“And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”
The setting of St. Luke’s Gospel is a long journey to Jerusalem. And along the way Jesus moved in and out of Jewish territory, teaching, healing and casting out demons. It is the way his disciples would carry on with his ministry after his ascension. In the Book of Acts we have the account of Philip entering a city of Samaria, preaching Christ, healing the people and casting out demons. According to that account, “there was great joy in that city” because of the work of Philip. It is not unreasonable to suppose that some of the Samaritans in those cities recalled that only a handful of years back, Jesus Christ himself entered their cities preaching the Kingdom of God, healing folk, and freeing them from the work of the devil. One would expect that some had been healed or freed from demonic possession by Christ himself. Jesus worked so many miracles in his short ministry that St. John put a disclaimer at the end of his Gospel where he stated that had he recorded all of Jesus’ mighty acts the world could not contain the books that feat would require. And yet when Philip went through Samaria not one word is recorded that indicates the people there remembered Jesus Christ.
We assume that a person who has experienced a healing or some great miracle from Jesus would naturally be saved for good and therefore would follow him for the rest of their life. I have certainly made this assumption. I have assumed that those who were healed by Christ would have constituted the original Church in Jerusalem after Pentecost. But my assumptions were wrong. It appears that most of the people – this is astonishing to me – most of the people who witnessed and even those who were first-hand beneficiaries of his grace and mercy in fact did not end up following Jesus. Thousands and thousands of people were direct recipients of miracles at the hand of Jesus. How could a person experience a miracle – at the very hand of Jesus – and not follow him for the rest of their life in certain faith. But “certain faith” is not how we are saved.
I want to say something about this notion of certain faith. Some people would say that certain faith is a contradiction but it is not. There are different kinds of faith and there are different types of certainty. For example, there is mathematical certainty and that is just about as pure as certainty gets. But there is also logical certainty that is very much like mathematical certainty – it is sure as far as it goes. Of course, the most certain statements of all are tautologies, but the problem with tautologies is that they provide no new information. “If there is an election for President of the United States this year candidate X will either win or not win.” That is absolutely certain, but it does not provide us with any new information. However, when a woman says, “I am certain that my husband loves me,” she is not applying mathematical certainty or logical certainty to her affirmation of love, nor is she declaring a tautology. But she really means it. Now some people would say that she has “reasons of the heart,” by which they mean she has no reasons at all, but I don’t agree with that. She does have reasons for saying, “I am certain that my husband loves me,” and those reasons are complex, yes, but not so mysterious as to be hidden. The upshot is that she has an experience of congruence between his words and his deeds by which he declares to her his love for her. But even if she knows that her husband loves her that does not mean that she has faith in him.
Let me explain. The reason this is confusing is because people today use the term faith in an odd way. People today do not mean what the New Testament means by the faith. When Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The difficulty is to realize the groundlessness of our believing,” he was declaring that our beliefs are all psychological and if that is the case they say more about us than the things we believe. Today most people agree with that whether they acknowledge it or not. Today most people mean by faith something like the “reasons of the heart” or a mysterious feeling of trust or dependence. People today think that faith and knowledge are opposite one to another. Faith is a leap in the dark when I have no evidence for what I want to believe. Someone once said to me, “You don’t know that God exists, you have faith that he exists.” I disagree, that is not the way the New Testament uses the term faith – faith is not the opposite of knowledge. New Testament faith begins with trust and confidence in what is known. But even that – faith as trust and confidence – is incomplete for what Jesus taught about faith. And that is where the Gospel for today will help us.
As Jesus neared Jerusalem he continued to work miracles and to show mercy and to call on the people to have faith in God, by which he meant to trust, love and worship God. It so happened that Jesus and his disciples were about to enter a village when ten lepers cried out to him to have mercy on them. Luke is careful to point out that they “stood at a distance.” Lepers were not permitted to approach anyone, and they had to remain outside the village. But they had obviously heard that Jesus was a powerful healer full of mercy and kindness. They had a very simple request, and they couch it in the most respectful language that acknowledged his authority. They addressed him by his name and begged for mercy. Cries for mercy were commonplace in Jesus’ ministry. Keep in mind that all this is done at a distance. They raised their voice to get his attention to ask to be healed of a horrible and despised disease. Jesus looked at them and told them to go and show themselves to the priests just as the Law in Leviticus required. And as they went their way they were cleansed of the disease.
All of these men had faith in Jesus. They called him “master” and they acted on his directions. Obviously, a leper would not show himself to a priest until his was healed but Jesus told them to go on to the priests before the healing had occurred. His command shows that he will heal them. If they were healed the priest would certify that they were cleansed and allowed to return to their family and friends in the village. They believed that Jesus could and would heal them, and so they acted on his command and all ten of them were in fact healed.
You know there is always a twist coming in the New Testament narratives, some sort of reversal, and an epiphany that the first hearers of the Gospel would quickly identify. Faith in Jesus, saving faith, the kind of faith that makes a person whole is not only confidence that he can and will work miracles. The kind of faith Jesus expected then and still expects today will be identified not only by confidence in Jesus’ extraordinary power to heal and restore; but the faith Jesus commends has the qualities of worship and gratitude.
“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.”
Well, there’s the twist. Ten lepers were healed but only one expressed gratitude for his healing and returned to Jesus to give him thanks and praise. The word Luke uses is one of his favorites: a form of doxa which means to celebrate, to praise, to honor, to cloth with splendor, to adorn with luster. We translate it as praise or to glorify. Note verse 17:
“and (the healed Samaritan) fell down on his face at his feet giving him thanks…”
Where before he and the other nine could only stand at a distance, Luke’s account has him coming right up to Jesus. This is another reversal. By coming within reach of Jesus he showed his confidence in his healing and restoration to human society. His approach to Jesus also visually shows his state of grace. The space between the former leper and God has dramatically shrunk. The space between God and the other nine who were healed continues to widen. Once the Samaritan was a stranger to God, but now he has been made close by Jesus the Son of God. By identifying the one person who returned to give glory to God as a stranger, an outsider, Jesus also identifies at least some of the other nine as Jews. This was and still is a hard fact of Jesus’ ministry. St. John put it this way:
“he came unto his own and his own received him not, but as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name…”
This is another reversal. The ones who were expected to respond with praise and gratitude were the children of the Covenant. But it turns out to be the schismatic, the one who was far from the promises of the Covenant, who ends up with the blessing and holding on to the feet of the Son of God.
And he said unto him, “Arise, go they way: thy faith hath made thee whole. What about the other nine?” Jesus seems to turn to his disciples and wave his hands: “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?”
Why didn’t they praise God? Where is their gratitude?
Jesus’ questions are really a condemnation. He wasn’t expecting an answer from his disciples or anyone else. He rhetorically indicted the nine for not responding to God’s gracious act. They did not receive the blessing that was meant for the children of promise. It went instead to the stranger: “thy faith hath made thee whole.”
What I want you to see is that miracles do not certify the kind of faith Jesus says will make us whole. I believe in miracles, but miracles do not make people into faithful Christians. Do not base your faith on receiving a miracle. Base your faith on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Trust him. Count your many, many blessings. Recall the providential moments of God in your life and be thankful. Remember God’s past forgiveness; remember his tender mercies when you expected chastisement. Be thankful, express your gratitude to God and worship him.
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 said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.