Luke 17:11-19: Christ’s Uncommon Mercy

Most of us don’t stumble over rare artifacts since they are, well, rare; sometimes, one of a kind.  Some of you into specialized hobbies may.  Perhaps Denny Villwok handled a rare musket or Nancy, our organist, played on a historic, well-piped organ. 

Either way, don’t think you’re unlucky, for each Christian experiences the rarest thing of all.  Consider today’s reading from Luke.  On Jesus’ last journey, we find Him walking to Jerusalem.  In a few weeks, a Roman whip will slice into His back, and a hammer will drive nails into His hands and feet.  A wreath of thorns will cut into His head, a crowning achievement of mockery, but the worst will remain unseen by human eyes: The condemning judgment of all the world’s sin as His singular burden to bear.

So, as Jesus heads south toward Jerusalem, He comes to a village near the border between Galilee and Samaria.  Ready to enter, He spots ten men suffering from leprosy, segregated from others, calling out to Him.

In the US, leprosy only exists in our history textbooks and Scripture.  Today, all but eradicated from most parts of the world, few suffer from its ravages.  Not so in Jesus’ day, where leprosy struck down entire families and villages.  So those with this infection lived in mandated quarantine from the uninfected, forming “leper colonies.”

Most people who become infected don’t show any symptoms of leprosy for at least a year.  In some cases, 5 to 7 years may pass before signs develop.  The delay caused panic, forcing someone to join a leper colony as soon as the disease became apparent.  These lepers survived in isolation, as deformities of toes, fingers, feet, and hands worsened.  A slow, excruciating death awaited all with this sickness.

In today’s Gospel, a colony of lepers began to overflow with hope after news of a man, Jesus, trickled their way.  From a distance, they call out as they perceive the clamor of Him passing by.  Now, since leprosy attacks the vocal cords, yelling is hard for them.  Still, they mustered all their strength, striving to pierce the air with their cry.  Rough-sounding and raspy words leave their lips, “Jesus, show us mercy” (Luke 17:13).

Today, we can sorrow for these tormented people.  In those days, people also became sad because of this affliction.  Most viewed lepers as a scourge with a contagious, incurable disease while everyone did their best trying to avoid them.  No one wants this disease to shorten and ruin their lives.  Unsure of the disease’s origin, others believed God afflicted someone with leprosy because of some sin he committed.

The sickness forced people into a quarantined life—not only for the sake of your family but all the people around you.  The contagion demanded this on all who didn’t want to become contaminated.  Now, we understand the context, which unveils Jesus’ actions toward them as not only remarkable but also rare.  To these untouchables, Jesus reveals more than mercy, such as tossing a scrap of bread for them to eat. 

Remember, our Lord is traveling to die on a cross as a forsaken criminal.  The sin of the world now weighs heavier on His shoulders, and He must complete this task.  All will be for nothing if Jesus doesn’t die to pay for our sins to satisfy God’s holy Law. 

Still, He takes time to serve these diseased and disfigured men.  How?  By showing such irregular compassion, perhaps bizarre, for some lepers, which reaches out to heal them.  In those days, this was unheard of, for no one went near them, lest he also became infected.

Not so with Jesus, who told the ten lepers to go to the priest.  Why?  Only a priest can declare a person clean from leprosy.  After examining a former leper, the priest will report him as fit to return home, worship within God’s Temple, and rejoin society. 

On the way to the Temple, Jesus heals them.  Like only He can do, He gives them a new life and a fresh beginning.  The mercy He demonstrates is most uncommon.

How does the compassion of Christ compare with what we show toward others?  Oh, we may experience sadness for those who suffer, but what steps do we take to alleviate their suffering?  Perhaps, we might send some money to ease another’s pain, but few of us leave our comfort zones to improve the lives of another.  Such mercy is uncommon, which is the undeserved and undiminished kindness Jesus showed.

Be aware of where the God in human flesh is going—His death.  Soon, He will suffer the effects of sin in our place.  Still, this harrowing task doesn’t stop Him from showing exceptional mercy.  So, we glimpse who Jesus is, who keeps on loving, serving, and giving—something not as evident in us as should be for those who live in Christ Jesus.

