Author Debie Thomas wrote: “One morning, as my father was standing in line to buy tickets at a village train station, my little brother pointed to two figures sitting hunched in a corner. 'What’s wrong with them?' he asked. By then we’d been in India for two weeks, and I was accustomed to seeing beggars. New to witnessing such relentless need, I spent my days digging in my father’s wallet or my mother’s purse, handing out every bill or coin they’d spare.
But these two figures were different. Though I guessed they needed help, too, I didn’t want to approach them. Their faces were distorted, eaten. Their fingers were half-missing, and their feet were scary, mottled stumps. 'They’re sick,' my father answered after a quick, pitying glance in their direction. 'They have leprosy.'
The train station was crowded that day, swarming with travelers, vendors, and beggars. But what struck me about those figures huddling in the shadows was how alone they were. It was otherworldly, profound and impenetrable in a way I could barely comprehend. It was as if some invisible barrier, solid as granite, separated them from the rest of humanity, rendering them wholly untouchable. Yes, their disease frightened me. But what frightened me much more was their isolation, their not-belonging.”
In our gospel, there were ten lepers who saw their chance to escape this life sentence of isolation. Jesus was passing by! Luke wrote, “Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, 'Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"' I think we can imagine that they would have hoped he'd come to them, say some mysterious words or do some actions over them and they'd be healed. But he spoke to them where they stood, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." Not what they were hoping for. They look down at their bodies. The hands of one man are still mangled. Another man looks at his leg, which ends with a filthy rag at the knee. Another looks at his skin, and finds it as repulsive as ever. They saw no healing. And yet, they obeyed as the master told them to go to the priest, who was the only one who could declare them healthy and whole again. “And as they went, they were made clean.” Perhaps they noticed it first in one of the group...his limp was gone, his foot was whole, his face healed. Each studied his own condition...fingers grew back, a crutch thrown aside, skin as smooth as a baby's bottom, to borrow a phrase. They looked at each other in awe and wonder. Is it true? Could they possibly be truly healed? We don't know if they ever made it to the priest that day, but you can be sure they reunited with their family and enjoyed the touch of a hug, the embrace of a a loved one, the kisses of their wife and children.
So why do you suppose Jesus did not work a one on one miracle with them; didn't call them over and heal them in his presence? We don't know, but I'll suggest that their obedience to his command to go was the outward sign of their inward faith. Their obedience showed their faith. It can be a lesson for us. Perhaps we are taught here that we don't put conditions on God, “Lord, I will follow you when this disease is healed.” We don't pray, “Lord, when you solve this issue in my family, then I will go to church.” We walk in faith often before we see God act. We may hear God say in this story, “Love me despite the disease. Obey me despite the lack of money. Praise me in the darkest of nights and the worse of circumstances.” Those lepers obeyed without receiving even the hint that Jesus was healing them. They obeyed because they trusted the Savior. That is lesson one for us today; trust the Lord even when things aren't going the way we would like, obey in faith that God is with you; trust and obey.
I'm fascinated by the way words are used. Please follow me as I share three words of healing from our reading that all indicate that the lepers were indeed healed but the thankful leper received even more. First is in verse 15, “one of them, when he saw that he was healed”. That word “healed” is the Greek word iatha ("hi-a-tha), a medical term meaning to mend or to repair. A broken bone will iatha, mend.
Next is verse 17, Jesus asks the thankful leper, “Were not ten made clean?” “Made clean” here is a different Greek word, ekatharisthesan ( kath-a-ri-dzo) the root word for our English word catheter, it means to remove the impurities. Made clean is a very good translation. You may recall from earlier lessons that a leper had to announced his presence by proclaiming loudly, “Unclean, unclean!” And so Jesus Katharidzo'd the lepers.
And the third word is in our final verse, Jesus tells the thankful leper, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." “Made you well” again indicates the healing, but this is a different word again. The word is Sesoeu ( So-dzo). Made well is maybe not the best translation, it's meaning is more like saved. The Greeks would use it for a sailor who survived a storm at sea. When he was saved, they'd say he had been Sesoeu. It is used in other places in the bible as well. When Matthew tells the Christmas story, Joseph is told to name the child Jesus because he would “save” the people from their sins...he would Sesoeu the people. Paul used this word in the familiar verse, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”... you will be Sesoeu. (Romans 10:9)
Jesus did much more than heal this man of leprosy. He allowed him to put his faith into action. He allowed him to return to his community. He brought him the gift of eternal life; the gift he offers to each of us.
Like that tenth leper, we returned to offer our thanks to the Lord. Sometimes that seems difficult. Life can be hard. But in good times and bad, we can always hold on to that promise of salvation. We are here confessing Jesus as Lord...we profess our faith that God raised him from the dead. We are reminded once again that we cleansed, we are mended; we are saved, Sesoeu'd.
Ten lepers experienced healing, the one thankful leper sesoeu'd... saved. We give thanks for this gift of salvation. But our gospel story reminds us to give thanks for other blessings we may overlook. The touch of a hand; you may have touched more people in our hour together than that leper did in many years! We give thanks for family...even their family love was forfeit before their healing. We give thanks for the fellowship we share in the name of the Lord, neighbors worshiping together. We give thanks for a roof over our heads and food on our plates. Thanks for the miracles of medical care, the Doctors and nurses that care for us, the medicines that treat our symptoms. God has blessed us in many ways and despite our troubles and trials we can, as the lepers did, move in obedience to God without always understanding the journey ahead. But the thankful leper is our example, trust in God's goodness, obey even before we see God's blessing and then return again and again to give thanks to the Lord. And in obedience we may recognize God's working in our lives. Amen.
Hymn: Trust and Obey 318 HLC 1,3,5