This past week I met with a woman seeking pastoral counseling. We had met on a few previous occasions, but I had not seen her for several weeks. When I saw her this week, I asked her about a walking cast that I noticed on her left foot. She said that several weeks ago, she dropped something on her foot, it hurt as expected, but it seemed to improve within a few days, so she took no other action. She continued that after a couple of weeks the pain in her foot returned; only this time is was much worse than before and the pain would not go away. A visit to the podiatrist revealed that when she dropped that item on her foot she had broken a toe. Her toe had then healed but her toe did not heal well. The doctor explained that to heal well, he would need to do surgery, remove bone chips, implant a screw, and relocate tissue within her foot. She would be out of work for at least 6 weeks. She was learning that to heal is not the same as to heal well. The same is true of our spiritual life. Unless we are willing to face, see, and allow our spiritual life to be properly set, then we will never heal well from the effects of sin and will not be fully who God intends for us to be. That is the foundational message of our New Testament reading today. Jesus healed ten lepers but only one leper healed well. The joy of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is that each person would heal well. The joy of the church is that we would lead others to the source of healing and that we would bear witness to people healing well. To heal well requires an encounter with Jesus. Let’s turn to the next encounter with Jesus found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 17, starting at verse 11 and see how one man healed well.
“11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.” Samaria and Galilee were two parts of ancient Israel. The people of Galilee and Samaria despised each other, even though each group had a common set of ancient ancestors. They detested one another, even though the foundation of their religious beliefs were common. They avoided each other, even though the God they both worshipped said, “Love one another.” Jesus, a Jew from Galilee, heading to Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religious life, was threading his way along the border between two groups of people who despised, detested, and avoided one another. In doing so, Jesus was breaking the traditions of both the people of Galilee and Samaria.
“12 As he [Jesus] was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.” Those greeting Jesus outside the village are all men and our Gospel writer, Luke, a physician, tells his readers the men had leprosy. This is a skin disease that disfigures a person, causing them to lose fingers, toes, and tips of ears and noses. To Luke’s original readers, leprosy was thought to be moral consequence; meaning they believed the men had done something wrong and now were being punished by God with this disease. The Jews and Samaritans would agree on one thing; these ten men are not welcomed by the Jews or the Samaritans.
“They [the ten men with leprosy] stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’” Most Bible translations have it that the ten cried out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” I think the word mercy fits better here. The welcoming committee said in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Understanding mercy is essential to our understanding of God. Jesus told his followers, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” If we are to be merciful, what is mercy? There are several things to consider but for today let’s consider three things about mercy that come from the Bible.
- Mercy is action. You cannot extend mercy while sitting in bed or in your favorite chair watching television. The men with leprosy called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” The men were calling on Jesus to act. Mercy is action.
- Mercy is essential to the recipient. The person seeking or in need of mercy cannot fix the problem on their own and the problem threatens their existence. If someone comes to you and says, “Please fix my broken shoelace,” and you do, then you have been kind but not merciful. The broken shoelace could have been fixed by that person on their own and even if it was not fixed a broken shoelace does not threaten their existence. The men with leprosy called out to Jesus for mercy because none of them could fix leprosy on their own and the disease would eventually take their life. Mercy is essential to the recipient.
- Mercy is a choice. Mercy cannot be compelled by moral code or law. No one can order that mercy be granted because then it is not mercy, it is simply following an order. The men encountering Jesus did not say, “Jesus, you are required to help us, now do it!” Instead, they said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They were saying, “Jesus, please, choose you grant us the gift of mercy!”
Mercy is an action. Mercy is essential to the recipient. Mercy is a choice. Understanding mercy in this way helps understand God and how he has chosen to treat us. To follow Christ and be merciful means we must choose to act on behalf of someone ways that are essential to their lives. This is the reason we spend as much time as we do to understand our local missions. Mission is action. Mission is a choice. Our local missions extend kindness to all and mercy to some. Blessed are those who act and choice to serve the essential needs of others.
The ten men said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” “14 When he [Jesus] saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’” Jesus saw the condition of these men. He understood their needs. He understood the men could not solve their problems on their own. So, Jesus chose to act by giving the ten men a simple instruction, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Jesus’ action expressed only by words does not seem particularly merciful, do they? “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Where is the mercy in words? What we learn is mercy is in the words but not yet. For this encounter with Jesus shows us that for mercy to be mercy, it must be received.
