Read Sermon


The Ten Lepers

An address by Fr John Slater

01 September 2002 11:00 | Fr John Slater

I'm in danger of repeating myself today because our Gospel reading has close similarities with the story of the healing of the deaf man two Sundays ago. Once again, Jesus is at some distance from Judaism's homeland of Judaea and Jerusalem; he passes through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Many of those living in these regions would be followers of non-Jewish religions. So when Jesus meets ten lepers, the Gospel writer describes them as standing afar off. Well, of course, they were required by law to remain at some distance from other people because of the infectious character of their disease. We are told that at least one of the lepers was a Samaritan - someone who would be described by orthodox Jews as standing afar off also in a theological sense - cut off from the community of faith and from relationship to the one true God.

When they see Jesus they cry out, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. You don't need me to tell you how close that is to the petition which begins every celebration of the Christian Eucharist, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. In this cry we acknowledge that we are all, like the ten lepers, distanced from God by the way we have lived our lives. Karl Barth says all creation is a cry for mercy. And surely he is right when we look at the world's widespread poverty and violence and suffering.

Jesus says to the lepers, Go, shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. We can expand this terse description when we see that Jesus is telling the lepers that they are no longer outcasts. They no longer need to stand afar off; they can approach the priests who represent the community of faith. They are cleansed and so they belong among the people of God.

This too is part of our eucharistic worship. We recognise all that has cut us off from fellowship with God and with our fellow men and women. We cry, Lord have mercy, and we hear the words of forgiveness so that we can again draw near with faith and take this holy Sacrament to our comfort. It is a pity that we probably do not experience, as surely we should, the exhilaration which the lepers felt when they found themselves cleansed and healed - and so also restored to the life of their families and of the community.

And, of course, it is just one of the ten lepers who comes back to give thanks to God and to Jesus, and he is a Samaritan! Jesus asks, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. Last week I mentioned a number of the different groups into which the Jewish religion was divided at the time of Jesus. I didn't mention Samaritans because they are not strictly Jews. Samaritans survive in small numbers even today and are descended from those citizens of the old kingdom of Judah who did not go into exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC but remained in the land and intermarried with other racial groups. By the time of Jesus there was deep suspicion and even hatred between Jews and Samaritans, so we can feel the power of Jesus' words, There are not found to give glory to God, save this stranger.

The whole point about the history and vocation of the people of Israel was that they should be an example to other nations both in the goodness of their lives and in the purity of their worship of the one true God. And at the heart of worship is thanksgiving - for which, of course, the Greek word is Eucharist. Christians gather Sunday by Sunday to offer the eucharistic thanksgiving to God for our creation, our preservation and all the blessings of this life, but above all for the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace and for the hope of glory. Here, gathered together in the eucharistic assembly, we Christians are most truly ourselves, doing the very thing for which we were created.

Jesus' last words to the Samaritan leper are, Arise, go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole. As a Samaritan, this man does not belong by race to the People of God, but Jesus says to him that he belongs by faith. St Paul will develop this idea of the people of the New Covenant who belong not by race but by faith in Jesus Christ. And, of course, we are like the Samaritan leper - with no claim to the covenant by race and cut off from it by the ways we have shared in the wrongs of humanity. We too cry, Lord have mercy, and hear the words of forgiveness and healing. And like, this stranger, we come here to the altar of God to give thanks, to offer our eucharistic hymn of praise and worship.

Our liturgy will end with a blessing which might just be the words, Arise, go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole. With those words we are sent back into the mundane world to live and work during the coming week to the praise and glory of God. If you see someone standing afar off, try to be the one through whom that person finds the faith which will bring cleansing and restoration to fellowship with God and with the community.

Cookies used on this website
New EU legislation requires that all web sites clearly specify the presence of cookies and their purpose. Cookies are used to enhance the user experience. StGeorges uses Google Analytics to track activity on its site, helping to keep the site relevant and easier to use, via the use of these cookies . For an enhanced site experience, consumers will need to consent to the use of StGeorges cookies. A preference cookie, that will become available to you when you choose the ‘I agree’ button, will be a long-life cookie that will not automatically clear when you close the browser window. If you manually delete this cookie you will need to re-confirm your preferences every time you next visit this website, unless you choose accept the long life option.