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Jesus’ Invitation to the Life of Witness (Luke 17:11-19)

October 17, 2013

We have heard another well known Jesus’ parable from the Gospel of Luke, “Jesus’ Cleansing Ten Lepers.” Now, we see two different groups of response from this parable, the nine lepers and the one leper. What are the similarities and differences between the nine lepers and the one leper? All ten lepers are forbidden to come near people, and all ten lepers are eager to receive the blessing. And then all ten lepers are healed.

Here are the differences between two groups. First, only the one leper came back to Jesus and praised God with a loud voice (Luke 17:15). Second, only the one leper prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him (Luke 17:16a). And third, only the one leper was a Samaritan in which he was described as a foreigner (Luke 17:16b). I have heard many sermons about gratitude with this passage because of the second point of difference that I listed above. The three types of difference between the nine lepers and the one leper, however, clearly point out our Wesleyan tradition, that is, sanctifying grace or holiness. Whereas the nine lepers remained in being justified by grace, the one leper expressed not his gratitude but Jesus’ mercy and grace praising God with a loud voice. What does this mean by the expression “praising God with a loud voice?” It means he became a witness to the mercy and grace that God has given to him.

Jesus’ last words in the parable express Jesus command of being a witness: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). In the early chapter in Luke, Jesus heals another leper. In this healing story, we can also see Jesus’ invitation to be a witness. Jesus said, “Go and show yourself to the priest, and as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them” (Luke 5:14). The point is neither Jesus has power to heal nor Jesus does not violate Mosaic Law for healing the leper, but Jesus invites the leper to be a witness. Notice the word “testimony” which presupposes the Mosaic Law of purification of lepers. Leviticus 14 prescribes a detailed ritual for the cleansing of a leper who has been healed from the disease. The leper must be examined by a priest and would wash his or her clothes before returning to the community. But the leper himself now became “a testimony.” The one leper who praises God in today’s passage from Luke also became a witness as Jesus commands him, “Get up and go on your way.”

How about the nine lepers? They experienced healing and received gift, but they didn’t respond to the mercy that God has given to them. So we need to hear Jesus’ question, “Where are the nine lepers?” (Luke 17:17). Jesus does not condemn the nine lepers, but rather, he invites them to the life of joy and celebration. Jesus invites them to the life of witness and testimony.

This parable of ten lepers gives me to think about John Wesley’s theology on grace. On Aldersgate Street, John Wesley experienced God’s justifying grace (Justifying Grace). Wesley knew that once a person had been justified by God’s grace, he or she spent the rest of his or her life being sanctified, or perfected, by grace (Sanctifying Grace). In the 1800s, American preachers inspired by Wesley’s understanding of sanctification, or perfection—started a holiness movement. Holiness isn’t just personal, it’s social. The holiness movement played important roles in the abolition of slavery and in efforts to secure equal rights for women.

We often find ourselves failing to express God’s mercy and gifts. Yet God invites us to the life of witness by giving us grace and mercy. This is the life of faith in which one grows and equipped as disciples. One of the best testimonies that are presented in our hymnal is John Newton’s Amazing Grace: “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home. The Lord has promised good to me, his word my hope secures; he will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.” I like the last stanza, “He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.” It reminds me of Wesley’s theology of salvation. Salvation is not a past event but rather is an ongoing process. May God bless us as we continue to respond to God’s love and grace!  Amen.

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