“Faith has Saved You”: Luke 17:11-19
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke is by far my favorite of the Gospels because it is the most artfully written. Not only is the Greek much more advanced in style and grammar, but Luke is a true painter when it comes to how he crafts each episode in his Gospel. Oftentimes the evangelist is indeed depicted in artwork as one holding a paintbrush because of his vivid imagery and use of motifs. The first half of Luke’s Gospel is intimately shaped by Jesus’ first homecoming sermon where Jesus stands up in the synagogue and reads from Isaiah the Prophet,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And this is exactly what Jesus does in his Galilean ministry, it was fulfilled in their hearing! He is the preacher and teacher of the church. He heals the sick, cleanses lepers, casts out demons, and proclaims the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near. The hinge into the second half of Luke’s Gospel is the transfiguration of Jesus in chapter 9. Here he has lunch with Elijah and Moses and chats about the “Exodus” he is going to accomplish in Jerusalem and in 9:51 Jesus dramatically turns and sets his face toward Jerusalem, toward the cross.
So as we’ve been walking through the second half of Luke we have quite literally and figuratively been on a journey with Christ. We’ve been inching closer and closer to Calvary and if you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll have noticed that these episodes have become more and more cruciform in nature. Death and resurrection are on Luke’s and Jesus’ mind and it shows.
We begin our pericope today “On the way to Jerusalem” but we find Jesus kind of in the middle of nowhere. I enjoy maps so I took a look and there is absolutely nothing of note while passing from Galilee through Samaria and into Judah. No major cities, no tourist attractions, and certainly no people that you would want to hang out with. The Samaritans of the North are functionally pagans even though they hang onto the name of Yahweh. They have married foreign women and worship foreign gods, the classic pairing of adultery and idolatry. Along with these unsavory and irreligious folks you’d also expect to find those unclean outcasts of society including those with leprosy. Enter our ten leprous men.
Now when Luke says “leprosy” we’re not entirely sure what this looks like. If Leviticus 13 and 14 are our guides then we find out this could be anything from bad dandruff, to sores, to tumors, to boils, etc. You can even have a “leprous house” which we would usually just call mold. The leprosy of the 1st century could be something more akin to what we know today, we’re not entirely sure. While the kinds of leprosy may vary, what doesn’t change is the consequence, namely, by the voice of Moses you are declared unclean. And this is just as much a declaration establishing your relationship with men as it is a declaration establishing your relationship to God. People who were unclean were sent outside the camp and could not come into contact with other people nor could they come to the temple to worship and make regular sacrifice for sins. In the Ancient Near East, family is life, so these ten men are, in every sense of the word, dead men walking. Everything has been stripped away from them.
And this is where the voice of Moses leaves us. When Moses speaks to us today we hear the voice of accusation, the “letter that killeth”, and the “ministry of death.” Unclean! In the civil realm it acts upon the body, protecting the clean, and banishing the unclean. In the spiritual realm, it reveals, increases, and accuses men of the leprosy of sin. Estrangement from people and estrangement from God. Sin is a cancerous affair that infects and pervades all aspects of our lives and this is not a cancer that the craftiness of men can cure. No amount of our own scrubbing, puritanism, or works of satisfaction can satisfy the wrath of God which the law reveals. In fact, God has declared boldly through his prophets and the psalms that he hates works as a means of justification. Our works are taken away from us by the law. God does not delight in your self-justification, sacrifices and burnt offering, but the true sacrifices of God are “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51)which is the work of God. This God will not despise.
So with the Psalmist and these lepers we pray God to heal us, forgive us, and renew us, not on the basis of our piety, worthiness, or worship, but “according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” and “Have mercy on us!” And he does, not according to the law and works, but according to grace and mercy. We do well to note that the 10th leper is made well even before he gets to the priest and at the end of the day he never makes it. He turns away from the law and runs to Christ instead. He banishes works and the law (which cannot save him) from his sight and runs to the liturgy of God, to a Divine Service. In this Divine Service we don’t give, but simply rest and receive. We lay down our burden of sin at the feet of Christ, confessing back to God what he has said of us. We kneel and receive the word of absolution from the mouth of the pastor as from Christ himself. We present ourselves before the altar and give true thanks and praise to God by receiving the true body and blood of Christ Jesus for the remission of our sins. We stand worthy before this altar, not because of our glistening character, but as Luther writes because we simply believe these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” And we leave from this place in full confidence that not only has our faith made us well, it has saved us. Where once we were dead, lepers, and strangers of God, now God says to us, “Be raised from the dead, go your way; your faith has saved you!” The law says, ‘do this’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe this’ and everything is done already.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.