For the last several years during Advent, we put an angel tree in our foyer.  The tree to help us help others in need.  Most of the time, people are grateful for what they receive, but one person always thinks he deserves what belongs to another.  So, some don’t appreciate their gifts while others gripe and complain about them.  No one likes giving to someone ungrateful, who believe they are entitled to something.

Here’s the truth—we’re the ungrateful person, deserving no gift Jesus gives us—not material or spiritual!  Still, He carried out the ultimate act of giving, sacrificing everything to win, for us, forgiveness and eternal life. 

How do we so often respond?  Every day, we fall into the same selfish sins.  Seldom do we thank Christ as we should, recalling on occasion to mumble a quick, “Thank you.”  All too often, we take His love and mercy for granted.  Worse, we become upset and frustrated when He doesn’t give us what we want.  Still, God endures to love, forgive, and show us charity, granting us a grace so seldom seen!

Scarce items are often valuable, whether a priceless musket with historical significance or a well-crafted organ from centuries ago.  The singular mercy of our Savior is worth more than anything this world can offer.  The Lord’s generous and matchless mercy earned eternity for you, revealing itself even in what you own, manage, and everything you are.  Guess what, we don’t deserve any of this.

Yes, Jesus’ incomparable mercy deserves a proper and corresponding response of gratitude.  After He told the lepers to show themselves to the designated priest, all ten of them left.  Soon, their joints stopped aching, fingers returned, skin became firm and clear, and voices regained their vigor. 

Yes, they all realize Jesus cured them, but one of them is different.  Only this one stops in his tracks and turns around and runs back to his Healer.  In a loud voice, he praises God and falls at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him.

The other nine remain a mystery.  To some degree, we can assume those former lepers are thankful, as well.  Didn’t Jesus cure them of a painful, debilitating disease?  Yes!  Perhaps, some of them contemplated going back to express their thanks, but something else distracted or prevented them.

How often does this happen to you?  Reflect on how we respond to other people suffering tragedies and loss, again realizing how blessed you are.  Thankful to be alive, you insist, “Soon as I’m home, I’m going to tell my family how much I love them.  From now on, I’ll live each day as a gift from God.”

A couple of hours pass and the busyness of daily life takes over.  After arriving home, you forget to call your family and share what they mean to you.  So nothing changes.  Other times, you come to church, and the message of Christ’s surprising mercy moves you.  A grateful attitude fills you.  So, you say a prayer of thanks or put a little more in the offering plate to thank Him. 

Perhaps, we think about how we’re going to change our lives.  From now on, we’ll live for God.  In our minds, we imagine all the changes we’re going to make.  Soon, we step in the house and are distracted by the TV or a noonday nap.  Those resolute feelings and thoughts wisp away like the morning dew in the desert heat.  Again, nothing is different, and all remains the same.

Gaze upon the uncommon gratitude of the lone leper.  In thanksgiving, he delayed his trip to visit the priest because he couldn’t stop himself.  Back to the Source, he went, thanking his Lord and God.

The different leper differed in another way, being a Samaritan, not a Jew.  So, he didn’t grow up benefiting from the forgiveness God gave to His people at His holy House.  Nevertheless, he is thankful, expressing with joy what God did for him.

Don’t settle for the convenient “thank you” while your hands remain unthankful and unmoved.  Don’t forget that you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ for virtuous deeds, which God prepared to be your way of life (Ephesians 2:10).  Show your gratitude, not only in your worship of God but also by your acts of mercy in the world.

To do this requires you to revisit the unique mercy your Redeemer showed and shows you.  In each moment of His life, He displayed love, as He helped and healed others.  Why?  All because you and I so often fail to do the same. 

In your life, Christ continues to demonstrate the love you don’t merit, forgiving, restoring, and helping you in your every trouble.  What’s left to do since Jesus did all for you?  Only to give what you’re given, gracing others with your Savior’s uncommon mercy as you live an uncommonly grateful life.  Amen.