...and then there was one.
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, September 18, 2022
“And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan”
EVER SINCE there were fingers and toes, one of our chiefest joys as little children was counting them and finding out there are five on one hand, and five on the other. The advanced student of fingers and toes finds out that five on the one hand adds to the five on the other to make ten. And after mastering the art of counting up from one to ten, we get to graduate-level studies in the science of the countdown.
It was a real gift to be a child in the space age. Children today are deprived of that pleasure of shouting “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – Blast off!” Every child in America felt the power of T minus 10 seconds, as the throbbing roar of Saturn boosters exploded while derricks and cranes by the towering column fell away as it rose in the Florida skies upon a mountain of smoke.
Numbers are magical, and they mean more than just cyphers. Ten is magical because I have ten of these (fingers). Ask any three-year-old how old she is, and three fingers shoot up as the exact number of the times she’s orbited the Sun. In fact, like a NASA cadet, she knows the very fraction beyond three orbits where her space travel stands at this moment.
Numbers mean something. They can be oranges in a bowl, or Apostles at dinner with Jesus, three crosses on a hill, four Gospel accounts, or the number of God’s in Israel. Numbers can be fightin’ words. Deny the Trinity, and you are not a Christian. Biblical numbers are charged with meaning. One is God’s number, as there is only One God. One means unity, as St. Paul writes there is only One Lord, One Baptism, One Father of us all. It means beginning, as the day when light was made. And one means sovereignty, for One God rules the world. Two may mean union and it may mean division, as with Jacob and Esau. Two witnesses establish a legal fact. Christ sent His disciples out by twos. Three are the Persons of the Trinity, divine perfection, and relationship—a society begins with three. Christ rested three days, and then arose.
Four is the number of creation, the world, God’s creative works: the four points on the compass, four winds, four great land masses, four seasons, four types of soil for the Sower. Five is the number of grace, God’s favor. Moses’ books number five. Six is the day of man’s creation, and symbolizes the fall. 66 is idolatry, and 666 is the number of Revelation’s beast, the incarnation of satanic evil.
Seven is a real magic number. Why are days of the week 7? Moon phases are seven-day quarters, spiritual perfection, the Holy Spirit flames. Eight is new birth, resurrection, begin again. 8 is a hoped-for number. Eight survived the Flood. Circumcision the eighth day. Nine are fruits of the Spirit, and we read them today in the Epistle: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.
Ten is Law and human order, earthly governance. Egypt suffered ten plagues, ten virgins show wisdom or foolishness, and there are ten clauses in the Lord’s Prayer. 12 says a divinely established government, the 12 tribes or 12 apostles. Twice twelve—24 means priesthood, elders before God’s throne. Forty means a test—as forty years wandering or forty days’ fast. Fifty is Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Ghost.
When Jesus used numbers, people listened and they enjoyed the symbols used, to contrast the good or the evil way. Jesus spoke with a band of ten lepers when traveling south to Jerusalem. Lepers stood apart from healthy people, draped in rags, festooned with small bells to warn children not to come near, crying out “unclean!” They were feared to be contagious, and more than that, they were cursed by God with a skin disease. It was His judgment on them, or so people felt. No one touched them. Jesus did, but that’s another story.
Jesus’ fame went out, and the people came in droves to hear Him, ask favors, and especially healing. The ten lepers came crying out to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus saw them and, His perception always keen, He set a test for them along with healing. Hebrew law, treating spirit and body together, made priests examine people for signs of leprosy to certify them either unclean or clean. Jesus told the lepers to seek a priest for certification. The question behind that was: Do the priests make you clean, or does God? And if God, then ask yourselves why do you come to me? If priests heal you, why don’t you go to them? It’s really very simple: What are you doing, asking a healing from Jesus except that you know where God is on earth, and God is in Him?
He wanted to show His fellow countrymen how enslaved they were to rules, rabbinical tradition, laws that govern well enough if God is just in heaven and we have to get along here on earth. But when the Kingdom of God has come, what need have we for conventions? He’s right here. Ask Him. Go to Him. Lay aside your routine and seek the One who is God on earth today. The people had two minds: and how often we see that. You have a Bible, but you check your horoscope just to be sure. People say rosaries, but when in real trouble, they call on Madam Ruby. Trust God with their souls, but drugs for the body. It’s not either/or, but our duplicity is turning away from God when it counts. Jesus walked here, yet after people were healed, they return to their old lives, unhealed in spirit, not truly whole.
“Go show yourselves to the priests,” He said, and the habituated Jews turned away and sought a priest. Walking and no doubt talking about how the Master hadn’t healed them, why He sent them away, one of them looked down at his poor hand and it wasn’t leprous anymore. He tore the bandages back and cried out, “Ahh! Look! My skin! My hand! Wait a minute.” He tore off the rags that hid his face and neck. “Look at me! What do you see?” They screamed at seeing his face clear and without a blemish. They all began to examine their lesions. One by one, they found no signs of leprosy. Jumping up and down, hugging each other, looking on each other for further proof of their healing, they knew for certain they had been touched by a miracle. Did they know it was God? Ten former lepers. The Jews kept on to find a priest, entrenched in their Judaism, but the Samaritan turned to God.
Ten lepers sought healing from Jesus, miracles were done by Him daily. Religiously, the nine Hebrews had their shame and degradation and certain death taken away, and their only thought was to get their certificate of health. They might return to family, loved ones, friends who were not allowed to touch them while they were diseased.
Ten lepers stumbled off, but nine of them continued to seek a priest after God touched and healed them. Then there was only one.
One. And He was a Samaritan. His religion was scorned by Jews. He would have no entrée with the priests. They would refuse to examine him, or certify him, for he was a foreigner, a mongrel. The leprosy of his racial difference to the Jews could not be healed, even by Jesus. Even his former mates would shun him now; now that they were Jews again in good standing. He realized that the bond of illness which had joined him to them had just been severed by health. It was a loss, but what he had gained was everything. The Man in the square had healed him. What if He were still there? He must go back and thank Him.
With a shout, the man returned and at the top of his voice he glorified God. He saw Jesus and ran to him, stripping off the old rags and showing Jesus his clear skin. He fell at Jesus’ feet, kissed the ends of His toes, and sobbed while panting out his thanks. “Thank you, thank you Master!”
Jesus always used a teachable moment, and asked the people, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? They were Jews, as you all are, and they believe in God. Why didn’t they return to give thanks? Is this the only one who recognizes the Kingdom of God on earth, this one you call a stranger? A great miracle: ten lepers are healed. But there was only one who remembered God who gave the miracle.”
Turning to the one, the only one thankful enough to return, Jesus said, “Get up, my friend. You can go on your way, your new way, in peace. Your faith—the faith you just showed so completely—has made you complete. Not just cleansed, but whole—nothing lacking, nothing alien, nothing wrong with you at all.”
Ten, nine, eight… human governments and religious systems can all count, and they count on this: that we will consider them to be in charge and fully able to take care of us. And it’s a lie. They were never meant for that. God alone can heal you, sometimes through the aid of doctors, sometimes through the prayers of a priest. But it’s God. Thank God. Give God the glory for every blessing you have, and you will be whole.
We count days in a month, months in a year, years of our lives. At one time, I could never envision living in the 21st century! Now I’ve had 21 sun-rides since that digit rolled over, as have you. But will we learn the lessons that are written in the sky, upon this blessed earth, deep in the sea? Survival is fine, and needs be: but we only survive until, unless we surrender our whole being to the One that made it all, made us, and makes us whole. Whole means One. Being whole, you will have all.