You Must Understand Your Disease to Know Your Cure
Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 17, 2017
The story of the ten lepers is not about lepers or leprosy. It is not even about the Samaritan leper nor about how we should give thanks. And we should. What it is about is found directly in the center. Upon being healed one of them returned with a great voice, glorifying God and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks to Jesus.
At the center of our Gospel reading is Jesus. A lesson on being thankful is what you’re taught in school or by your parents. The ravages of leprosy and how Jesus healed ten lepers of it is remarkable and worthy of praise but doesn’t bring about what Jesus ultimately came to bring about.
At the center of the passage is the recognition that Jesus is God. That God is above all is a basic belief of those of any religion who believe in whatever god they believe in. But what about God in the flesh? What about believing that He is standing before you and has power to cleanse you? To save you and forgive your sins?
Is Luke reporting an event here to show us how caring Jesus is and how powerful He is and exhorting us to be more thankful to Him? All of that is here. But what stands out is the most remarkable miracle of all, the almighty God being among mortal humans. God acting in the flesh in the person of Jesus to save people. To cure them of their diseases.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Luke is inviting you to see what nine lepers did not. Luke is showing you what was revealed to the one leper who saw Jesus as He was, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior.
There is only one way you can see it though, and that is by faith. Without faith you will not see Jesus as He truly is. Only by faith can you see Him as the Savior of your disease. To know how He cures you of your disease you need to understand your disease. The Lutheran Confessions say of our disease: “Original sin is like a spiritual poison and leprosy... It has poisoned and corrupted the whole human nature.”
Cancer is a disease that ravages you on the inside. You cannot see it from the outside and yet it slowly does its work of killing you. Leprosy on the other hand is out in the open. The first thing you notice about a person who has leprosy is that their flesh is rotting away. Even with cancer you can observe it under a microscope. But you cannot see your disease of original sin. It is a poison and leprosy that kills you even though you cannot see it.
Ten lepers were cleansed of their leprosy. One returned to Jesus realizing that his newfound cleansing did not reflect what still ravaged him on the inside. This is why Jesus said to him, Your faith has saved you. It’s true that many English translations say, Your faith has made you well. But isn’t that what Jesus had already done for all ten lepers? Isn’t there something beyond that that Jesus is saying to this Samaritan who recognized that he needed salvation and had found it in the person of Jesus?
What the Samaritan leper realized about Jesus he would recognize in its fullness after Jesus would bring about salvation on the cross. He would see even more clearly that what was on the inside of himself was a disease with lasting effects, eternally. Even his leprosy would have come to an end when he would die. But your skin can be covered with sores and you can escape eternal damnation. But if you die in your sins you die eternally.
The story of the lepers puts into perspective whatever you suffer or might endure in the future. In enduring any physical disease you may cry out to your Lord for mercy as the lepers did. This is our continual cry as Christians. Praying for mercy from our Lord is praying in faith. Trusting that He will heal us according to His timetable. For ten lepers it was immediate.
But for one there was something more and far greater. He saw Jesus as He truly was. The Son of God. God in the flesh, come to take upon Himself all our sins. The Bible says He bore our iniquities and our infirmities.
Think about this. He who has no sin became sin for us. We are infested with original sin. He is pure. But He took our disease into His flesh so that we may be pure and clean. You cannot know your cure without understanding your disease. God’s love is not generic. It is concentrated in the flesh of Christ. When the leper returned praising God who did he bow down to? Jesus. He gave thanks to Him.
If you don’t see this then you see little more than an exhortation to be thankful. When you see, that is, believe, that you are utterly corrupt in your heart and that your Lord forgives you of your sin, there you recognize true thanksgiving. Even if you suffer in this life from disease inside you are pure, clean, forgiven.
Think about also what this Samaritan leper likely came also to receive. Since Jesus was showing that it was not those who were born into the right lineage but rather all who saw in Him salvation for sin, this man likely was brought into the fellowship of the first Christians and partook of the meal the first Christians made an integral part of their life together. The first Christians did as their Lord had commanded them and Baptized people, bringing them into Christ Himself. And having Baptized them they then invited them to share in the fellowship meal of Christ’s body and blood, bringing Christ into them.
It’s now two thousand years later and there is nothing that has changed. What Jesus Christ gave them is what He gives to you. In Baptism He brings you into Himself and in His sacred Meal He brings Himself into you. Even if your skin should rot away, Christ in you cleanses you from every vile and evil thing of thought, word, and deed in you. There is no greater or more powerful medicine given for you. It prompted the early Church to call the Lord’s Supper the medicine of immortality. When you eat and drink the very body and blood of Christ there is nothing that can destroy you. You are strengthened in body and soul.
The words of Jeremiah 17 capture well the true healing the Samaritan received and that you receive: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” Amen.