Luke 17:11–19 (NIV) 11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
My dear friends in Christ,
What would you do if someone gave you something incredibly rare? What would you do if someone handed you an envelope, and inside you found a piece of parchment with William Shakespeare’s original autograph (there are only six known copies)? Or, what if grandpa handed you an original 1933 St. Gaudens Double Eagle $20 gold coin (there is only one privately owned that survives and is worth more than seven million dollars)? What would you do?
What would you do if you had the chance to meet Jesus, and he did something uncommon and incredibly rare for you? In Luke 17 we find Jesus beginning his last, long journey to Jerusalem. In just a few short weeks, soldiers would slam a crown of thorns on his head, a scourge would tear into his back, and a hammer would drive nails into his hands and feet. His own Father would lay the condemning judgment of all the world’s sin on him.
Jesus approached a village near the border between Galilee and Samaria. Just as he was about to enter the village, ten men suffering from leprosy called out to him from a distance. Leprosy is uncommon today. Cases in the United States are extremely rare. Leprosy has been all but eradicated from most parts of the world; it is not something you see every day. In Jesus’ day, it was more common. In Jesus’ day, a person who suffered from leprosy would be forced to live far away from other people in what were called leper colonies. There they would slowly die an excruciating death.
These lepers, though, had heard about Jesus. From a distance they cried out to him. Because one of the first places leprosy attacks is the vocal chords, it might have been hard for them to yell. Imagine these men with scratchy voices crying out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:13).
These men needed someone to have pity on them. Google leprosy sometime and look at the pictures. They’ll break your heart. In Jesus’ day some would have felt sorry for them too, but many would have simply looked down on them. They would have thought, “If God struck them with leprosy, they must have done something pretty terrible to deserve it.” Yet Jesus gave them something incredibly rare—he showed them uncommon mercy.
Remember, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to die. The weight of the world was on his shoulders. He had very important things to do. But that didn’t stop him from helping these men.
Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had shown uncommon mercy to another leper. On that occasion, he actually reached out and touched the man to heal him. In those days, that was unheard of. Lepers were extremely contagious. They were considered unclean. No one would go near them, let alone touch them. That didn’t stop Jesus. He told the ten lepers to show themselves to the priest. In those days, the priest was the one who would declare a person clean (or healthy) from leprosy. The priest would declare that person able to return to family, worship at the temple, and rejoin life in society. On the way to the priest, Jesus miraculously healed them. He didn’t just give them a few dollars or say a few sympathetic words. He changed their lives forever. He gave them a new life—a new beginning. He showed them uncommon mercy!
How does Jesus’ mercy compare with the mercy we show today? We may feel sorry for those who suffer, but what steps do we take to alleviate their suffering? Maybe we will spend some time and effort sharing food with the people of Haiti. Few of us, however, will leave our home and job and then fly to Haiti and volunteer right there in the middle of the action, helping change the lives of those suffering people. That kind of mercy is uncommon. When we see a homeless person on the corner, how many of us would invite them into our homes, provide a job, or spend a significant amount of time helping turn that person’s life around? That kind of mercy is uncommon. And that is the kind of mercy Jesus showed.
Jesus’ mercy wouldn’t stop there. He was about to suffer the punishment, the pain, the hell we deserve for our sins. His uncommon mercy stretched out to all people! Jesus kept on loving, kept on helping, kept on giving—something we rarely do.
A few years ago an individual stopped here at church. She told me that she was hungry and her family needed food. Our food shelf was overflowing at the time thanks to our teens’ efforts to collect food donations. I took her over to the shelves and told her that she could take as much as she wanted. She looked over all of the choices and said, “No thanks. There’s nothing here that we will eat.”
It’s easy to think, “Well, of all the ungrateful people!” Don’t we act the same way when it comes to the gifts that Jesus offers? We are ungrateful and complaining people who deserve nothing from Jesus—not material gifts, not spiritual gifts! Jesus showed us the greatest act of mercy ever by sacrificing everything to give us forgiveness and heaven. He suffered the whippings and beatings and mocking. He suffered the hellish punishment from his heavenly Father for our selfish sins that are all too common in each of us.
