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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Maybe you’ve heard of “convert zeal.” You’ve probably seen it: someone joins something, or is converted to something, or becomes convinced of something, and they are very excited about whatever it is, because they’ve discovered it for the first time. They’re very zealous. They’re very eager to talk about the thing that they’ve joined or been convinced of. On the other hand, those who have grown up within it, who have known it for a long time or for their whole lives, they—sometimes, perhaps—take it for granted. They assume it. It’s just the air they breathe. It’s like the water in which the fish swim. They barely take conscious notice of it. It’s a little harder to get them excited about the thing, whether it’s religion or something else.
It could be something like that that is happening here between the one and the nine. There are ten lepers, and they are all standing far off, as the law required. They are supposed to call out, “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45). And they are standing far away, and yelling toward Jesus, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests. The priests are the ones who are supposed to examine and decide whether a person is clean or unclean, whether the leprosy is ongoing or has stopped.
Earlier in the Gospel, in Luke 5, Jesus had healed another leper. That man had come and fallen down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can cleanse me.” Jesus said, “I am willing; be cleansed. Go show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifice that Moses commanded, as a testimony to the priests that you have been cleansed” (Luke 5:12-14). Here, He doesn’t say all that. He doesn’t talk about being cleansed or healed. He simply says, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they are on their way to the temple, they are healed, cleansed of their leprosy.
When they’re cleansed, one of them returns to where Jesus is. All of them are cleansed; one realizes where the cleansing has come from, even though Jesus didn’t say it. He comes back praising God in a loud voice, trained by the experience as a leper, and he, too, falls down at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Praising God and thanking Jesus. The only God this man sees is standing there before him.
Jesus says, “Weren’t ten healed? Where are the other nine? Has no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” This one who is “other-born.” Because not only is he a leper, cut off from the people of God and the worshiping assembly of Israel, he is also a Samaritan, not part of Israel at all. Two strikes against him already. But while the nine take it for granted that they should go show themselves to the priests, this man doesn’t take anything for granted. His is the zeal of the convert, the excitement of one who has no place by right or by birth, but now he has a place because it has been granted to him by the cleansing Lord.
So this convert, this cleansed one, he reminds us who have long been part of the people of God, who have been born into the body of Christ by baptism, to remember our praise of God and our thanksgiving to Jesus. We are reminded that everything we have is a gift from God, undeserved blessing from our heavenly Father. For all of this, it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him (Small Catechism, Explanation to the First Article of the Creed). The zeal of the convert may put us to shame, but let it be a reminder to follow his pattern of return and thanksgiving.
He has no place by right or birth. He is a leper and a Samaritan. Sort of like a Moabite. Sort of like Ruth. She was from Moab, and under the law of God, she—like a leper—could not be part of the worshiping assembly of God, nor part of Israel. Moabites were not to be included among the people of God, because they refused to give bread and water and rest to Israel as they left Egypt. And they hired Balaam the prophet to curse Israel. Even to the tenth generation, none of them were to enter the congregation of God’s people forever. But, God said, I have turned the curse into a blessing for you (Deuteronomy 23:3-6).
Indeed, Ruth had no place by birth or right. But Boaz appears, Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer, and he marries Ruth. He redeems Naomi’s land and, by extension, gives her back her offspring by the child born to him and Ruth. And right at the end of Ruth, there is a genealogy. It is a ten-generation genealogy, ending in David. So not only does Boaz bring Ruth into the people of God, she becomes part of Jesus’ own genealogy.
Lepers and Samaritans and Moabites have no place, but Jesus redeems and cleanses them. The Bridegroom comes to gather His bride, the Church, cleansing her by water and the word, to present her holy and blameless before God. And we are reminded by them to give praise and thanks to our God in Christ. More than that, we are reminded that we, too, had no place by right or by birth. Paul says that we Gentiles, the uncircumcision, had no more place among the people of God than lepers or Moabites did. We were far away, perhaps calling from a distance, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us! We had no hope and were without God in the world.
But then Jesus appears, taking our flesh to redeem us as our kinsman. We were far off from Him, but He comes near. He makes one people in His own body, by His own death and resurrection. In His own flesh, He cleanses us and joins us to His own family, His own body, His own life. We have nothing by right or birth, only by gift and only through faith. It’s all gift! All of the blessings of body and soul, of this life and eternal life, of now and forever, it’s all undeserved gift. And what is there to do or give to Him, but to return in praise and thanksgiving? This is the rhythm of the people of God: He gives and we give thanks. Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God! It is meet and right so to do! Jesus Himself gives thanks, and says, “Take and eat, this is My body.” He gives thanks and says, “Take and drink, this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Indeed, people of God, it is truly meet, right, and salutary to give thanks to our God at all times and in all places through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven to laud and magnify His Name, praising Him forever. Take nothing for granted and take it all for gift! We are cleansed forever, joined to Jesus forever, giving thanks and praise to Him forever.
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, 10/11/19