|14 - Ten Lepers, Dec 7, 2008|
“Rise up and go; your faith has saved you,” Jesus says to the Samaritan leper. St Luke introduces this story of the Samaritan leper with these words: “While Jesus was going to Jerusalem…” St Luke may mean to make a connection between Jesus’ command to the Samaritan leper to rise up and go and his own going to Jerusalem. If so, it might be taken to mean that Jesus is commanding the Samaritan leper to rise up and go with him to Jerusalem, which, of course, would mean to go with him to his crucifixion.
St Paul writes somewhere, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In another place, he writes: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
In my sermon last week I drew a connection between love and life: we love what we live for and our life is what we love. In this morning’s Gospel, one sees a vital connection between life, love and faith. One believes what one loves, and one loves what one believes in. One’s faith is one’s life and one’s love.
When Jesus therefore says to the Samaritan leper, “Your faith has saved you,” we can take him to mean, “Your love for me has saved you.” The Samaritan leper expresses his love for the Savior by returning and worshipping him in thanksgiving, i.e. in Holy Eucharist. And since he shows by this that he loves the Savior, we can believe that he did as the Savior commanded him: that he rose up and went with Jesus to Jerusalem, to his cross, to crucify the passions and desires of his flesh in order that he could say with St Paul, the life I now live in the flesh is not the life of the flesh but the life of Christ’s Holy Spirit, life that is animated by love for God and compassion for the world.
It is very easy to see in this story of the Samaritan leper a lesson teaching us what Jesus has done for each one of us. In our baptism, Jesus has cleansed us from the leprosy of sin. He has raised us up into his holy resurrection. He has planted in the cave of our heart the seed of divine life, the seed of the very same Holy Spirit that raised him from the dead. In the life of the flesh that we now live there is another life. It is the life of God; and, since God is love, it is a life animated by the love and mercy of God. There is in our love for the flesh the seed of another love, the love for God.
These are heavenly riches that have been given to us in our baptism. To claim them, we need only to rise up and go with Jesus to his cross, to crucify the passions and desires of the flesh – greed, envy, lust and conceit – so that by being united with Christ in a death like his, we may also be united with him in a resurrection like his; so that our death becomes the death of death and not the death of life.
Let us note that to love God is not measured by what we feel; it’s measured by what we do. If you love me, keep my commandments, says Jesus. He doesn’t say, if you love me, then feel a certain way. The love that animates the Christian life is not sentimental; it’s not moody or dependent on how we’re feeling that day. It’s not dependent on others disposition toward us. It’s not dependent on how well we understand something. It’s dependent completely on love for God that expresses itself not in feeling but in doing. There’s a steely, adamantine quality to the love that animates the Christian life; an adamantine resolve to do what Christ commands us regardless of how we feel. For, if we were to do Christ’s commandments only when we felt like it, we would be doing them not out of love for Christ but out of love for our own convenience and our own comfort.
St Paul writes to us in his epistle this morning: Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Lowliness and meekness are attitudes we practice; they are not feelings. Patience, forbearance and love are how we deal with others. They are not feelings.
In this morning’s Gospel, Christ commands us as he commands the Samaritan leper this morning: “Rise up and go.” Rise up from your baptism and into the life of Christ’s Holy Spirit. Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. This is the life of God, not the life of the flesh. If the life of the flesh is expressed in lust and greed and conceit, the life of God is expressed in lowliness and meekness, in patience and forbearance of one another in love. We were called to this life in our baptism, when we cried out to Christ as did the lepers this morning, “Lord have mercy on us.” In our baptism, we showed ourselves to the priest and on our way to the bottom of the baptismal font, Christ cleansed us from the leprosy of our sin. Our baptism was not complete, however, until we were brought to the Chalice and we received Christ’s love for us in Holy Eucharist; and Christ made us, by his grace, to become partakers of his own divine nature, communicants of his own life eternal. This life of our baptism, which we have received from Christ himself, is the life to which we have been called. This life to which we have been called is the life of Christ’s holy resurrection. It is the heavenly life of God’s own immortality. It is the life of God’s love, animated by love for God. To walk in this life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection is to walk in his love; and to walk in his love is to walk in his commandments.
To the eyes of the flesh, therefore, the Christian life looks like it is a life of renunciation and fasting. What many do not understand is that Christians are renouncing death and fasting from the deeds of death, from greed, lust, envy, conceit, vanity, anger and pride. This is how we go with Jesus to Jerusalem, to be crucified with him. What we’re crucifying are the passions and desires of the flesh whose fruit is death. And so, as we go with Jesus to Jerusalem, we are dying to death as our desire for the passions and desires of the flesh withers away; and we find ourselves rising up with Jesus in the life of God, and in the love of God. As we rise up and go with Jesus to Jerusalem, that seed of God’s Holy Spirit that was planted in our soul in our baptism begins to sprout and to take root. If the ascetic life of faith – or rather, the ascetic life of love for God – is painful at first, it is because we are putting to death our love for the flesh and the deeds of death. But as the love of God grows in us, love of God is born in us. Its fruits are love, joy and peace. These are qualities of divine life that certainly can be felt, but they are more than feelings. Rooted in God, the hope of the Gospel does not disappear when things seem hopeless. Rooted in Christ, the peace of the Gospel does not disappear when life is tumultuous. Rooted in the Holy Spirit, divine joy does not disappear in sorrow. Beneath all of life’s ups and downs, these qualities of the divine life remain firm; and as we practice the ascetic life of the Christian Faith, dying to death and rising up to that life of love for God, these qualities of divine life grow more and more firm in us.
By renouncing our desire, our love for the passions of the flesh, we are emptying ourselves and we are meeting Christ who emptied himself out of his love for us. We meet him at that point where his love for us has been most perfectly manifested: in the cave of our heart, where he has made himself one with us even in our death, that he might destroy him who held us in the power of death and deliver us from hell, and raise us up from death to life, from darkness to light, from love of the flesh that ends in death to love for God that ends in eternal life.
It doesn’t matter whether or not we feel warm about this good news of the Gospel. What matters is our willingness to come to the Lord in Thanksgiving, in Holy Eucharist, to worship him. And we come to the Lord in a real way that is far beyond mere sentimentality when we take up our cross and through the ascetic disciplines of fasting and prayer and deeds of charity, we go with Jesus to Jerusalem, to his cross, to crucify the passions and desires of the flesh out of love for Christ. This is the faith of the Christian religion. It is a life of deeds done in love for Christ. It is discipline of the mind and of the heart, of the eyes, the ears, the hands, the feet, the tongue, to keep our whole being facing the East, the resurrection of Christ. This is the life of faith whose ascetic deeds are expressions of our love for God and of our desire to love him and our neighbor as he commands.
Christmas is coming. The angels will come to the shepherds and the wise men and announce the wondrous Good News of Immanuel, God With us! We can enter into the story of Christmas in a real way by going to Jerusalem with Jesus, and by worshipping Jesus with the Samaritan leper in love and Thanksgiving. And then the words Jesus says to the Samaritan leper will be heard in our ears: Rise and go; your faith has saved you. Amen.