St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, September 10, 2023
“Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”
EVERY CHILD that enters elementary education has come to terms with our numbering system in base ten. Base ten means that the digits zero through nine start an endless pattern that is repeated as you count upward, and there are no other integers. We base our entire mathematics on a system of tens, but why? Why ten and not twelve? Why not seven? How was it decided that ten would be the turning point, where we would place a one before a zero and start over? You might look down at your hands, or take off your shoes and socks and discover the answer. There is something about ten that is native to us.
God can count in any numerical base. And there are other systems. The most important today is binomial, the basis for our digital world. Base two means you simply turn it on or off - 011001. Add many of these binomials up in bits and bytes, and you get a single letter, or a color that you read or see or hear. Our world reflects with dualities we can easily recognize: day and night, male and female, right and wrong, good and bad, up and down, in and out, etc.
Our God exists in base three. Add one and two and three and four. That’s ten. One God, two natures of Christ, Three Persons of the Trinity, four evangelists or four points on the compass equal ten. Ten Commandments. Our Lord’s Prayer’s ten phrases, the tithe comprised of a tenth of all gained, Jesus said I AM of Himself ten times in St. John’s Gospel, ten parables of the Kingdom in St. Matthew, ten virgins, ten generations from Adam to the Flood. Ten fingers, ten toes, and ten lepers who came to Jesus one day seeking mercy, and maybe a healing.
Jesus traveled His country on foot, passing through every kind of neighborhood on His way. He didn’t avoid people when He did, and often He came upon humble rejects who sat and begged for food, who longed for health, who had given up doing for themselves. Did Jesus ever give them money or food? The pittance they asked for survival but remain a beggar? I can’t remember His merely being charitable—He always healed them. He might ask what they wanted, and because of His reputation, they asked the longing of their hearts: “That I might receive my sight, that my son be delivered of a devil, that I might walk again.” If they didn’t ask, He asked them, “Do you want to walk?”
This day, from Galilee toward Samaria, Jesus passed through a village where ten lepers had their place to sit and beg. Lepers were not to have physical contact with the healthy people for fear of transmitting their disease. From a distance, they called to Jesus for mercy. It doesn’t say they asked for healing. He granted them more than they bargained for, and He sent them to the priests. They were to be examined for leprosy. The priests in Israel held the authority to declare sickness or health in skin diseases. If the priest certified you clean, you were clean. “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” said Jesus. On their way they found themselves healed.
Leprosy is an infection that, if left untreated, can cause blindness and loss of appendages. The nerves stop sending pain signals to the brain, so injuries are not tended, with more infection and loss. Today it’s entirely treatable and curable, but not in Christ’s day. Their cure would have given these ten sudden feeling in the parts of them that were restored. They stopped, realized the change, and examined one another.
One of the ten was perplexed. As a Samaritan, he couldn’t ask a priest to certify him. He was an outcast without his ailment. What was he to do, even now that his sickness was cured? There was only one thing, and he did it. He rushed back through town and found the man he knew was the cause of his joy. Calling out to Jesus, he fell at His feet to worship Him. “Thank you, my lord, praise you, my God! I bless you, Nazarene! You have made my life a blessing! God in heaven be praised!”
Jesus looked down upon the grateful man, recognizing in his clothing a Samaritan. Samaritans were mixed Jewish and Assyrian, with a mixed up religion that was neither fish nor foul. Jews had nothing to do with them. Jesus counted the only man with faith to return and give thanks. “Were there not ten cleansed,” He asked. “But where are the nine? Couldn’t any of them return to give God His glory except this foreigner?” Jesus did the math. One of ten, and this man the only one who was not of the children of Israel. I sense disappointment in our Lord. The children of Israel had been given so much, perhaps too much, from God. They grew complacent, they considered grace their due. The Law was sufficient. The nine would go to the priest, be certified, live their normal lives again as good Jews. Ironically, from this day forward, although they had shared their illness with him, these Jews would no longer share their lives with the Samaritan. Judged clean, they would be clean of him.
His eyes, not blinded by conceit and entitlement, found a way back to the One. Jesus told him, “Arise my friend, and travel your path in peace. Your faith is what has made you whole again.” The man’s faith was in God and in Jesus. He had completed the path to salvation.
Jesus comes to this world and becomes a man. He dies for the world’s salvation. Not just for you and me. His blood was human, shed on this earth to cleanse us all. All are cleansed. The ten lepers are the entire population of our world: one plus two plus three plus four. Every man, woman and child who ever lived was cleansed on that day, the day of the cross, and then sent forth to see if the healing was true.
We all live with the question: Am I okay? Can I be what I am and still be accepted by God? What must I perform, who can I see, where do I go, how can I deserve salvation? We long for it, yearn in our inner beings, and know that this world does not hold the answer in itself. There has to be more. Our eyes are met with the answers of this world: possessions, stronger muscles, leaner bodies, faster cars, chic clothes, pleasures and passions and people-skills and money. Solomon tried all of that 3,000 years ago. He wrote it up. The wisest king of his era said: all is vanity, a mere chasing after wind. You’ll die and a fool will inherit all of it.
Am I okay? What can I do for God to accept me? It’s the wrong question, though we are bound to ask it. Finding out who Jesus is, and what He did, we should understand that He answered this by being born among us. He does accept us. He comes to bring us a kind of peace we can’t achieve by ourselves, peace on earth and peace with God. He died and rose to life so that sin and death is conquered. Sin is no longer our problem. The leprosy of our race is healed. We are no longer unclean.
Does sin still exist, then? Of course, it does. Sin is anything that separates us from God. St. Paul figured it out. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us… neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8:35-39 Paul’s point is that we have been given God. We have been made whole. He did that to ten lepers, so He has done it for you.
Sin still separates us from God. It isn’t His doing. The separation is what we do. He heals, we call ourselves unclean. He forgives, we condemn ourselves. He awakens us, we keep falling back to sleep. He gives us true spiritual feeling, we try to numb our spiritual nerves using the old method of pleasure for the moment.
At any point, we can turn back to Jesus. It’s not when we have it all figured out. It’s not a belief system. It’s not knowing the right people. It’s not behaving in such and such a way. It’s not religious language. Drop the pretense. You’ve been very sick, and now you’ve been made well. Just go back and thank the man who healed you. It’s so simple you never even thought of it.
The world has been forgiven. Sin is no longer the question. Nine lepers didn’t figure that out. Leprosy was no longer their problem, but they submitted to the whole program: see the priest, get the certificate, buy new clothes, go see the family… their identity now was as former lepers, recovered lepers. It’s like the alcoholic who must go thirty years to AA and say, “My name is Fred, I’m an alcoholic.” That works to break the code of silence, to stop the lie. Someday he’ll just be happy Fred.
I’m Simon, and I’m a leper. I’m Peter, and I’m a sinner. I’m Frank, and I’m an adulterer. I’m Phyllis, and I’m a thief. I’m Sylvester, and I’m a drug dealer. Do we need these markers anymore to define ourselves? We stay stuck to sins that no longer plague us.
I’m Jacob, a Samaritan, and I only want to thank you, Jesus. I praise God! You declared His healing, and He has healed me! Thank God! Thank You!
This is walking in the Spirit. You no longer define yourself by your sins, but by the grace of God given to you for your soul’s health. Your testimony can count the failings of your former life, certainly. That gives God glory. But do not glory in the sins; glory in the God who washed you clean from sin, two thousand years ago.
Ten were healed, but only one gained faith, and in his faith, he was made truly whole. This man was not only healthy, he was saved. You are not only forgiven, you are kings and queens, priests of a new temple not made with hands, citizens of a better country, sons and daughters of God. Now give unending thanks to God.