Allow me to give you a practical illustration of mercy that was not received. In 1829, a Pennsylvania man named George Wilson, together with an accomplice, robbed a mail carrier, endangering the mail carrier's life in the process. Both men were soon captured, brought to trial, and found guilty. Both were sentenced to be hanged. The accomplice was hanged in 1830, but Wilson had influential friends who acted on his behalf. They got the attention of President Andrew Jackson, who granted Wilson a pardon. This is mercy. However, George Wilson, refused the pardon; he refused mercy. After some court proceedings about what to do in this matter, US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall concluded, “A pardon is an act of grace; and when such a pardon is delivered to someone, delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tender; and if it were rejected, then there was no power in a court to force it on.” So George Wilson was hanged -- even though mercy was extended to him. He just refused to receive it.
Jesus extended mercy to the ten lepers and said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” They asked for mercy, Jesus acted, and now the ten must accept the mercy offered in faith. The Bible said, “And as they [the ten men with leprosy] went [to the priests], they were cleansed.” The ten were healed because in faith they followed Jesus words and in doing so, unlocked the power of mercy those words contained. The ten men received mercy from Jesus, were healed of their physical disease by receiving mercy and acting in faith, were on their way to share their good news first with the priests and then with their families. Now the story could just end there and everyone would be happy but if it did we might not know the difference between healing and healing well. If the story ended there we would not know the full measure of God’s mercy.
Luke wrote, “15 One of them [the ten who had leprosy], when he saw he was healed, came back [to where Jesus was], praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.” Ten men accepted mercy; all were healed. Nine men went in one direction, the direction the priests, the direction of their traditions, and they never looked back. One man saw his healed body, changed his direction, and chose a new direction for his life. This one man realized that he was running away from a man who by word alone had healed his body. The man realized he was running away from God. The man turned and went in the direction of the reality of the present and the possibilities of the future. He went toward Jesus, the Son of God.
The man knew in that instant that his physical body had been restored but that to be in the presence of God meant so much more than physical healing. To be in the presence of God was something he did not want to miss. So, the man joyfully and fearfully threw himself down before Jesus and praised God like he had never done before.
Now, people have been running away from God since creation itself. When the man and woman disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, they ran away from God and hid. Why? They were afraid of God believing he was a God without mercy. God sent Jonah to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. Johan ran away from God and went hundreds of miles in the other direction. Why? He knew God was merciful and did not think the people of Nineveh deserved God’s mercy. People today run away from God today for all kinds of reasons. Why? They do not want God’s mercy because they do not believe they need God. They enjoy their own traditions. They run away from God because they are angry and disappointed that God did not do what they wanted. They run away from God because they believe God would reject them and they could not handle one more rejection in life. The reasons for running away from God are legion. How about you? Are you, or part of you, still running away from God? If so, why?
The Samaritan man understood he must not run away from God and so he fell at Jesus’ feet. “17 Jesus asked aloud to his disciples, to others who witnessed this encounter, and to the man at his feet, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? [No one answered.] Where are the other nine? [No one answered.] 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” [No one answered.] Jesus moved his audience by the numbers. Ten cleansed, nine hurried back to their old life, and only one came to embrace and praise God for his new life. Here, in this moment, one man saw that God sent Jesus into the world. He saw God’s saving and merciful action in sending Jesus.
Now, Jesus had one final instruction, one final act for this man at his feet. In verse 19, Jesus said to this man, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” The man was not just healed but he was healed well. The body of the man who had leprosy was healed but more importantly Jesus healed the man’s soul giving him eternal life with God. Rather than be at Jesus feet for a moment in time, the man would be at Jesus’ feet for all of time. The man was healed well. Because he was healed well, Jesus commissioned the man to do the work of God; to talk about the mercy of God. Jesus said, “Rise and go.”
Each of us can be healed well and know with boldness and great confidence that God is with us and we are with him. Just before his death, Jesus prayed these words for you and me. “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” Jesus through the giving of his life granted you and me mercy giving us abundant life now and eternal life always. But we need to accept his mercy. In accepting Jesus’ mercy, we will heal well. In our healing, Jesus will walk with us and commission us with these words, “Rise and go.” Are you healed well? If you are not sure of the answer to that question, let’s talk. If you are healed well, then “rise and go.” Let us pray.