20th Sunday after Pentecost

“Rise and Go Your Way”

Luke 17:11-19


            In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Why do you come here?  Why do you stand far off and call on the Name of the Lord?  Have you come here for healing?  Have you come here for salvation?  Have you come here to be made whole?  Why do you come here?  You have your reasons, even if unspoken.  You know that there is death in the pot (2 Kings 4:40), death in the skin and death in the bone, death in the parent and death in the child; there is death in the cloth-death woven into the very fabric of life.  You have come.  Will you leave here unchanged?

O lepers, cry out!  Your flesh is white as snow; the evidence of your disease is everywhere.  Ask your wife; ask your husband.  Ask your children.  Ask your parents.  Obey the Law and cry out, “Unclean, unclean!”  Wear torn clothes and let your hair flow wildly about your head (Leviticus 13:45).  You should live alone.  Your dwelling should be outside the camp.  You are unfit to be in contact with those who love you.  Come to the Master, and cry out. You can hide it, but the closer you get to someone, the harder hiding it becomes.  When your wife offers a word of criticism, you deflect its cutting edge.  You try to justify and defend.  But later, if you let it, it will draw blood.  You know she speaks the truth.  When your children, by their demands, expose your shortcomings as a mother and the fact that you cannot fulfill all their requests, you can feel the disease eating away at your confidence.  You rationalize and excuse, but they are right: you cannot do everything.  When your parents and teachers multiply your burdens so that you can only do everything halfway, you begin to do things poorly as a matter of course.  You don’t even care anymore.  You can’t do it right anyway, so why bother?

You may be able to hide from wives, children, parents and teachers the effects of God’s Law in yourself.  But can you hide it from yourself?  Can you hide it from the only Physician who sees that the disease has already gone to the brain and to the heart?  The Lord is passing through.  He is on His way to Jerusalem.  Out here, in Samaria and Galilee, we need Him to stop for a moment.  Do not let Him pass through and leave you as you are.  Do not treat Him as just another traveler, whom you may or may not follow because His life is poetic, or inspiring, or tragic, or vaguely interesting.  “And as he entered a village he was met…” (Luke 17:12, ESV).  As He is passing through, He stops in Fisher/Euclid.  Rather, He is stopped, stopped by those who cry out for mercy.  Mercy me, O Lord!  Master, we cannot come near to you; come near to us.  “Iāsoú epistáta, eléāson hāmás!”  Jesus, Master, mercy us!  “When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests'” (Luke 17:14, ESV).  The priests must examine you to see if you are clean.  It is the priests who declare that the leprosy is gone (Leviticus 14).  But they do not do the healing.  They do not give the cure.  “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  Where is the mercy in these words?  Like Naaman with the word of Elisha (2 Kings 5), the temptation is to focus on the miracle and overlook the One who has the power to do miracles.

Faith is trust that God’s words do what they say they do, that they produce what they promise.  “Go and show yourselves to the priests”; Jesus takes the healing for granted.  It is already done.  Show yourselves as those who have been healed.  “And as they went they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14, ESV).  All were healed because they went trusting that in Jesus’ words are healing and life.  None doubted; none stayed, refusing to believe and so refusing to be healed.  All ten went to the temple.  But one came back.  One glorified God and gave thanks to Jesus as God the Son.  He worshiped at the feet of the One who had worked healing in his body.  “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well'” (Luke 17:19, ESV).  But it is more than that.  This one leper who returned, out of the ten who had been healed, found that both his body and his soul were healed.  He was not only well, he was whole.  Nothing else to do but return and praise God.  Nothing else to be done but to give thanks at the feet of the God-Man.  Just as his diseased flesh was a symptom of his diseased soul, so now his joy showed that his physical healing was an indication of his spiritual healing.

You lepers!  You have been washed clean.  Your dead flesh, rotting with the stench of hell, has been taken from you and crucified.  Whatever you may have been is gone; it is drowned, though the water be only a few holy drops.  Come and worship!  Come and give glory to God!  Come and fall at the feet of the Savior of both your body and your soul; give Him thanks in a loud voice.  He is on His way to Jerusalem, but He pauses here a moment to take your sin with Him.  He takes your leprosy and your uncleanness with Him, and He dies because of it.  But in dying, He kills it.  In being buried, He buries it.  In rising again, He leaves it behind in the ground.  And in ascending to the Father, He lives to intercede for you and for His whole Church.  His Body, the Church, gathers here to present herself before her great High Priest, and He pronounces her clean, leprous no more.  “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.  You are saved.  You are whole.”

But are there not more?  Were not more healed?  Where are they?  Do not forget about them.  Do not let them go, as if they had not been healed.  They are part of this Body, and if they are not here, the whole Body suffers.  Or maybe “they” are “you.”  So do not forget to return and give praise to God.  Do not forget to give Him glory.  You did not heal yourself, and leprosy is highly infectious.  If you continue to hang around with lepers, and you do not continually cry out to the Lord where and while He may be found, your leprosy will return with a vengeance.  Leprosy numbs and deadens and kills healthy bodies.  This disease is treatable, however.  There is a medicine for leprosy of soul and body, but it must be taken as often as possible.  “Because I always sin, I ought always to take the medicine” (St. Ambrose).  Come and eat the bread and the Body; here is food for all who hunger.  Come and drink the wine and the Blood; here is drink for all who thirst.  Here is medicine for leprous bodies and leprous souls.  Here is food that endures to eternal life; here is drink that makes bodies rise from the dead.

So come, and encourage the other members of the Body to come as well.  “Therefore, brothers [and sisters], since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:19-25, ESV).  Hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and bodies washed with pure water; gathering together and encouraging; returning week by week, day by day, to give glory to God.  Such is the Body of Christ, purified and made holy.  I am a fellow priest with you, but I speak also for the High Priest.  I do not heal you, but, as a called and ordained servant of the Master, I declare you clean.  “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/9/07


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