Except This Foreigner (Luke 17)
1. This morning we begin our Gospel reading with one of the "travel notices" that Luke gives us about Jesus' final journey to Jerusalem. He's leaving Galilee and He's come along the border of Samaria. He meets ten lepers outside one of the villages dotting the border. To most people, they would have been a nuisance. But to Jesus, this was an opportunity to foreshadow His ultimate goal. It was a foreshadowing that ended with our Lord saying, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" (vv17-18). This foreigner, who no good Jew would even talk to, received a foreshadowing of Jesus' ultimate goal in His earthly ministry.
2. What is Jesus' ultimate goal? To display His victory over death. He has come into the world not only to offer Himself as a sacrifice but also to triumph over each of our enemies--sin, Satan and Hell. He came not to be some great example or moral teacher. He came to be the conquering hero that we needed to liberate us from these enemies. His death foreshadowed our death. Because He rose again from the dead, we too will rise again from the dead. We will rise because He rose. This we know will happen just as surely as this foreigner knew that Jesus had delivered him from his leprosy. This was Jesus' ultimate goal.
3. However, Jesus' goal is what made Him so disliked by the religious community. By the first century, all of the promises of the Messiah coming to liberate His people had been boiled down to liberating His people from their "felt needs". The greatest problem the Jewish establishment faced was the polite oppression of the Roman Empire. They wanted the Messiah to overthrow the tyranny of the Herodian family. They wanted the Messiah to overthrow Caesar's grip on the world and give it to them. They failed to see how Jesus hanging out with sinners and tax collectors was going to help Him overthrow the government. They failed to see that the Romans and the Herods weren't the real power in this world. The real power in this world is Satan. It was Satan's government and authority that had to be overthrown--not Rome and not Herod.
4. In order to do this, Jesus headed to Jerusalem. Luke records this journey beginning with the words, "When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem" (9:51). Jesus goes to Jerusalem to overthrow the government of Satan. The journey Jesus took from His home in Galilee to the Cross in Jerusalem is much like the journey our life takes as we continue to battle Satan's government and authority. Jesus battles Satan throughout His journey just as we battle Satan, the world and our sinful flesh throughout our lives. Jesus "set His face to go to Jerusalem" (9:51) as a sign that there was no other way to accomplish His goal of conquering Satan except dying on the Cross and rising from the dead.
5. On His way to Jerusalem, ten lepers cry out for mercy. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" (v13). The ten lepers address Jesus as "Master"--the only time in the Gospels where someone who is not one of the disciples calls him by this specific title. These ten men had no doubt heard about Jesus and His ability to cure people of their diseases. That was all they wanted. They wanted to be freed of their leprosy so that they can return to their families in the villages. They wanted to return to their normal lives. Jesus has mercy on them and instructs them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests" (v14a). He has mercy on them just as we pray He will have mercy on us in the Kyrie: "Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us" (LSB 228). The ten lepers go off to present themselves to the priest in town so that he may declare them clean. "[A]s they went they were cleansed" (v14b).
6. All ten lepers realized they were cleaned, but only one returns to give praise to God. Therefore we have the question from Jesus: "Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" (v18). Not only was this man previously a leper, but this man was a Samaritan. At best, a half-breed. At worst, descendants from other people displaced by one of the great world empires throughout the centuries since the Babylonian Captivity. This Samaritan was one that no Jew would socialize. We've seen how the Jewish establishment regarded the tax collectors and sinners. They regarded these Samaritans as even worse. Jesus even does so as a Samaritan woman begs Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus answers, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs" (Matthew 15:26). Samaritans suffered discrimination very often simply because of their ethnicity. Some things never change. But Jesus has mercy on even this foreigner--who in the eyes of the Jewish people didn't deserve anything. Some things never change either.
7. As we begin every Communion service, we confess that we are "poor, miserable sinners" (LSB 184). We see from our study of the Bible that we are sinful from conception. We are spiritually blind and dead. We are foreigners in the eyes of Jesus. In fact, we are worse than foreigners. We are enemies of God. Jesus considers us something far worse than the Jews considered the Samaritans. We are at war with Jesus even now because we want nothing more than to have our will accomplished. We want everything to go our way. We don't ask for mercy. We demand what we're due. The only problem is that eternal damnation is what we're due. But we see Jesus having mercy on us as He did the lepers.
8. Jesus comes to us--even when we're still His enemies--and makes us children of God. We, too, can call him "Master". As St. Paul reminds us, "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Jesus takes us from being enemies of God and makes us children of God. He does this the same way He showed mercy to the lepers. He cleansed each one of us in His victorious blood through the waters of Baptism. Through the washing of Baptism, the leprosy of our soul--our sin--has been cleansed. We have not only become the children of God, but Christ's mercy has given us also His victory. He conquered sin, death and the devil through His death and resurrection. So also, in our Baptism, we were buried with Him and raised to a new life as we went through the waters (Romans 6:4). We foreigners have been given the mercy of Christ.
9. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" (v13). That is the cry of the lepers. That is the cry of every Christian. God has been merciful to us foreigners so that we may conquer just as He conquered. One last quotation from St. Paul's letter to Rome: "[I]n all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (8:37-39). Amen.