There’s a distinction to make between the one and the nine. Obviously, we want to be the one and not the nine, but there’s a great difference between the two.
Now, there are a lot of distinctions to make in today’s Gospel lesson, but there’s only one that really matters.
Consider all the distinctions to be made in today’s Gospel lesson:
Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem, and He goes, uncomplaining forth and in our place, as the sacrifice for sin.
But just as He is on His way to Jerusalem, some would be on the way to Mount Gerizim.
Some are Galileans. And some, Samaritans.
For those who followed Jesus, those are important distinctions. Jews worshiped in Jerusalem, as was right. And those half-breed Samaritans foolishly and falsely worshiped on Mount Gerizim.
They made those distinctions.
Jesus is going along between Samaria and Galilee—here, not choosing a side—because He goes to Jerusalem to be crucified for all.
And there are more distinctions.
There are lepers and—what do you call “not lepers”? Normal people? How rude, right?
There are those who call Jesus “Master” and those who don’t.
There are priests and—what do you call “not priests”? Normal people? How fitting, right?
There are the cleansed and the unclean.
The healed and the sick.
And we read these distinctions with gladness, thanking God that He has made us different from other men.
We thank God that we’re not so foolish as to think that worship must occur at Jerusalem or Gerizim.
No—we’re more likely to think that our last name gives us super powers. The right last names have that quirk everywhere.
We thank God we’re not lepers—how terrible that would be.
But we’re even more glad we’ve not recently tested positive for something as bad for our reputation as COVID.
Because there are COVID positive people and then there are normal people. Now is that rude or fitting?
We thank God that we call Jesus Master.
But we don’t think about that any further lest we realize there are false gods we at least occasionally bow down to.
It’s Thanksgiving—so I’m trying to retain my normal cheerfulness. But—it’s Thanksgiving, which means everyone’s on edge.
Will the turkey be dry this year?
Did you use the right recipe?
Did mom really say that? Did grandpa?
How many false gods will we tiptoe around this year?
Is it fitting to think that Thanksgiving is about family? Perhaps the nine think so.
Or is it fitting to think that Thanksgiving is and ought to be about God, our very reason to be thankful.
Indeed, the one does.
Or—to avoid all the nonsense—are you following the suggested commands of our glorious overlords, the CDC and having a Thanksgiving-for-One sponsored by HotPocket.
Some thank God they’re priests.
Most thank God they’re not.
80% of the people are happy with that. Or 20%.
We don’t argue about being cleansed, I don’t think, and we should thank God for that.
But there are people who meet your expectations—and people who don’t—and that’s about the same.
We don’t argue about who is healed and who isn’t, thanks be to God!
But we take note when yours are and ours aren’t.
I’m not saying that every one of you makes every one of these distinctions, but the shallowness of American Christianity has taught us to think of our day and age as golden, an improvement over those judgmental Jews and Gentiles.
But really, these same distinctions are made among us every day.
And—none of these distinctions are what Jesus commends.
“One of [the lepers], when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has [saved you]’” (Luke 17:15-19).
And this is the type of faith that saves—
This is the distinction between the one and the nine—
The distinction Jesus wants you to know and believe and live—
There are those who worship God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There are those who call upon His name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
And there are those who don’t.
There isn’t a Jerusalem or a Gerizim, but there are idolized churches and churches to be scorned.
There isn’t a Samaria and a Galilee, but there is a Home team to root for and an Away team to despise.
And if a sports analogy doesn’t work there for you—there are schools to which you can send your kids and schools to which you should not.
Don’t read into that, I’m just saying that it’s true.
People take sides.
There aren’t really lepers anymore. Now they’re called homeless or addict or Democrat (or Republican—it depends on your family, I guess). They live together, scorned by man, and we love to hate them.
Plenty of Christians call Jesus Master.
So, that’s the same.
But plenty of look-alike Christians do, too.
So, that’s the same.
Cleansed or not—healed or not—priest or not—the distinction Jesus cares about is the broken and contrite heart that renders the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.
The one ex-leper turned back and praised God with a loud voice. There are those who unabashedly sing the straight truth of God—and there are those who don’t.
The one ex-leper fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.
Reverence in the presence of God matters.
He humbled himself physically, because he humbled himself period, giving Him thanks.
That the ex-leper is a Samaritan should shock us.
He’s on the wrong side of our distinctions. He’s the half-breed, homeless, addict, Democratic-Republican who worships in the wrong place. He’s not from here, not part of the community, he’s strange and doesn’t belong.
We would hate this guy for who he is.
And we would hate him even more for getting it right.
“Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18). Jesus didn’t say that because He was shocked. He said that because we’re shocked that faith can be found in people we don’t like.
That’s the point!
The distinction that matters is the contrite heart that renders the sacrifice of thanksgiving and calls on the name of the Lord.
I keep hearing about how bad a year 2020 has been.
Hearing about the ex-leper who seemed to immediately get everything he wanted from God might grate against our ears.
But Jesus healing the lepers doesn’t teach us to wait for our leprosy to be healed.
Your leprosy—mental, emotional, physical, whatever—may not be healed this side of the resurrection.
This miracle—and all the miracles—rather, shows us who fights for us.
And it is the Living God who fights for you.
When I point out that the distinction that matters is faith which trusts in Jesus—and thanks Him—that might grate against our ears, too.
“Thank Him? For this year?”
You think this year’s been bad?
Imagine if God withdrew His protection.
Considering all we know—we might reminisce next year about how great we had it this year.
You think you’re innocent of taking God’s love for granted?
How many of you are at all anxious about today?
Why? Does God love you less than He did?
In fact, He stands immovable in love.
Protecting you from worse. And giving you His best, His only-begotten.
What stands between the one and the nine is Jesus the Christ.
The nine get what they want and get out, and we’re always tempted to do the same.
The one gets what he wants—but his entire life is put on hold for one moment.
And in that one moment, he realizes that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
God kills. And God makes alive.
And this God stands between you and sin, death, and satan and says to all evil, “Thus far shall you come and no farther.”
There will never be a better year, a better day, than this one, because the Lord made it and used it to call you to Himself.
Praise to the Lord, who has fearfully, wondrously, made you, / Health has bestowed and, when heedlessly falling, has stayed you. / What need or grief / Ever has failed of relief? / Wings of His mercy did shade you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Thanksgiving Day, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt