Uncommon mercy leads to uncommon gratitude
Luke 17:11-19 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.”
Some things you don’t see every day: 1. a dwarf blue sheep (there are only about two hundred in existence), 2. William Shakespeare’s original autograph (there are only six known copies), and 3. an original Double Eagle $20 gold coin (there is only one left, which is privately owned and is worth more than seven million dollars).
All of those things are extremely rare. They are uncommon. This morning, as we begin a new sermon series on gratitude, we are going to see two other things we don’t see every day: 1. uncommon mercy and 2. uncommon gratitude.
In our Gospel lesson, we find Jesus beginning his last, long journey to Jerusalem. In just a few short weeks, a crown of thorns would be thrust upon his head, a scourge would tear into his back, and a hammer would drive nails into his hands and feet. The condemning judgment of all the world’s sin would be placed upon him.
As Jesus heads south to Jerusalem, he comes to a village near the border between Galilee and Samaria. Just as he is about to enter the village, ten men suffering from leprosy call 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.
But in Jesus’ day, it is more common. In Jesus’ day, a person who suffers from leprosy is forced to live far away from family and friends and everyone else in leper colonies. There the lepers slowly die an excruciating death.
Leprosy begins with small white patches on the eyelids and hands and then spread until the entire body is covered in white, shiny scales. Even a leper’s hair becomes bleached white. The disease slowly eats away from the surface of the leper’s skin into his tissues, his bone, joints and marrow. Slowly at first, and then with greater speed, his lips, nose, and ears thicken and become grotesque in the sight of others. His toes and fingers fall off one by one. The ability to speak is eventually taken away; followed by his vision and hearing. Slowly his body will cave in on itself until finally, at long last, a welcome death will release him.
These ten lepers have heard about Jesus. From a distance they yell out to him. Because one of the first places leprosy attacks is the vocal chords, it might have been hard for them to yell. And yet just imagine these men with scratchy voices crying out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
Jesus has more than pity on them. He shows them mercy. In fact, he shows them uncommon mercy.
Remember, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to die. The weight of the world is on his shoulders. He has very important things to do. But that doesn’t stop him from helping these men.
He tells 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 heals them. He doesn’t just give them a few dollars or say a few sympathetic platitudes. He changes their lives forever. He gives them a new life — a new beginning. The mercy he shows them is uncommon.
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 send a few dollars to help those suffering from Ebola in Africa. Few of us, however, will leave our home and job and then fly to Africa to volunteer to be in the middle of the action, helping change the lives of those suffering people. That kind of mercy is uncommon. Maybe we will give a few dollars or some food to a person who is down-and-out, but how many of us will invite that same down-and-out person 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.
Remember what Jesus was about to do. He was about to suffer the punishment, the pain, the hell we deserve for our sins. But this didn’t keep him from showing great mercy. Jesus kept on loving, kept on helping, kept on giving — something we rarely do.
For years, our members have donated food, clothing, school supplies and gift cards to help out needy families. It is extremely generous of all of you. I’m usually the one who receives the phone calls from people in the community asking for help. The person shares her story asking for financial help with rent or gas or a bus ticket. I explain that we don’t offer any financial assistance, but we would be happy to help with a bag or two of groceries. It is disheartening that as much as she said she is struggling, she turns down the groceries because she prefers cash. I’ve even had a few that charged us with being unloving for not helping with money.
It is hard to help ungrateful people who aren’t satisfied with the gifts that are offered to them.
The thing is, it isn’t just some of the people who call the church looking for help who are ungrateful. … It is also you and me. Jesus showed us the greatest act of charity ever by sacrificing everything to win for us forgiveness and heaven. He paid the price – not with gold or silver – but with his holy precious blood. He suffered the whippings and beatings and mocking. He suffered the hellish punishment of his heavenly Father for all of our selfish sins that are all too common in each of us.
And how do we so often respond? Every day we fall into the same stupid and selfish sins. We seldom thank Jesus like we should. We are not regular in praising him in worship. We are sporadic with our thank offerings to support his Gospel ministry. We are inconsistent with our efforts of reaching out to the lost. 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 have the gall to get upset and frustrated when he doesn’t give us everything we want, when we want it. In spite of all that, our God continues to forgive us, to love us, to show us charity. That is uncommon mercy!
The rarest baseball card in the world is a 1909 Honus Wagner T206 tobacco card. Only a handful exists. In 2007, a near-mint version of the card sold for $2.8 million. Uncommon things are often extremely valuable. The uncommon mercy of our Savior is worth more than all the rare baseball cards and coins and jewels of the world. His uncommon mercy won heaven for you. His uncommon mercy shows itself in everything you have and everything you are. We don’t deserve any of it.
And that’s why Jesus’ uncommon mercy deserves uncommon gratitude. After Jesus told the lepers to show themselves to the priest, all ten of the lepers left. Can you imagine what it must have been like as the lepers went to the priest? They notice their joints no longer hurt. Their skin clears up. Their voices return. They are healed. Can you see them pick up the pace and begin to run to the temple? But then one of them stop in his tracks. He turns around and runs back the way he came, praising God in a loud voice. He falls at Jesus’ feet and thanks him.
We aren’t told anything more about the other nine. We can only assume that they too were grateful. After all, they were healed from a painful, debilitating disease. Maybe some even considered going back to thank Jesus. But you can see how they could get too caught up in their homecoming celebrations and the excitement of their new lives. There is a difference between being grateful and verbalizing thanks
How often doesn’t that happen to us? After our spouse is spared after a heart attack, we are grateful. When the streets in another city erupt with violence, we are grateful we live where we do. We come to church and hear God’s message of uncommon mercy. We feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God for all his physical and spiritual gifts. 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 God. We imagine all the changes we are going to make. But then we get home and are distracted — by the TV or the lawn or work — and 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. He could have been arrested for that, 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.
My friends, don’t settle for just being grateful. Show uncommon gratitude. Let it show in how you worship here at church. Let it show in your offerings and gifts. Let it show at home and at school and at work and with your neighbor. Let it show as you perform acts of uncommon mercy out there in the world.
Show uncommon mercy because you have been shown uncommon mercy. Your Savior came from heaven to be laid in a manger for a sinner like you. The Son of God took on human flesh and blood in order to save you from your own sinful flesh. The Lord of life and death walked among the dying and dead – the lepers and lame, the caskets and tombs – to save you from the death you brought upon yourself. The perfect, sinless Lamb of God became the sacrifice on the altar of the cross in order to rescue from God’s justified wrath. Jesus has healed you from the leprosy of your sin. He has made you pure and holy in his sight through baptismal waters. He has united all of us so that we can once again join with our brothers and sisters in Christ in eating together at his holy supper.
Jesus has shown you uncommon mercy. Now he wants you to respond by living an uncommonly grateful life. Amen.