What do we do when Jesus gives us this incredibly rare gift—uncommon mercy? We keep on falling into foolish and selfish sins. We seldom thank Jesus like we should. Yes, there are times we remember to say or sing a quick, “Thank you.” But most of the time we take his love and mercy for granted. And then we dare to get upset and frustrated when he doesn’t give us everything we want, when we want it. In spite of all that, Jesus continues to forgive us, love us, and provide for us. That is uncommon mercy! Uncommon things are often extremely valuable. Think back to William Shakespeare’s autograph, or that rare coin. They are incredibly valuable, but we have something even greater. The uncommon mercy of our Savior is worth more than all the rarest possessions in the world. His uncommon mercy won heaven for us. His uncommon mercy shows itself in everything we have and everything we are.
When we receive something uncommon and rare, we might be speechless for a few moments. Wouldn’t such an incredible gift move us to express our thankfulness? “When Jesus saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests’” (Luke 17:14 NIV). As soon as they heard Jesus command, all ten of the lepers did what he said. “And as they went, they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14 NIV). Can we picture what it must have been like as the lepers went to the priest? Their joints no longer hurt. Their skin cleared up. Their voices returned. They were healed. Can’t you just see them pick up the pace and begin to run? But then one of them stopped in his tracks. “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:15–16 NIV).
We aren’t told anything more about the other nine. We can only assume that they too were thankful, at least to some extent. After all, they were healed from a painful, debilitating disease. Maybe some even considered going back to thank Jesus. It’s easy to see how they could get caught up in their homecoming celebrations and the excitement of their new lives and forget to say, “Thank you!”
Sound familiar? No? Consider this: we see other people suffer tragedies and loss. It makes us realize how blessed we are. We think to ourselves, “As soon as I get home, I am going to tell my children, my husband, my wife how much I love them. From now on, I am going to live each day as if it were my last.” But then a couple of hours pass. Life stays busy. By the time we get home, we forget to tell our family how much we love them. Nothing significantly changes.
Or sometimes we come to church and the message of Christ’s uncommon mercy moves us. We feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God. We may even say a prayer of thanks to him. We put a little more in the offering plate that Sunday to thank him. We think to ourselves about how we are going to change our lives—how from now on we are going to live for Jesus. We imagine all the changes we are going to make in our lives. But then we get home and the TV or the lawn or work distract us. Those feelings and thoughts quickly drift away. Nothing really changes.
Look again at the uncommon gratitude of that lone leper. He didn’t even make it to the priest. Jesus had told him to go but he couldn’t help it. He had to go back to the source. He had to thank his Savior and God. And he was a Samaritan. He wasn’t even from the Jewish nation. He didn’t have the benefit of growing up in the Jewish worship and temple life. But boy was he thankful! He wanted everyone to see—everyone to hear—what God had done for him.
We have the opportunity right now to show uncommon gratitude. Our gratitude isn’t a once a year, Thanksgiving Day gratitude. We already have the most priceless gift in the world! Right here, in Word and Sacrament, Jesus guarantees what people have searched for over the centuries—eternal life! Don’t settle for the easy thank you. Don’t settle for flippantly saying, “Oh, yeah, we’re blessed. We have a lot of things to be thankful for.” Follow Paul’s encouragement: “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20 NIV). Show uncommon gratitude. Let it show in how we worship here at church. Let it show at home and at school and at work. Let it show as we perform acts of uncommon mercy out there in the world.
In order to show this uncommon gratitude, revisit the uncommon mercy your Savior has shown each one of us. Every moment of Jesus’ life was filled with grace and truth. He loved the unlovable. He helped. He healed. He did that because we would so often fail to love and help and heal. In our lives he continues to show us love we don’t deserve, forgiving us, healing us, helping us in every trouble. In response to our Savior’s uncommon mercy, live an uncommonly grateful life! Amen.
To God alone the glory!
Sermon edited from 364 Days of Thanksgiving sermons by Andrew C. Schroer, © 2015 NPH.