Camping Out for the Clean Life

Luke 17:11-19 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

The ten lepers weren’t hoping for the good life. They weren’t camping out in front of the local shops in order to hoard more things they didn’t need. They didn’t camp out in front of Best Buy for a bigger TV. They couldn’t live in their own home. They didn’t camp out in front of Farm and Fleet for good deals in their Toyland. They couldn’t be with their families. They didn’t camp out at Wal-Mart or Target or the mall. They weren’t concerned with the trivial things that can be purchased there.

Thanks to their suffering, these ten had other things on their minds. They weren’t concerned with collecting more stuff so they could have the good life. They just wanted to be made clean.

The clean life is much different from the good life. The clean life meant that people were free to travel the countryside without having to yell, “unclean, unclean.” The clean life meant families could be together enjoying the holidays. The clean life meant being able to worship God in the local synagogue and travel to the temple for the holy days.

These ten lepers didn’t gather around the fire at night dreaming of the good life – a life with more stuff. Instead, they would share their dreams about the clean life – a life of being with their wife and children, of shopping and working in society, and being in God’s presence for worship.

However, there wasn’t much hope of their dreams becoming a reality.

But then Jesus approaches. Funny how that always seems to be the case. Whenever someone is in trouble in the Gospels, whenever someone is hurting, in need of a simple touch, a gentle word, or a mighty deed, Jesus isn’t too far off.

That’s the point really in our broken, unclean, hurt-filled lives. Jesus isn’t too far off. In fact, He’s very near.

Jesus approaches and these lepers don’t wait for an invitation. They’ve heard about Him. Some of their own kind have been healed. They had their dreams fulfilled of the clean life.

Jesus is on the road heading to Jerusalem. That’s where the ten lepers meet Him. I wonder if these ten heard that Jesus was coming their way and decided to camp along the road. What would you have done if you were in their place? Imagine suffering the pains of leprosy; feeling the weight of your own mortality; the loneliness and isolation brought on because of your uncleanness. What would you have done if you were one of them? What would you have done if you heard that Jesus was coming down the road? Wouldn’t you find any way to get yourself close to Jesus, to be able to call to Him, to beg of Him, to make you clean?

Of course you would, because being clean would be the most important thing in your life.

And yet, we allow the unimportant things crowd out the important things in life. We are too concerned with what we don’t really need. We are consumed by the trivial, instead of the eternal.

That’s why we camp out at Best Buy. That’s why we can’t wait to get to the Kohl’s Doorbuster sales. That’s why we can’t wait until Friday morning for the sales. We need to end our Thanksgiving meals early so we can buy more stuff.

We plan our lives around the wrong things; chasing the wrong things; embracing the wrong things; carrying around the wrong things; giving the wrong things. Not just on Thanksgiving, but throughout the year. The American dream of the good life has become a nightmare.

We feast and get fat in the flesh, while we starve ourselves of the Bread of Life which is Jesus Christ. We get up early for school and the workplace and our kids’ sporting events, but we sleep in when it is time for worshiping with the saints in church. We camp out for a vacation or a Packers game or a few days with the family, but we don’t have that same zeal to camp out with God’s Word and Sacraments. The trivial things consume our time and energy because we believe they are going to give us the good life. While at the same thing we have allowed the eternal things to become trivial, assuming that we can always get them some other day because they aren’t all that important anyway. They don’t give the good life. They don’t fulfill the American dream.

Unlike the ten lepers, we - and the rest of our culture – have lost our perspective. We have forgotten who we are and we ignore what we’ve become. Thus we suffer more than they did. Yes, they could have easily had a body part rot and fall off. But our sins rot our soul from the inside out and we may not even notice. Their leprosy isolated them from society. Our sins weigh heavily upon us and even though we live in a society of instant communication, we are more isolated than ever. They had so few things, yet they did not yearn for the good life. We have the good life, and yet we so often yearn for a better life.

Whether Jesus approached these lepers or these lepers camped out waiting for Him, it doesn’t matter. Jesus shows up.

The lepers are a wonderful example on this Thanksgiving. They are a lot like us … only they have their priorities straight. They know their plight. They feel it in the depths of their flesh. Suffering does this. Suffering makes us feel our frailty and urges us to focus on the sort of things that don’t break down, rust, fade away or die.

The lepers asked Jesus, not for a good life, but for a clean one. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus knew what they wanted – what they needed – and He gave it to them in His Word. “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” The lepers listen to Jesus. He doesn’t touch them. He doesn’t heal them right there. He sends them away. But there is a promise in His prompting. There is no reason to go see the priests except to be declared clean. And that’s exactly what happens.

When Jesus speaks the word of promise to the lepers, they were as good as clean. In the same way, when Jesus speaks His words of promise in the words of absolution, we are cleansed. When we were baptized, we were given the clean life onto ourselves. When we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table, we are eating and drinking the clean life into ourselves. When we hear and believe God’s Words, we may not receive the good life, but we are certainly given the clean life, the eternal life. 

All ten of the lepers were cleansed on their way to see the priests in Jerusalem. Nine listened to Jesus and kept heading toward the temple. It’s always a good idea to do what Jesus tells you to do. They were doing what they were told to do by the guy who healed them. The one who returned was a Samaritan. He couldn’t go into the temple, anyway. So he goes back to thank Jesus. The others should have done that, too. They could have gone to the priests later. They needed to give thanks for their new clean life. Then they could have started on their new good life. 

When Jesus gives you the clean life, He doesn’t send you away to never come back. He baptized you so that you remember to come back to His font for daily repentance and thanksgiving. He forgives your sins so that you come back to His altar to worship and thank Him. He feeds you His body and blood so that you come back to His communion rail to partake of Him and thank Him. He corrects and comforts you through His Word so that you come back to His pulpit to meditate on His Word and thank Him.

Jesus came to give the lepers the clean life. Jesus came to give us the clean life, too. That’s why He was on His way to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the place where Jesus will camp out in the Garden of Gethsemane to take on the world’s business. He will camp out on Golgotha’s hill to suffer the world’s business. He will camp out in the borrowed tomb to exchange His life for the world’s business.

The real Black Friday is better known as Good Friday. On Good Friday, our Redeemer stood at the front of the line to be judged. He paid the price for humanity with His divine flesh and blood. He purchased us away from the devil with His perfect life and death. He traded Himself as the perfect model for we who are bruised and broken and dented. Only one Black Friday offers eternal savings.  

You may or may not have what you consider the good life. But you do have the clean life. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why He was on His way to Jerusalem. That’s why He is here with us in Word and Sacrament. He is here to give what you cannot receive apart from His death and resurrection. You can have the good life apart from Jesus, but you cannot have the clean life apart from Jesus.

When the leper returned to Jesus, he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet. He returned to praise and thank Jesus.

We are like the ten lepers. For we have all been granted the clean life through Jesus. Now we pray that we are like the Samaritan leper. For our Christian life is always to be one of thanksgiving at the feet of Jesus. Not just once a year. Not just fifty-two times a year in worship. But daily. There at the feet of Jesus, He gives us more. He is always giving us more – more of Himself, more of the important things, the eternal things. And along the way, He may also grant us the good things, the temporal things, even the trivial things.

Jesus does give us the good life. Let’s thank Him for that. But this Thanksgiving let’s try not to camp out for more earthly things we don’t need. Instead, let’s start camping out for the eternal things we certainly do need. Let’s camp out for the clean life. Amen.