But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation,
a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…
(1 St. Peter 2. 9)
You might be wondering this morning how exactly I plan to weave the words just quoted from St. Peter’s first Epistle into this morning’s lections. St. Peter seems to be speaking of something rather grand, elevated, and regal, or of a reality that is radically other than the sordid business found in today’s Gospel. He talks of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. He speaks, in other words, of a world that seems light-years away from the one we have just read about. For there we are reading about a leper colony, a sordid space of slowly suffocating spoilage, corruption, and decomposition. There we discover a sign and symbol of sin and its punishment and a spiritual sadness far removed from the truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s good life. Over and against St. Peter’s vision of the glorious life to come, we find ourselves in a reality that still reeks of suffering and sadness. But Jesus is the master artisan who can buttress the gap, unite the two, and so enable us to move from the one to the other. Jesus has a funny way of showing us that what we thought were mutually exclusive and radically opposed conditions of existence, end up being essentially interdependent and united moments on the way to His glory. Jesus will show us this morning, that the chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, a peculiar people is the destiny and fate of thankful lepers.
Jesus is on His way to peopling His holy nation with a chosen generation and a royal priesthood. Today we read that it came to pass, as Jesus went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. (St. Luke xvii. 11) Jesus is passing through the middle divide of two distinct and different cultures. The one is full of Samaritans and the other full of Jews. In neither place will He find the conditions suitable to His spiritual work. Neither those on the left nor those on the right seem much interested in the healing and salvation that He longs to impart. Both the Jews and Samaritans were consumed with worldly idols and false gods; their pretense to bits and pieces of knowledge add up to vanity and vexation of spirit. Jesus knows that the road to the kingdom must drive straight through man’s side shows and welcome him on to the road of salvation. And that road is peopled by those who need and desire what He has come down from Heaven to bring.
And as He entered into a certain village, there met Him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. (St. Luke xvii. 12, 13) Leprosy in the ancient world was viewed as a spiritual sickness which earned the infected exile from the city of man. Its physical manifestations were deemed so hideously horrific by healthy men, that it was judged a sign of punishment for sins, both by the God of the Jews and the Samaritans. The leprous were unwelcome in both communities, and so lived on the borders of both as aliens to all. And it is into the midst of one such group that Jesus travels this morning. We meet them because Jesus chose not to take the common and safer route for Jews making pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, but to go through the midst of the more dangerous border country. Jesus chooses, in other words, to travel through no man’s land in the middle of enemies to teach us about the nature of the road that leads to His kingdom. These alienated and shunned lepers stand on the outskirts of two villages and cultures, and they cry out for help to the one alone whom they trust will hear their plea. They can find help neither from the Jews on the right nor from the Gentiles on the left. They are desperate and powerless. They are shunned and abandoned. They are companions in a disease that seeks a common cure. Their disease is so debilitating that together they long for the healing power of God. So, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, they do have hope that a healer is at hand, and so in earnest they seek to extort the benefit. (Comm.Par. 262) And so they cry, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. (St. Luke xvii 13)
And when He saw them, He said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. (Lev. 14.1-32) And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) The healing of the lepers needs no human touch but on the Word of God alone. The lepers’ faith rises up in swift obedience to Christ the Word. Knowing that earthly medicines can make them no better and deprived of the milk of human kindness, their hearts hope only for what might come from the Word of the Lord. They believe and trust Jesus and so obey His command. They do not ask when and where they will be healed. Neither do they ask how? They do not so much as ask if they will be healed. In fact, they question none of it at all! They obey and then follow. They have enough faith in Jesus’ command that they are led by the Spirit. An outward and visible spiritual disease has destroyed their bodies and now they cry from the ground of a fragile but present faith. For them, Jesus’ Word and Spirit alone are enough. Go shew yourselves unto the priests is trusted inwardly and followed outwardly. Thus, we read, that as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) Notice that nothing more was needed for the healing of their bodies. The men were physically healed and so they continued on towards the temple. But is this the end of the matter? Is this miracle about healing the physical disease of leprosy alone? Does this miracle teach us that faith and obedience, going to the temple to show ourselves to the priest to offer sacrifices for healing was all that Christ intended?
No. What is clear from the miracle that we read about this morning is that this process of healing that Jesus inaugurates is indeed about much more than the healing of the body. We read of one man who alone turns back to lead us into the truth. He is the one whose cure has startled his conscience and shaken his heart. Far from experiencing only the effects of a new lease on living, this man perceives that a greater power has touched his soul. For there he felt most deeply the pain of alienation from all other men, and thus from that place that Jesus has reached him. It was from here too that he would have felt alienation from the Nine others, all Jews, whose temple he was commanded to enter. There in his soul, he had felt the pain and, perhaps, the fear of God most acutely. This one who had healed him was sending him with the Jews to their temple. Salvation is of the Jews. (St. John iv. 22) Was he destined for that salvation too? With wonder and awe, he begins to believe that Jesus is the author of it. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. (St. Luke xvii 15,16) This man was a Samaritan, an alien and stranger to Israel’s promises.
He alone turns round to the one who is the fulfillment of Israel’s promises. He not only turns back, but he glorifies God. He not only praises God but falls down at the feet of the One who was drawing him into Israel’s salvation. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. (St. Luke xvii 17,18) To this stranger alone Israel’s salvation seems less strange. This stranger believes that he has found the Saviour. His faith and obedience believe Jesus not because of what He did but because of what He said. His heart is enlarged and his soul now fills with thanks for the love and power of the Giver. His healing moves up from his body to his soul. Jesus knows his transformation and with not a little joy says Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Luke xvii 19) This man, alone, amongst the ten, will forsake all and follow Jesus.
The question that we ask ourselves this morning, is, where do I find myself in this morning’s Gospel miracle? Am I am one of the ten lepers? The ten lepers are really an image of a chosen generation or those marked out specially for God’s healing in Jesus Christ. The lepers are called to become members of a royal priesthood. Is this not to be comprised of those who, with St. Paul in this morning’s Epistle, walk in the Spirit [who] shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh? (Gal. v. 16) Is it not to be made up of those who, like the Samaritan Leper, are led of the Spirit and are not under the Law of sin and death? The other nine lepers are consumed with fleshly healing alone. This one man is moved to discover the salvation of the Spirit that Jesus brings. This man alone has found that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance in Jesus Christ who has healed him! Like him, can we sense that we all are Samaritanswho need the love of Jesus who will save all cultures and races? Like him, can we perceive the longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness that bears with us and calls us into salvation? Like him, can we see in Jesus the meekness and temperance that waits for us to turn round and give God the Glory in Him? Like him, can we apprehend the joy and peace that greet us when we realize who Jesus is and what he wants for us?
My friends, today we remember that we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. (Idem) We must pray for that faith, hope, and charity that makes the good Samaritan chosen, royal, holy, peculiar and distinct from the Nine other lepers. We must pray to obtain what [Christ] promises because we have loved what He dost command. (Collect Trinity XIV) Today’s good Samaritan has obeyed and come to love what Christ commanded because he obtained not fleshly healing but the conversion of his soul.
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