a priest. Only one person offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Only one person ministered to Jesus, prostrating himself at Jesus feet and thanking him. And he was one of those dreaded Samaritans!

Jesus tells the leper, “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.” That can also be translated, “Your faith has saved you.” Something more than a physical healing took place for this thankful leper. He was blessed eternally, spiritually.
Jesus said to the leper, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” You see, Jesus notices when we say thank you. Jesus receives that thanksgiving and tucks it away in his book of remembrances.

When you talk to others about the blessings that the Lord has given you, God notices. When you give testimony to the Lord’s graciousness, God notices. It’s why we provide time in every service not only for birthday and anniversary prayers, but for sharing thanksgivings about how the Lord has shown his grace in our lives.

Jesus notices when we give thanks. And Jesus notices when we don’t give thanks. “Where are the other nine?”

You remember when Jesus was at that exclusive dinner party thrown by Simon the Pharisee. And a woman who had been healed by Jesus came in, knelt before him and poured perfume on his feet and wiped them with her tears. Remember how Simon the Pharisee complained about the cost of the extravagance of that anointing. Jesus told Simon, “I noticed that when I came in, you didn’t give me any water for my feet or any oil for my head.”

It’s out of an unthankful heart that evil comes. The bible tells us in Romans 1 about the corruption of people in their behavior. And then it says that although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thank to him. So their thinking became futile. Their hearts were darkened.

Jesus says that this Leper’s faith has saved him. Let’s focus on that a bit. That’s the crux of this passage. Because all ten of them were physically healed. But it was only this one who returned who was saved. And Jesus says that it was because of his faith.

When those ten went off to the priests, they did so to receive official certification that they had been healed of their leprosy. The priests would check over and give them the official OK. That OK would give them their life back. It would allow them back into the community. It would allow them to work again and to have fellowship again with everyone else.

Now you can imagine those ten walking along and suddenly seeing the healing that had taken place. I bet they picked up their pace a bit. I bet they started thinking about how life was going to change for them. It was like winning the lottery! All they needed now was the official OK from the authorities.

But one stopped. One put that official OK on hold for something more important. One looked beyond the healing to consider the Healer. One recognized that the Healer was more important than the healing. One put priority on the Lord.

How often we think, “If only…..” If only I weren’t tied down by this physical condition, my finances, my past, my….you fill in the blank. There are things in our lives that can hold us back from living free.

This morning’s story is about priorities. For nine lepers, the priority was achieving the key to success, to gaining the acceptance of the world. For one, the priority was the Healer.

Oh yes, that one leper would eventually go to the authorities for his OK. But first, the Lord would receive his worship. The Lord would receive his thanksgiving. That was the priority. And that was the faith that saved him.

Jesus notices when we say thank you. I sometimes wonder if Freddy ever did write that thank you note to Fr. Ewald.

I’ve told my nieces and nephews that thank you emails will work for me. But, nevertheless, last week I got a note in the mail from one niece. It was a short note thanking me for her birthday check. She told me that she knew that she could’ve sent an email, but she preferred a note.

Now it might seem like no big deal. But she’s in her second year of law school at Berkeley, and I know how little extra time she has to buy thank you stationary, compose a winsome note and trot it off to the mailbox.

But she made it a priority. She wrote a thank you note. And I noticed.