The Lord HAS Mercy!
Text: Luke 17:11-19
Proper 23, C
In the late morning sunshine ten men stand by the side of the road looking at one another in hesitation and confusion. A little nothing road, by a nothing town in a nowhere part of the world. The men standing there in confusion are themselves less than nothing - forgotten ones and outcasts. Nobodies they might be, but stupid they are not. It may all be a joke … he could be toying with them like so many others before … but then again … Looking at one another's disfigured faces, one shrugs his shoulders, another looks down the road, and as a group they begin to shuffle away. As they settle into a pace that will take them many miles another of them can't help but think again about what has just happened.
A runner had come through the town's gates early that morning shouting that the Rabbi Jesus was on his way. From their ramshackle camp outside the town these lepers had nearly cried for joy. Was this not the very man who had helped out others just like themselves? Maybe he could do the same for them. But only if he could see and hear them over the crowds that followed. Easier said than done. Not only were they forbidden from getting too close, leprosy was cruel in that it stole a person's voice from them. Out of sight, and out of hearing. Quickly they gathered together as many as they could. A group would be easier to see and maybe just, easier to hear.
As they tried to find a suitable spot by the side of the road the words of the priests spoken years before rang coldly in each man's ear. "The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, `Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp." (Lev. 13:45-46)
But that morning, the little leper colony burst forth with a life it hadn't seen in many a year. But then the dreadful wait. The minutes had gone by painfully slow. Would he really come? Would he see and hear them? Would he help them? No one else had. The world around them had turned a deaf ear to their plight. Every one of them knew what it was like to be ignored and reviled. Caught between two worlds. Each one was a member of the living dead. Everything in life had been stripped from them yet death was slow in coming. And there was not one thing their scarred and bandaged hands could do about either.
But this Jesus, they said, had the hands of a healer. Hands strong to save even the likes of them. That's what they said anyway. And then the fateful moment arrived and their hopes choked in their throats. The noise and the dust of the crowd was overwhelming. Hundreds of people were thundering down the road behind this Rabbi and his small band. There were cries for help. There was laughter and music. There were hundreds of strong healthy voices raised in hundreds of garbled conversations. Even if this Jesus wanted to help them, he would never hear them – never even know they needed him.
As the others had cast their eyes to the ground, some even retreating in the face of so many, he had stepped up and done the unthinkable. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Again and again he called out. The others stopped their retreat and emboldened, had joined in. Still it was not enough. They could barely hear themselves. And yet, this Jesus stopped. And the crowds stopped. His ears were open to their cries and he saw them. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
And then the strangest moment of them all. He had looked straight at them, met their eyes with his. And with a strong, vital voice – the very voice of authority itself – he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." Just like that. Just as if they were already healed - even though they plainly weren't. It wasn't much to see. There was no flash or bang, no spectacular proofs of God's hand at work. It was all rather dull and more than a little confusing. But something in that Word – that answer to their plea - demanded they listen. And so now they find themselves on the road to Jerusalem, and the temple, and the priests. And the man shudders to himself. He is a Samaritan, and does not particularly like the thought of going where he is not welcome.
And in his shudder he is brought out of his deep thoughts and notices that the others have stopped. They are excited. They are flinging bandages everywhere. They are looking at themselves and each other with more and more wonder in their brightly beaming faces. Faces completely healed of all disease. Clean hands are slapping clean backs. Voices made whole join in the cry “We are healed, we are healed! Quickly there is only one thing to do ...”
Only minutes later, by the gates of that little nothing town a lone Samaritan, once a nobody, drops to the ground before Jesus the Master. And in a strong, healthy voice he shouts forth in praise and thanksgiving for the one who has answered his plea for mercy. The others could not wait to go ahead, but there will be time to see the priests later. First must come the gratitude and thanksgiving. He alone, among the group was lead to see by faith the giver who answered their prayer and not just the gift given. The Lord and Saviour has indeed had mercy upon him. His prayers have been answered and his life restored. He is worthy of a whole life of praise!
Jump ahead some two thousand years. This same Jesus is still Lord, still answering prayers and restoring lives. This same Jesus is still being praised by some, but mostly ignored by others – even those to whom so much has been given. Many of God's own beloved children get so wrapped up in the gifts that they forget the one who gave them in answer to prayer.
A group of people of all ages, from all walks of life sits out of sight, and out of hearing of the vast majority of the world around them. Each can tell a heart-breaking tale of pain and suffering. Each one knows full well what it means to be forgotten, an outcast. Some have suffered the loss of family, others the loss of health. Some have never fit in very well. Others still have a desperate need to know that the future will be alright, or at least get a little easier.
The only thing they seem to have in common are the questions they all share as they gather once again. Will he really come this time? Will he see and hear them? Will he help them where no one else has – where no one else can? Every one of them knows what it is like to caught between two worlds.
And so the first song they sing together in their service of liturgy is the Kyrie. “Lord have mercy” we cry out from voices weakened by sin, and sorrow, by worries and fears. “Lord have mercy” we pray. Lord help us in all our necessities and troubles. Grant us -peace -salvation -bless the whole world -the church of God -give lasting unity to believers -be with this congregation -these people -help, save, comfort, and defend us. Kyrie Elieson. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."
And Jesus still hears and answers. His ears are open to our cries, and his eyes see our situation. Jesus still has mercy even though we don't deserve it. For his hands are strong to save. They are hands that bring healing. They are the very hands once pierced upon the cross to bring us peace. An act of unparalleled mercy, from which all good gifts are extended. The giver is himself the gift. His hands rest upon us, as an answer to every cry for help. They are hands that bring Faith, Forgiveness, Eternal Life, Salvation, and a heavenly meaning to all that besets us.
But the way in which he goes about answering our prayer is often overlooked. For as our service moves from the Kyrie, our cries are answered in His Word, and in the Sacrament. It is never much to see. There is no flash or bang, no spectacular proofs of God's hand at work. It often seems rather dull and more than a little confusing. But something in that Word – bears listening to. God's answer to our prayer is a promise full of vitality, and all authority. It is a promise that does indeed change lives. Get up, your faith has made you well. In God's Word, In Baptism and in the Lord's Supper, the Lord indeed comes among us and answers our pleas. In the Word and the Sacraments you receive God's mercy.
It is the very thing for which we show our gratitude and give thanks and praise when our last liturgical response is the singing of the post-communion canticle. Our prayers for mercy have indeed been answered, and Jesus has once again brought peace and life through His Holy Word, through His very Body and Blood. Our faith has been built up, and We have been made whole again. We have been healed, and there is peace between us and heaven.
This morning, dear friends, let us not be like the nine, but rather the one, and lift up our voices with all gratitude and remember the giver of the gifts. "Thank the Lord and sing His praise, tell everyone what He has done. Let all who seek the Lord rejoice and proudly bear His name. He recalls His promises and leads His people forth in joy with shouts of thanksgiving. Alleluia, Alleluia."