INI + AMEN.
Ah, yes. The 10 Lepers. Now, this text is a bit special. It comes up twice a year. You heard it today, and you’ll hear it in November. It’s also the Gospel lesson for Thanksgiving. Now, whether you hear it now or in about a couple months from now, there’s a nagging question, or, at least, there should be. Whether you knew it or not, we’re left with a question, a problem, really. What sort of text is this? What’s it all about?
There’s only one place to get an answer for that. There’s no room for “this is what it means to me” and “that’s what it means for you” here. That way of handling the Scriptures is no good. In fact, any sort of “that’s your interpretation” talk makes not only this text but every text of Scripture meaningless. You either rest on what the Lord Himself and His author say, or you don’t. It’s either our text or the Lord’s text. And between us and our Lord, there’s only One “Way, Truth, and Life.”
((2. What do we think this text is all about?))
But that doesn’t stop us and our Old Adam, our flesh, our own ideas about how God’s supposed to work from monkeying around with the text. So, what sort of text is this? What’s it all about?
Well, first of all we get hung up on the lepers not being lepers anymore. We think this is a healing text. And there’s certainly a healing, but that’s not really what’s going on. Not first of all. If it were, Jesus would’ve just healed them! Not only that, Jesus Himself, and Luke echoing Him, say that this isn’t so much about healing as it is about being “cleansed.” The Lepers were “cleansed.” Their sinfulness was forgiven, Jesus “had mercy,” and they again had access to Yahweh, His Temple, and receiving His Gifts with His people, Israel. Since that was true, and only because that was true, the outward consequence of their sinfulness was also “healed.”
So, now what? Well, our next thought is that this is some obedience text. That’s an Old Adam favorite: turning gift to force, salvation to obligation, freedom to burden. But that doesn’t fit either. Why not? Well, we just assume that the Nine went home instead of returning to Jesus. But according to the text, we can assume that they actually went and were obedient to Jesus’ Word: “go show yourselves to the priests,” as the Lord also directed for Lepers in Leviticus. The Samaritan was, in fact, disobedient to Jesus’ own command.
So, with healing and obedience gone, we go with something else—thanksgiving! (That’s really just another take on the obedience theme.) The one Samaritan was thankful, and the Nine Israelites weren’t. And so we run with that and think about all sorts of people who aren’t thankful for salvation like we are. But even if this were the point of the text, so what? That’s just what you should be—thankful. That’s our duty as Christians. We learn that in the Catechism: “it is our duty to thank and praise Him.” And Jesus says, in the verse right before our Gospel text starts: “When you have done everything you were commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We’ve only done our duty.’”
((1. What’s this text really about?))
Now, is being thankful bad. No. What about obedience? Well, no. And healing? No. Every healing Jesus did is a promise of what He’ll do for each of us on the Last Day. To focus there, is to put the cart before the horse, or trying to harvest corn with a grain header. So, what’s this text really about? What sort of text is this?
Well, first of all, this is an “on the way to Jerusalem” text. That’s what Luke tells us about where Jesus is heading. That’s why He’s come, and He’s going there to do one thing: die and rise for the sinfulness of world.
That’s not all. This is a Jesus is God for your benefit text. The problem was not the thankfulness of the Nine, they had wrong faith, a wrong trust. They thought God was off in His temple somewhere, and not standing there “between Samaria and Galilee.” Sure, they started with Jesus (good teach, good miracle worker), but then wanted to finish things up themselves. They failed to recognize, to trust that “God was reconciling the world to Himself in His Son Jesus Christ.”
This is a “your faith has saved you” text. The Samaritan wasn’t just “made well” by Jesus. He was “cleansed,” forgiven, and so he was saved. Jesus saved Him. His Jesus saved Him, and that’s what it means that his “faith had saved him.” If your faith is right, you can swap Jesus in, and it still works. “Rise and go your way; your faith has [saved] you”—that sentence becomes “Rise and go your way; your Jesus has [saved] you.”
So, what sort of text is this? It’s real simple. It’s our Lord’s text. Not only is He the source of the text, He’s also the subject of the text—and every text!
THIS TEXT IS A JESUS FOR YOU TEXT!
What does this mean? Well, this text being a Jesus for you text, has everything to do with what our Lord Jesus is doing here today “along the border,” not “of Samaria and Galilee,” but Kansas and Nebraska. Here He comes to cleanse you. Here He comes to send you on your way cleansed and forgiven to love those around you. Here He comes to fill you with Himself. To fill your ears, heart, and mind with His Word. To speak over you His absolution. To bring salvation and cleansing to you in the water of your Baptism, when you absolutely didn’t have it before that moment. Our Lord’s way is to cleanse and save, and so He does: with His body and His blood, not only given and shed for you in Jerusalem, but also given to you to eat and to drink here in Bremen.
THIS TEXT IS A JESUS FOR YOU TEXT! Jesus is for you. Here for you. Water. Word. Body and Blood for you. “Rise and go your way; your Jesus has saved you.”
INI + AMEN.