Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He came down from heaven to a world dead in trespasses and sins. He has carried our sins in His Body and suffered our death. He has nursed us back to life with His holy Gospel, with His Word and Sacraments. So what does He desire? Mom always taught you to say “thank you.” He desires us to be Thankful Samaritans.
Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. He was on His way to suffer and die for our sins. But He didn’t take the usual route. The Jews went around Samaria to avoid those people. But He wanted to preach to as many as He could, no matter where or who they were. So He was walking along the border of Galilee and Samaria when He met 10 lepers.
Jews avoided Samaritans, but necessity is the mother of invention. So this group of lepers included a Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans not just because they had mixed Jewish-Gentile blood, but because they had combined Jewish and pagan religions, and now only accepted the books Moses wrote as Scripture. Yet they had altered those books to say the Temple should be on Mount Gerizim in Samaria instead of in Jerusalem.
These 10 men had struck out in life. They were lepers. They had a nasty skin disease that was their death sentence. Their flesh was rotting away while they were still alive. So God ordered lepers to stay away from everyone else. Of course you didn’t want to get the disease yourself! But leprosy was also a picture of what sin does to us. They had to stay away from people. Sin has separated us from God. The disease was killing them. Sin kills us. The wages of sin is death. It wasn’t a pleasant reminder, but it was a reminder. There was no hope for a cure, even though God’s Word did say what to do in case they did get cured. That would have to be a miracle. In the same way, there’s no way for us to escape sin.
So today’s Collect reminds us without God’s help the frailty of man can’t help but fall. It tells us we need Him to keep us away from things that may hurt us and to lead us to things that promote or are in line with our salvation. With these words The Church is teaching us we can do nothing good in God’s sight on our own. We are born dead in trespasses and sins; that means we can’t do anything God approves. We need Him to bring us back to life. We need Him to keep us alive too, because if He’s not part of our lives we’d go back to being dead in trespasses and sins.
That’s what St. Paul teaches us in today’s Epistle. He doesn’t point out the fruits of the flesh so we can laugh at people who do them. He points them out to tell us, “Don’t do them!” God knows our sinful flesh is still attracted to doing, thinking, and saying what’s wrong. He knows it’s not just the sinners we doubt will ever come through our doors that are involved with this stuff. We have not been able to avoid ever having dirty thoughts or sinful desires. We find it so easy to let anything get more important in life than God is. We love a good fight and grudge. We’ve all gotten angry when we shouldn’t. We’ve overindulged when we should have used moderation.
By all this the devil is pleased. He’s ready and willing and waiting to steal us away from Christ. On our own we’d never be able to stop him. That’s how weak we truly are. How weak are we? We can’t produce the fruits of the Spirit either. Love is so easily replaced by hate. Joy is so easily replaced by anger. Peace is so easily replaced by a fight. Patience is a virtue so few of us claim to have. Being rude is just easier than being kind. Being faithful at what we do can be so hard we just give up. We rather be rough than gentle. We enjoy losing control. The passions and desires of the flesh never want to go away. We must do war with them every day of our lives.
So how can we fight off the works of the flesh? How can we produce the fruit of the Spirit? How can we be freed from sin? How were the lepers cleansed? They begged Jesus to have mercy on them. He just told them to go show themselves to the priests. That sounds not quite right. Shouldn’t He wave a magic finger or hug them or douse them with water or make them walk through fire or on burning coals or do some other show? No, He just tells them to go find a priest. Off they go, and on their way they were cleansed, and the priests told them so.
Things haven’t really changed today. Jesus says, “I forgive you all your sins.” And you’re free of sin. He pours water over us, and gives us new life, even though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t enough water to wash Graham’s hair. He gives us a little bread and wine and gives us salvation, even though it isn’t enough to fill our bellies or slake our thirst.
He is our Good Samaritan Who has mercy with Him, and He shows it in ways we’d never dream. He has shown it most clearly in His Death on The Cross. We would have never come up with that as the way to gain salvation. When humans dream of getting salvation, they plan to do something to save themselves, whether it’s pleasing a deity enough or making a name for themselves. It’s all about exalting yourself. That’s not what Jesus did. He humbled Himself. He let Himself be nailed to a cross. Eternal God allowed Himself to suffer eternal death on The Cross and then to die physical death. And He says you are forgiven, you will rise from the dead and live forever, you are saved from sin, death, and Satan, yes, from the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh.
So how do we respond? This is God’s gift to you. It’s free! What do you do when somebody gives you something free or a gift? You say “thank you!” How you do it may differ according to the size of the gift. You might say “thank you” when you open it. You might write a thank you card. You might even want to return the favor. So how do we say “Thank you” to God?
He has saved our lives. We owe Him our lives. The modern Lutheran hymnwriter Prof. Martin Franzmann sings: “Each life a high doxology Unto the holy Trinity” (CW 400:4). How does that show in our lives? Our lives should be centered on God’s Word. We should gladly hear it preached. We should gladly read it during the week. That’s why the hymnal gives suggestions of what to read from the Bible every day of the year.
The Holy Spirit promises to work through that Word in you. That’s why we talk about the fruits of The Spirit. Thanksgiving to God includes producing those fruits, the fruits St. John the Baptist calls fruits in keeping with repentance. He desires us to keep His Commandments, and not just to keep them, but to want to keep them, to want to please Him, just like a child wants to please dad and mom. The Spirit through His Word leads us to do this, to want to please Him and to please Him through all we say and do.
We have never done this perfectly. We never will. So repent. Do not think your Savior will reject you if you sin too much. We are frail. We are weak, and cunningly Satan lays his snares for us. Therefore He will comfort your desponding heart. He is our Strength and refuge (TLH 91:7). He died to forgive our sins. He died to save you. Believe this, and you are saved.