For most of this summer we have followed Luke’s account of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. Along the way we have reconnected with the way Jesus loved to teach using parables. The parables we’ve heard during the weeks after Pentecost have given us a little bit of everything, from the vanity of storing up treasures and being dishonest with things entrusted to us, to the threat of eternal damnation in the “fire of hell” with the agonizing imagery of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” From the comforting assurance that the Good Shepherd will go out of His way to find even one of His lost sheep, to the clear warning that we should be ever vigil, lamps burning, spiritually awake for His return.
In today’s Gospel lesson though, we find Jesus leading His disciples and a large crowd of followers along the border between Samaria and Galilee, crossing the Jordan River above Samaria and again near Jericho to begin the ascent to Jerusalem. Traveling in and around Samaria was harrowing for religious pilgrims. It is in this context that we encounter the story before us today, a real event. “As they were passing along between Samaria and Galilee” Jesus “entered a village. He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance.” Lepori Andres, is the Greek name to describe the affliction the ten men carried. The Greek word leporiis translated into our language as leper or leprosy. In Jesus’ time, the term was a general one used to describe any number of communicable diseases affecting the skin. These men and others similarly affected were forced to live with the stigma of being in a society where cleanliness was next to godliness The Easton Bible Dictionary describes the insidious nature of this terminal affliction that beset the ten men this way: “The disease begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palm, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin, the disease eats inward to the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal.” These were men society had abandoned. By the laws of Moses, laid down chapters 13 and 14 of the book of Leviticus,those afflicted with the disease of leprosy were to be treated this way: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”(Lev.14:45-56) These men were ostracized, forsaken and relegated to hills and caverns outside of town. That’s one part of this story that needs no allegorical or analogous substitute to bring the hearer to understand. Everyone knew about leprosy. A second part of this story is the demographic makeup of the ten. Nine are Jewish, one is Samaritan. This is important because it leads the hearer to a powerful truth about the grace and mercy of our Lord. Samaritans were enemies of the Jewish people. We recall a parable Jesus told of a man beaten by robbers and left to die. A Rabbi came upon the man and walked across the road, ignoring the dying man. A Levite came along later and did the same thing. It was only when a Samaritan came along that the man received medical attention and was shown compassion and mercy. Yet here the nine Jews and the Samaritan, polar opposites in the world but united by a common enemy, find the same voice as they cry out in unison, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Now let me pause here for a moment in the light of what Jesus is about to do. Given the parable of the Good Samaritan and the history of hate between Jews and Samaritans, which of the lepers at this point in the encounter is most likely deserving of being cleansed by the Lord?The nine Jews (God’s chosen ones) or the arch enemy of the Jews, the one Samaritan? If you said the nine Jews, you would be wrong. If you said the one Samaritan, you would be wrong too. Jesus looked at the ten lepers and had mercy on all of them, telling them to “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”Now Jesus’ response to the men’s plea for mercy may seem to have been very abrupt, callous and uncaring. But is a glimmer of hope for the lepers. According to the law, it was only the priest who could determine if a leper was fit to return to society, to be called “cleansed” and not “unclean.” Jesus had mercy on all the lepers. He did not discriminate. He did not even place any conditions on their healing except they follow the law of Moses. For Jesus there was no Quid Pro Quo, that Latin term a lot lately on the news and in the halls of congress. That term relates to the expectation that someone who grants a favor or gives an advantage to or shows mercy on another, should or will receive something in return for their favor. Jesus set no such quid pro quo upon the lepers. Quite the opposite in fact. Jesus responded favorably to their united plea for mercy. He showed grace and mercy to them. Do you think the ten were thankful? If we look at the picture on the front page of the bulletin it sure looks like the whole group was elated, thankful. One even has his hands folded together as if in prayerful thanksgiving as Jesus lays His hand upon Him. Even the other nine seem to be traveling down the road in jubilation. The one bringing up the rear has both his arms raised above his head. What I wouldn’t give right now to demonstrate that man’s joy and thanksgiving by raising both my arms above my head! Of course the lepers are thankful. They could now return to the land of the living. They no longer would be outcasts abandoned to the outskirts of humanity. In one sense this is a resurrection moment for these lepers. They have been given a second chance in life. But there is more to this story, isn’t there? One of the lepers suddenly makes a u-turn and goes back to Jesus. Seeing his now new body, healed from the dreaded disease, he returned to Jesus, “Praised God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” “Now this man was a Samaritan.”The Samaritan came back to give praise to the One who gave him the blessed gift. Jesus answered the Samaritan’s praise, Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” How often the Lord blesses people and they fail to thank Him for their blessings. Certainly though, the Lord wants us to see His hand in every blessing and to express our thanksgiving to Him. Still, this was no quid pro quo. For the nine that didn’t return to give thanks were still healed. Jesus did not take back His healing gift to those who neglected to give thanks. You remember that question I asked of you earlier about which of the ten were deserving of the Lord’s praise and mercy, the nine Jews or the one Samaritan? And I said to choose either would be a wrong choice? That’s because at the end of the day (or at the start of the day for that matter) NONE OF US IS DESERVING OF GOD’S GRACE. How many of us are really thankful for everything but would be even more thankful if God would only intervene on our behalf in one area of our life or another? So many people today pray for God to answer their prayers and place a quid pro quo on God if He would answer their prayers. So many place conditions on our God who has shown us unconditional love in the most enduring and everlasting way – sacrificially unto death. Or have we forgotten that we too were once marginalized people, once a people doomed to eternal damnation and death in hell. We too were raised from the dead in Baptism to live a new life through faith in Christ Jesus. We too should be singing God’s praise and falling on our knees from time to time to give all thanks and glory to God for His abundant grace and mercy and for His unconditional love. The nine lepers were healed by the grace of God through Christ Jesus. They went on to live their new lives thanks to God. But the one who did return – the Samaritan received an even greater, more precious gift than the nine. He received the words of Absolution, the promise of salvation, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” What a powerful life story. No allegory, analogy or metaphor in the text. But the description of the disease of leprosy provided for us today from the Easton Bible Dictionary may well be the perfect metaphor for the disease that we face every day in life in this world: sin. When you approach the rail today to receive the body and blood of Jesus or a blessing, as you pass by the baptismal font- a reminder of your resurrection to new life through faith in Christ – as you exit God’s house comforted in the assurance that you too have received through His Word and Sacrament the merciful blessing of ABSOLUTION – The promise of eternal life – may you remember the words and actions of the one who did turn around and return to Jesus. May your life be one of continually turning and returning to your Lord, thanking and giving Him praise and all glory. For you do not have a quid pro quo God – you have a God whose love surpasses your human understanding, who is patient with you beyond reason, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Amen.
--Rev. David Brockhouse
October 13, 2019 / "Quid Pro Quo"/ Luke 17:11-19/ Mt. Olive Lutheran Church (LCMS)
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Mt. Olive Lutheran Church - LCMS 3200 W Loop 1604 S San Antonio, TX 78245
Mt. Olive is a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod