Today, Jesus rebukes the nine who appear to listen to Him—and He commends the one who, at least at first, doesn’t listen to Him.
Did you catch that?
As He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee, as He entered a village, Jesus was met by ten lepers who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (cf. Luke 17:11-13).
And, when Jesus saw them, He said to all of them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
Each of them. All of them.
But then—one of them—when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he worshipped Jesus and gave Him thanks.
Then, Jesus answered—and here’s the rebuke to the nine—Jesus says: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Then—Jesus said to the one: “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (cf. Luke 17:14-19).
To the nine who apparently did exactly what Jesus said, Jesus speaks a harsh rebuke: “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Then—to the one who, at least at first, apparently did not do exactly what Jesus said—to him, the rebuke of the nine is as a commendation: this one was found, he did return, and he did give praise to God.
So why does Jesus rebuke the nine who appeared to do exactly what He commanded?
And why does Jesus commend the one who seemingly did not do exactly what He commanded?
It might help to ask those questions differently.
So how about this:
In doing exactly what Jesus commands, by the letter, what do the nine not do?
And—in doing seemingly exactly not what Jesus commands, what does the one do?
Jesus gives the answer.
The nine did not return to give praise to God.
The one did.
So what does this mean?
Consider how God cares for you.
He doesn’t just care for you at church one day a week but throughout the week—awake, asleep, whether you’re in a good mood or not.
We pray and confess this in the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer—“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).
God gives the bread that we need for this body and life to all, even evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
So there’s the daily bread and the giving of thanks.
God gives us each day our daily bread.
But how does the Christian give thanks?
How has the Church traditionally, regularly, routinely, habitually—meet, right, and salutarily—thanked God for all His benefits?
The one-hundred and sixteenth psalm has it this way:
“What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem” (cf. Psalm 116:12-13, 17-19).
Line by line, how does the psalm teach us to render thanks unto the Lord?
I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, that is, I will set aside time for worship and devote my time to study of His Word. Giving thanks is a sacrifice of your time.
I will take the cup of salvation, that is, as often as I need it, as often as it’s offered for my great need of it, I will seek out the cup of salvation and drink of it all of you.
I will call on the name of the Lord, that is, where the Lord promises to be present for my benefit, there, I will be.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house.
That is, after laboring for six days and receiving each day his daily bread, the Christian goes to church.
Or—if we say it the way St. Luke records it:
He turns back to God…
Returns to praise God with a loud voice…
Falls on his face at Jesus’ feet—he worships Jesus…
And gives Him thanks.
All ten are healed.
All ten receive their daily bread from God.
But to only the one does Jesus say, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (cf. Luke 17:19; Greek New Testament).
“Your faith has ‘made you well’” is neither a literal translation nor a good one, because faith may notactually “make you well” if it’s understood only in outer, earthly terms—like being cleansed of leprosy.
The word Jesus uses here is not the word for being made well or being healed. It’s the word for salvation: “Your faith has saved you,” He says.
I don’t mean that the one man is saved because he returns. It’s not his returning, his going, or his accepting that saves him—though His going, returning, and accepting is good.
Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.”
So—by the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, he’s saved.
His victory has been won.
This is true for him—and true for all who will be saved.
“For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
But look at what this saving faith produces: he cannot but turn from his way, return to God, worship God where God is found for him, and give Him thanks.
So—today—we need to understand this:
Jesus rebukes the nine who appear to do exactly what He says because they lack faith. They’re more interested in how the world views them—what they would gain after showing themselves to the priests and being restored to the community.
And—Jesus commends the one who does not immediately do exactly what He says because of the faith the man has that recognizes Jesus Christ as Lord.
What God says about you is more important than what the whole rest of the world says about you.
The nine receive their daily bread and are content to rejoin society. When the dust of their leprosy settles, they care more about what others say than what God says.
The one receives his daily bread and must—before going back into the world—he must turn from his way, return to God, worship, and give thanks.
The time is coming—and is now here—when you’ll be tempted to care more about what the world says than what God says.
I’m not talking about how many booster shots you’ve had or how many masks you wear when you cross county or state lines.
I’m talking about whether or not the Christian is prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, to take arms against a whole sea of troubles.
How does our Proverb have it?
“Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life…Incline your ear to my sayings [so writes Solomon]. Keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from [wisdom of God] flow the springs of life” (cf. Proverbs 4:10-23).
Do you keep hold of instruction? Do you not let go of it? Do you guard instruction as though it is your life?
Or is your time too important, your pride too large, and your heart too hard?
And how writes St. Paul?
“Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (cf. Galatians 5:16-24).
Do you walk by the Spirit? Or do you gratify the desires of the flesh? Do you know what it is to crucify the flesh? Do you make the attempt?
Or will you tomorrow—the next time—or after you move the goalposts again?
If we speak only in generalities, it can be easy to agree with everything the Bible says.
But when the Word of God, applied in your daily life, requires you to say no to something you’d like to say yes to…
Or when the Word of God, rightly divided, causes a crisis of conscience at which you must choose this day whom you will serve…(cf. Joshua 24:14-15).
Or if your friends or family draw you from the faith—or try to—to fool you into following some cleverly devised myth…
Remember and have as your example not the nine who called out to Jesus, received their bread and what they wanted with joy, but did not turn, return, or give thanks to God.
They have their reward in full, and it’s fleeting.
Rather, remember and have as your example the one who called out to Jesus, received his daily bread with joy, and—against the want and will of the world—turned from his way, returned to the Lord, praised God with a loud voice, worshipped Jesus, and gave thanks.
His reward is forever.
His victory is won.
And so is yours.
What Jesus says to the one, He says to each and every one of you: “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt