Sunday, September 30th, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 17:11-19
“Master, have mercy on us!”--Luke 17:13
One of the most fundamental prayers of our faith, is “Lord, have mercy.” It is a prayer that expresses our human frailty in the face of God’s majesty and sovereignty. It is a prayer that takes great vulnerability on our part and places great trust that the majestic and sovereign God is also a compassionate and loving God. It is a prayer that is repeatedly offered in the gospels and a prayer that Jesus repeatedly answers – this is the ground of our praying it. We have before us the example of those who have been marginalized, are forgotten, are broken with illness, sickness, or despair, and when they cry out to Jesus, even if they fear to approach him in the own uncleanness as with the lepers in this story, Jesus blesses them and offers them God’s mercy.
“Master, have mercy” – it is at once a cry for help and a profession of faith. It is a cry that comes from the depths of abandonment. The lepers have been pushed to the margins of society, beyond the boundaries of their religion, and outside the community of their homes and families. They have suffered profound loss and separation from their people, and indeed they feel, separation from the God. Yet, even amidst that sense of separation and loss, there is still a profession of faith. They call Jesus “master.” Even in all they have lost, even in their separation, they still know who their Lord is. Thus, when he travels past them, they call out to him, “Master, have mercy!”
In an instant Jesus recognizes his own. He sees past the illness that afflicts them and disfigures their appearances. He even sees through the illness and afflictions that disfigure their hearts. He sees through it all. He sees into them deeply, and he recognizes his own. With one command, he orders them to present themselves to the priests. By saying this he was telling them that they had been made clean, they had been cured. If they went to the priests and the priests found them without leprosy, they could be readmitted into the life of the community, into cult of the Temple. They would be restored to their people, to their religion, to their God.
But notice one crucial thing. It is not until they have gone on their way that they have found that they have been healed. They pressed forward, even with the signs of their illness still showing and went out to seek the priests and present themselves. Imagine a faith that moves forward in belief, even when the signs of healing were not yet fully manifest. And yet, there was one thing still missing. And only one of the men saw it.
One leper amongst ten, when he saw the signs of healing taking place in his body turned back and came to Jesus, fell down at his feet and praised him and thanked him. One leper amongst ten put his praise and thanksgiving to God above his reintegration into his community, above his restoration to his religious life. One leper amongst ten said “thank you, Jesus.” And that man was a foreigner, a stranger, a Samaritan.
Should it surprise us? Do we not learn all through the gospels, and especially in this Gospel of Luke, that Jesus has a special eye for those on the outside, the foreigner, those who have been forgotten, those who make terrible mistakes and yet are able to turn to Jesus, to return to God? Think of that good Samaritan along the road who risks life and limb, and offers of himself for that wounded man. Think of that prodigal son who so flagrantly wastes his inheritance, and yet is welcomed home by a loving father who missed him more than words can express. Think of that widow, whose mite he honoured more than the riches of the wealthiest of men. This Samaritan, this stranger, who had been excluded not only because of his illness, but also because of his foreign brand of the Jewish faith stopped, for a moment, and thanked the one who had made him whole. This is the fullness of faith.
Let us note that all ten received the gift. Whether or not we are gracious and thankful, God longs to pour his blessing upon us, God loves us, and God offers us healing and life. Only one turned back to give thanks, but yes, there were ten that were healed. Yet that one receives something more. That one has his eyes opened – the eyes of his heart. That one sees something very different than what the others see. The others will be able to return to their homes. They will be able to return to worshiping in the Temple. They will be renewed in their relationships, but God stood before them and they failed to see him. One man, though, a Samaritan, and outsider, a stranger, saw Jesus. One man recognized that God was in his midst. One man recognized that it was no ordinary physician who had cured him, but a great physician. One man saw in a way that the others could not, and though he goes on his way, as Jesus commands, he becomes a follower of Jesus.
Where the others go on their way merrily and with excitement, the Samaritan has first turned. He has turned to Christ and in his turning he has been healed in much more than his body. He has been healed of all that ails him. He life has been healed. His spirit has been healed. He has turned back, and in that risk of turning back to offer a brief “thank you” to God, he has been given the gift of life. His sins are forgiven. His body is whole. And though he is an outsider amongst men, he will never be an outsider to God.
“Your faith has saved you,” Jesus says. The Greek term equally means “Your faith has made you well.” What the Samaritan receives is the gift of faith, a faith that God has saved him, made him well in body, mind and spirit, a faith that God has forgiven his sins, and a faith that in Jesus Christ, God will never leave him. Ten men cried out “Lord, have mercy.” Ten men received mercy. One man truly understood what that gift meant. One man really understood what mercy does. It does not simply heal the body, it does not simply restore us in community (great things as these are), it makes us well in all ways, in the entirety of our being. It saves us. It makes us right with God.
God’s mercy is poured out abundantly, in all times and in all places. May we, when we are given the courage to cry “Lord, have mercy,” be given the grace that our eyes might be opened that we might see that we are indeed loved, that we are indeed healed, we are indeed forgiven, and that we are indeed saved. And may that grace so enflame our hearts that our only response can and ever will be, “Thank you, Lord.”
c. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves