Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.
What’s the loudest event you’ve been to lately? Was it a ballgame, a concert, a family dinner, a party? I ask because I read an article this week about the incredibly strange way that the employees at Yahoo, the Internet provider company, chose to celebrate their 20-year business anniversary. They had a group yodel. And not just any group yodel. They gathered over 3,000 employees at their California headquarters and had everyone participate in a 1-minute yodel. I don’t know about you, but for people who have hearing sensitivities, that would be the longest one minute of their lives. The Yahoo folks didn’t just do this for fun. They were trying to set a world record. They succeeded. In 2015, they were awarded the Guinness World Record for “Largest Group Yodel.” Today, that record still stands.
A lot of us get loud when we’re having fun. But we generally know when to tone it down. I was surprised about a story that came out of Seattle a few years ago about a man who sued the Seattle Mariners baseball team because he was asked to quiet down his cheering.
This guy paid $32,000 for “Diamond Club” season tickets just a few rows behind the Mariners’ home plate. Players and other fans claim that his yelling was so loud and obnoxious that it interfered with their ability to concentrate or enjoy the game. And it wasn’t just his yelling. He also makes loud crying noises at batters who argue with the umpire, and yells at short players to stand up!
His yelling became so disruptive that the team’s Executive Vice President called and asked him to either tone it down or move to another section farther away from the team. In response, he sued the team for violating his freedom of speech. He asked the judge for monetary damages, a guarantee that his season tickets wouldn’t be taken away, and a guarantee that he wouldn’t be ejected from any games. I couldn’t find anything online about what happened with his lawsuit.
As I read through the stories of Jesus’ life, I notice how often He’s surrounded by noise. Throughout His ministry, large crowds were following Him. If you’ve ever tried to shush a large crowd of people, you know you’re probably just wasting your breath. But I also notice how many people in the Bible stories yell for Jesus’ attention. If you want to get a lot of attention, there’s no faster route than making a lot of noise.
But so many people who yelled for Jesus’ attention were people who weren’t a part of what we would consider normal society. The sick, the demon-possessed, the sinners, and the rejects. So, we try to keep them out of our social circles, or even out of our churches. That’s how it was in Jesus’ day. When society decides you should be invisible, you don’t have a voice, and you’re left with two choices: disappear, or get very loud. So that’s the strategy a group of lepers used in our Bible story today. Let’s see how it worked out for them.
Our lesson begins, “on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” Let me stop right there for a moment. Luke begins this story in a very specific way with a very specific reason. The people hearing this story in Jesus’ day would’ve been surprised to hear that Jesus took this route. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which was near Galilee.
Most of Jesus’ ministry took place in the region of Galilee. But sometimes Jesus went rogue. At least in the eyes of the religious establishment. The resentment between the Jews and the Samaritans goes back at least 700 years before Jesus’ birth, when the Assyrians conquered the Jewish city of Samaria. Marriage between the pagan Assyrians and the Samaritan Jews led to changes in the way that Samaritans practiced their faith. Samaritans were considered impure, heretics, sinners to be avoided at all costs. In Jesus’ day, staunch Jews avoided Samaria. They deliberately planned their trips to go around that area, not through it.
But Jesus did go there. He went exactly to the people and the places that everyone else avoided. Why? Because Jesus loves those whom the world rejects. He loves those who are at the fringes of society. Remember Jesus’ first public sermon was in His hometown synagogue (Luke 4:16-30) and it came from the book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus never hid His agenda. He didn’t care what the religious establishment said, or what would make Him popular with the crowds. He cared about bringing God’s love to everyone. And He didn’t wait for anyone to come to Him. No, Jesus went outside His stomping grounds, into the “bad neighborhoods” to find the people who needed to see that love in the flesh.
Singer and songwriter Rich Mullins could have made a lot of money and gained fame in the Christian music industry. He wrote best-selling songs for some of the top Christian singers in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. He could’ve had a comfortable life as a Christian celebrity. But instead of seeking fame and attention, Mullins gave away most of his money, shunned the spotlight, and dedicated the last years of his life to teaching music to children on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Tragically, Rich died in a car accident in 1997 at the age of forty-two.
In 1996, while performing at a Christian music festival in Kentucky, a fan asked Mullins if God had called him to the Navajo reservation to share his faith and convert the Native Americans. Mullins responded, no, I think I just got tired of a White, Evangelical, middle-class perspective on God, and I thought I’d have more luck finding Christ among the Pagan Navajos.
Jesus, revealed to us the very heart of God, loves those whom the world rejects. The folks standing on the margins of society. The sick. The invisible. The “sinners.” The rejects. Jesus didn’t just see them. He went looking for them. Which tells me that those ten men with leprosy didn’t have to yell at Jesus. And neither do we. He already knows our need.
As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, Jesus, Master, have pity on us! When He saw them, He said, Go, show yourselves to the priests. And as they went, they were cleansed.”
Another thing we get from this passage: Jesus, God in the flesh, loves to show mercy to those who are hurting. That word translated “mercy” in verse 13 also means “pity” or “compassion.” There are seven examples in the Gospels, in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in which people come to Jesus and ask for mercy. And in every instance, 7 out of 7, Jesus responded. He never turned them away. That’s the whole reason He was walking along the border between Galilee and Samaria in the first place: because He knew someone there needed mercy, and the Healer goes to where the hurting are.
Until you’ve suffered, until you’ve been cut off from the life and hope you used to know, you can’t appreciate the mercy of God. There are only two instances in the Gospels where people hesitated to approach Jesus: the woman who was hemorrhaging blood who reached out to touch the border of Jesus’ robe (Luke 8: 43-48) and Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who was despised by the Jewish believers (Luke 19: 1-10). In the first case, Jesus saw the woman, spoke to her, and, of course, healed her. In the second instance, Jesus approached Zacchaeus and invited Himself to lunch. In both cases, Jesus came up to them and offered them mercy. Even when they didn’t ask for it. Even when they didn’t know that they needed it. Jesus, God in the flesh, loves to show mercy to those who are hurting.
And that brings us to the final insight we get from today’s story: the ultimate goal of Jesus’ mercy is our salvation. As the ten lepers were on their way to the see the priests, they discovered they had been healed. Let’s read the end of this story, starting with verse 15: One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner? Then He said to him, rise and go; your faith has made you well.
In verse 14, as the ten lepers were on their way to see the priests, they were “cleansed” of their leprosy. In verse 15, the one leper who returned did so because he saw that he had been “healed” or “cured.” But in verse 19, when that one Samaritan leper returned with loud praises and threw himself at Jesus’ feet, Jesus used a very different Greek word to describe his condition. When Jesus says, rise and go; your faith has made you well, He uses a verb that means saved, delivered, or made whole. Yes, Jesus’ mercy can cleanse us. It can even heal us. But ultimately, Jesus’ mercy is intended to save us, deliver us and make us whole.
We withhold mercy from one another, don’t we? Even in the church, we struggle to see others the way God sees us. But Jesus makes God’s character and God’s priorities crystal clear. He loved those whom the world rejects. He loved to show mercy to those who are hurting. And the ultimate goal of His mercy is our salvation and wholeness. If you’re hurting, trust in God’s mercy. Please don’t be afraid to approach Jesus to ask Him. You don’t have to yell. Jesus’ mercy is available to everyone, and He’s waiting to make you whole.