Luke 17:12-13 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
There are things which are good for us, that we do not enjoy or desire. It is good that there are schools so we can learn, but sometimes there are other things we would rather do. It is good that there are doctors, but we’d rather not need to see them. So also it is good that there is mercy, but it is often hard for us to admit that we need it. What is mercy? It is when someone does something for us that we cannot repay and do not deserve, and yet we cannot live without it. For example we all know the scripture about how all we like sheep have wandered, and how the good shepherd is supposed to seek and find the lost sheep. For many, this has stopped being mercy, for they say to themselves, the shepherds job is to find and keep the sheep, if I get lost, when I am found, there is no need for thanks, for he is only doing his job. But just because they say it, doesn’t make it so, what has happened is that no one wants to take responsibility for their own sin.
So the child goes shopping with his mother, and over and over she says, stay close, hold my hand. Yet the press of the crowd leads to hands slipping apart, and then something tempting pulls us away, and before we know it we are lost, and after a while, then we are afraid. We know we cannot find our own way. We know we’ve done wrong, for we didn’t want to hold hands, and we didn’t stay close, and when we were young, we wondered sometimes if we would ever get home again. But God and our parents have mercy on us, and they do not give us what we deserve, and they seek and the find us, and rejoice when we are found. And we, when we are young are penitent, and we promise never to do it again, and we are thankful, for we were lost, but now we are found.
But somewhere along the way something changes, and although we still get lost, instead of being penitent and thankful, we find ourselves grumbling about how it spoiled our fun, or wondering why it took so long for them to find us. And at that point, although we are found, we do not receive mercy, at least not as mercy, for rescue has become in our minds something that we deserve. The problem is that our minds are, at this point, no longer thinking right.
When I was young, I remember a cartoon, Gallant and Goofus, and it showed the right way to do things and the wrong way, and it encouraged you to do it the right way, for no one would want to be a Goofus, it would be embarrassing. The problem is that the times have changed, and now instead of Gallant and Goofus, we have the Simpson’s, which teaches people to be proud of their sins and mistakes. It says even idiots deserve to be saved. And in such a world there can be no mercy, for there can be no mercy when you are proud of your sins. And there can be no mercy, if being rescued is something everyone deserves. You see, in order to cry for mercy, you need to admit that you cannot save yourself, you need to admit that you do not deserve to be saved, you need to abandon your pride, and plead for something you have not earned, do not deserve, cannot repay. And so mercy comes.
Mercy comes, neither earned, nor deserved, it comes by grace, that is it is a free gift, no strings attached. Mercy comes, and the peril is removed, the anguish and suffering are eased. And once we are no longer in torment, its not hard for pride to creep back in. And as pride enters, it takes the grace given mercy and twists it until for some reason it is no longer a gift, but something we had deserved all along. And if it was something we deserved, there is no need to be thankful for receiving what is your due.
And that my friends is what happens in the story of the 10 lepers, they cry for mercy in their need, and in grace, mercy is given to them. But only one has the faith to receive mercy as a undeserved gift of God, and on receiving such a gift, faith moves him to return to Jesus and give thanks. Now faith also is a gift of God, given in grace and in love. Faith enables us to receive mercy, not merely to rescue us from our distress, but to save our soul, forgive our sins, and give us everlasting life. Faith grasps the promise God makes to us in His word, and it makes this promise a part of who we are. Faith teaches us to let go of our sins, to let go of our pride, and to cling to the cross of our Salvation. God gives us faith, that we may receive mercy and salvation in Jesus name. So we celebrate the feast of the Reformation, as it brought the good news of merciful God to all.