18. September 2022
“Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
When Jesus commands all the lepers to “go, show yourselves to the priests,” he directs them to the demands of the Law. The Levitical Law given through Moses in chapters 13 & 14 regarding leprosy is clear. The diagnosis of leprosy is made by the priest. If the sore, lesion, or scab did not fade in seven days, the priest would declare you unclean and force you into isolate, or as we call it now, “social distancing.”
The leper’s garments would be examined and declared clean or unclean, and if unclean, to be burned in the fire. There were rules for those living together with leprosy, including the cleansing and restoration of the home. The devastating diagnosis, once confirmed, was: “He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 14:46).
But not all leprosy is equal. It appears to be a broad category for all sorts of skin diseases, some temporary. Thus, not only does the Levitical Law provide for restoration to the community, it presumes the possibility of healing and returns to normal life. When leprosy has passed, social distancing and other mandates are ended. Leviticus also provides a ceremony to declare clean the leper who has been healed. There are prescribed offerings, ritual washings, and sacrifices of atonement.
Thus, Jesus, when He says, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” appears to direct them to continue in the way of the Law, to do what is prescribed. He is standing in the place of the priest outside the city, whose initial diagnosis of healing leads you back into the whole ceremonial scheme given by Moses. It’s a completely reasonable direction for those the expect what religion and culture require.
But the Samaritan leper-now-clean is blissfully unaware of the ceremonies and rites of Jerusalem. He’s a Gentile and, at best, only has a passing knowledge of Moses’ command. If you walked him through all the nuance and detail of Leviticus chapter 13&14, he might recognize its propriety and reasonableness to protect the community from this highly transmissible disease. He’s been living that life, even if he doesn’t fully understand why God treated leprosy that way.
So why would He ever need to go to Jerusalem and learn the custom, perform the rite, and receive the priest’s declaration? Why would he put himself under the Law when the Lord and giver of Life stand before him? Of the ten lepers healed by Jesus, only one recognized what Jesus had done. He receives in his body a divine miracle, healing that none of his medicine or doctors or prayers had given. He sees in his body a new testament, a gift given with no expectation or demand that it be reciprocated. The one Samaritan leper believes and confesses that Jesus alone is the Way.
All the Law of Moses, down to every dot, “T,” and tail, is fulfilled, completed, and ended in Jesus. The purpose of the Law—the temple, the sacrifices, the ceremonies, and even the calendar—is to point to Jesus. And in now that Jesus has come, what use is Jerusalem? Does this healed man need the temple? Does he need another priest to declare him clean? Does he need to make offerings to show his thanks? Does he need the lambs slain on the altar there to atone for his sin? Of course not! God’s own Son stands before Him, Immanuel God-with-us. High Priest Jesus has made Him clean with a Word. What greater offering can the man give than to fall at Jesus’ feet and give Him thanks! And even more, the very lamb of God who takes away the sins of the cosmos, including Samaritan dogs, is before Him with Words of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
This leper’s sin-ravaged body, covered in bandaged sores, agrees with St. Paul, who later confessed—that all our works are nothing but filthy garments. Jesus had broken this Samaritan out of the prison house of doom, where death had royal scope and room. He healed the leper as a free gift, without any merit or worthiness in him. Jesus healed him because that’s what Jesus does. He has mercy on those whom He has mercy. Why would he go anywhere or to anyone else?
So, at this point, you’re asking: what does this have to do with me? Pastor, you’ve talked a lot about some dude almost 2000 years ago who had a great day. But I’m not a leper. I don’t follow the Levitical laws with all their particularity. I’m not a Samaritan who knows nothing of the true God. I’m not on the road to Jerusalem or living an isolated life because of my illness.
But are you so sure? Have you come to church today to offer the requisite one-hour-and-a-half hour sacrifice, hoping it’s enough to appease an angry God? Are you still living by the flesh, held captive by all its passions and desires? Do you live as a free person? Do you live to trust in Jesus alone? Do your heart, mind, mouth, and hands know nothing but forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and love? Or is your life lived in fear and anxiety of the mockery and shame the world heaps on Christians? Is your tongue-tied, afraid to confess Jesus? Are you so worried about what your spouse, child, or coworker might say if you dare to forgive them in Jesus’ name?
The way sin breaks out into our lives sometimes rises to the surface of the skin. Sometimes it’s obvious to ourselves and those around us, or as St. Paul said, “The works of the flesh are evident.” And sometimes, the heart’s corruption is disguised under the illusion of religiosity and goodness. It doesn’t matter in the end whether you are obviously corrupt or you’ve managed to hide it from everyone. That’s what Moses was given to do from Mount Sinai, to accuse and expose your sin, that you’d confess and return to Jesus. And now that the Law has done its job, there is only Gospel.
As Simon Peter confessed, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:63). Jesus is here today to heal you and set you free from sins’ captivity. “I forgive you!” is His declarative Word, repeating the once-and-for-all promise of your Baptism. You are God’s own child, joined to Jesus. You are washed clean in His atoning blood. His righteousness is your clothing, untouched by leprosy. You are brought into His home, where nothing can ever separate you from His love.
Your sins are forgiven. You are healed. You are set free. You are given to live in love, mercy, and peace both here in His Church and in the world. You have His Spirit who works in you what Moses, the Levitical law, not even the Ten Commandments could ever do. He brings you now into a life that is far better than you can even imagine. We can hardly even fathom what a life full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But that’s what your life is now and eternally in Jesus. So, “Rise and go your way. Your faith [in Jesus] has saved you.”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin