If we wanted to write a headline for a picture of Jesus healing ten lepers, perhaps the most appropriate headline would be from Psalm 50: Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Today’s Holy Gospel is a history of this verse. The lepers obeyed Jesus’ command and called on Him for help in their distress. The Lord fulfilled the second part of the verse from Psalm 50 and helped them. Yet only one of the ten, a Samaritan, kept the third part by glorifying Christ. The other nine rewarded their heavenly benefactor with ingratitude.
The pagan philosopher Seneca once said “Nothing so soon grows stale as a favor.” You do something for someone and they might thank you. Maybe. If you’re lucky. The courtesy of writing a thank you note to someone seems to have gone out of style, let alone even saying “Thank you” to someone. Everything is an entitlement. Everyone owes me something, but I owe them nothing in return. Even you show no gratitude, whether receiving help from your neighbor or from God Himself.
The lepers called upon God in their day of trouble. They lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Their flesh was literally rotting alive on their bones. They had no human association. There was no cure for leprosy. They took refuge among their own. Their only hope was to cry out to Jesus for help.
Jesus is our only help from every distress. We are afflicted with the leprosy of sin. Sin is an abomination before God. Sin expels us from heaven. We are guilty of eternal condemnation. We are also afflicted with disease, hunger, thirst, nakedness, sorrow, even death. There is only one person who is able to help, no matter the size or the nastiness of sins.
God’s mercy in Jesus Christ is much greater than sin. King David was an adulterer. Peter denied Christ. Paul persecuted Christians. Mary Magdalene may have been a prostitute. Lot lived in one of the most profane cities on earth. Moses was caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. Peter was rescued from prison under persecution for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If God helped the saints of the Old and New Testament from far worse predicaments than ours, how much more will He help us out of so-called “first world problems”?
God will deliver you. The lepers experienced Jesus’ help. When Jesus saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Help came not in an instant, but gradually, as they went to the priests. The Lord asks them to show themselves to the priests in order to test their obedience and their faith in Him.
Help is certain. God cannot lie. Scripture is full of promises and examples of how God hears the plight of His people. The Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Eliphaz the Temanite tells Job: He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you. James says in his epistle: Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
The thing about how the Lord helps is that His help may not come when and where you want it to come. The Syrophoenician woman begging Jesus in Matthew chapter 15 shows that our Lord may tarry, but He will help. God tests and exercises our faith and our patience by these delays of His help. He arouses zeal to pray and reminds us Who is in charge. As the author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes: Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.
All ten lepers ought to thank the Lord. Only one does, and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asks: Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Where are you? Where am I? We might thank God for the big stuff. Yet for the day-to-day things for which we pray, rarely does a prayer of gratitude leap from our lips.
The Samaritan teaches us a lesson in gratitude. He’s the last person you would think would return to give thanks to Jesus. The Samaritan should take the healing and run. He’s less than nobody. He’s a half-breed mutt who is not fit to stand in the presence of God, let alone the presence of any observant Jew. Yet here he is, falling down before Jesus worshiping Him. The Samaritan embodies the last verse of Psalm 50: The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!
There’s the slap in the face. The Samaritan should never see the salvation of God. Yet he puts all of us to shame by merely showing gratitude for being healed from leprosy. Where are the nine? Where are you? Where am I? We’re running to the priests as we were told. We don’t realize the Great High Priest is right there before us, showing mercy just as we asked. The dirty foreigner sees it. The home team misses it.
Yet Jesus does not miss us. He forgives our ingratitude. He forgives our unbelief. Even when we don’t know what we’re doing, He forgives. The Word stands before us: Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. God runs the verbs. Don’t call upon anyone else but Him. He is the only One Who is able to deliver you. In return, you shall glorify Him for all He has done both bodily and spiritually.
Even when you ought not to be saved from everlasting death, Jesus still saves you, as He does the ten lepers, one of whom was a Samaritan. The Word of healing goes forth to all even today from pulpits like this one. Jesus’ Word says that You are free. Your leprosy of sin is gone. You are my precious child. I wash you, I feed you, I put My words in your mouth so you are able to thank and praise Me for what I do for you. Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.