18th Sunday After Pentecost – Vicar Aaron Ferguson
In the Name of Jesus. Amen
Today’s Gospel follows directly after the Gospel from last week. Last week our Lord gave us a few instructions for the sanctified life, don’t cause people to sin and forgive your brother, and what faith looks like. And it seems as the disciples are wont to do the teaching of our Lord escaped their comprehension. So, it seems that to illustrate faith like a mustard seed there happens to be a group of lepers along the outskirts of a village. By an act of God, the disciples were able to witness what faith looks like.
These lepers cry out at the sight of Jesus, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.” What does mercy look like? Mercy is a gracious sparing of someone from something. Mercy is cleansing lepers from leprosy, it is causing the dreary weather to break and the sun to shine, it is also the forgiveness of sins. But we see here the lepers asking for mercy from Jesus. Jesus does not ask what they want. For all we know they were not expecting him to cleanse them of their leprosy, but maybe they were hoping for food. Maybe Our Lord smelled bad and they wanted him to go away. The text does not say.
But what does the text say? The Bible tells us that Jesus told these lepers to go show themselves to the priests. Jesus does not ask what they wanted, because it seems he knew. Our Lord knows what we need, and what we want. Our Lord knows that we need these things, daily bread and such, and daily gives us all the things to support our body and soul. He graciously gives daily bread to all people even to the wicked so that they might live. All good things both of body and soul come from God alone.
Our Lord is gracious to us, causing the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. It is a funny thing rain. Depending on where you are it means something different. Where I am from the rain is almost always welcome. The ground is always dry and the grass is always a week away from dying. But during our recent hurricane it seemed that rain is an act of judgement, kind of like Noah. Rain causes flooding and the FEMA deployment in Florida. So, weather rain is a good thing or not, Our Lord knows what you need for this life.
But I digress, these lepers call out to Our Lord asking for mercy. They had nothing to lose. Imagine yourself in their shoes. You are stricken with a rather terrible disease and are forced from home and hearth into a quarantine that would surely last longer than 14 days. You are unable to heal yourself and until God has mercy and heals you, you’re stuck there. What would you do? You see strangers walking by your camp, of course you would ask them if they could heal you or in some way help you. It is not as if these lepers would be maintaining a reputation or keeping up appearances. All pretenses of dignity are gone.
Is this the faith that Jesus is speaking of earlier? Is this faith like a mustard seed?
These lepers cried out to Our Lord for mercy, and he tells them to go show themselves to the priests. They were probably a bit confused at first, they did not look any better and they might not have felt any less leprous. Nevertheless, they followed Jesus’s orders, after all what was the harm that could come from visiting the priests once more? Then something miraculous happened. As they went, they were healed. After this miraculous healing a single man from this leper colony returned to Our Lord giving praise to God as he fell on his face giving him thanks.
Our Lord then asks the question, “What happened to the rest of them? Were not 10 cleansed, where are the 9?” Our Lord as is evident elsewhere could keep track of people, and not a sparrow falls from the sky without him knowing. So where are the nine? It seems that they were doing what Jesus told them to do? Well then what about this guy, the Samaritan who comes back to Jesus in order to give him thanks? What was he doing? He was not following the literal commands of Our Lord? Doesn’t it seem that in the doing of what our Lord commanded the lepers to do that they were healed? That is to say do what God commands you and you will be saved.
Not at all. The healing of the leprosy was a gracious gift of God, not doled out because of some internal righteousness, but because God loves to give gifts. If God gave us what we deserved, healing would be the last thing we’d receive. So why did the man return to give thanks to God? Just because he was grateful for what the Lord had done for him. This is faith like a mustard seed on display and our disciples got a front row view. This Samaritan had nothing that could have been gained from returning to give thanks to God, but he did it anyway. Perhaps he would later realize the full extent of the work that Jesus would do. Maybe he would hear that a particular man had gone to Jerusalem and died and rose. But there is none of that here. In this text we see only that this man returned to Jesus giving thanks. This is the beginning of faith. The Samaritan knew that Jesus was somehow responsible for the miraculous healing, and came back and gave thanks.
The disciples were just asking about faith, and in this Samaritan leper they were given an example of faith. What is faith? It is the willingness to accept what God has given you. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus it is willingness to take the hand of the angel God has sent you to bring you to heaven. In this story, it is knowing that you receive your good gifts from God and understanding the goodness of that. The man did not know what else Jesus would do for him, but he came back to Our Lord to give him thanks. The man did not yet know about the Crucifixion, or the Resurrection from the dead that was going to take place in the near future. He only knew that God was the source of the good things in life.
This is the beginning of faith, as Jesus would put it: faith as a mustard seed. It is not yet fully grown into a mustard plant, but if given time, it would. If we were to ask the Samaritan whom Jesus cleansed from leprosy, “Did you know that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead?” He would likely respond, “No, I did not know that; but I wouldn’t put it past him. He was a great guy and somehow, he healed my leprosy.” That is faith like a mustard seed; it looks to God for the good gifts such as life and salvation as well as cleansing from leprosy.
So where do you look for the good gifts in this life? Faith sees God as the source of all good things. In the Collect for Peace, which is prayed during Evening Prayer, we see that everything good comes from God: Holy desires, good counsel, just works, Peace which the world cannot give, defense from our enemies. We also know from the Bible that God loved the world and gave us his only Son so that we would not perish but have everlasting life.
May we as the people of God recognize the mercy that God shows to his people through Jesus.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen