What’s the moral of the story? What is the point of today’s Gospel? I know what your answer is: be thankful. Is that all today’s Gospel is, another voice reinforcing your mom’s voice that echoes in your head: “Say thank you to the nice man!” No!! This Gospel is not a moral tale, a lesson from Miss Manners. Today’s Gospel is about faith and what it does. Faith wants Jesus. Faith forsakes the things of the flesh and of this world if it means being with Jesus.
Leprosy is one of the best analogies for sin. Leprosy is a terrible disease that starts small, but ends in death. What begins as a small spot on the skin turns into boils and scabs. The hair turns white or yellow. The flesh becomes raw. And it’s all coupled with a pain that radiates below the skin, down to the bone. Eventually everything is taken over by this rotting and all that’s left is death. Isn’t that what sin does? Our sin starts small—one tiny infraction, but it grows. It consumes, until all we know how to do is sin, and sin gives way to death, spiritual and physical. So, what we heard in God’s Word today is that we’re all lepers. Each of us can examine our own lives and see the symptoms St. Paul laid out: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissentions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. We don’t all experience these in the same way, but that list touches each and every one of us in some way. Every one of us are on the path to certain death. Our only hope is the intervention of Jesus Christ, that He would haver mercy on us, to save us from this body of death.
Leprosy is a terrible disease. We hear about it regularly in the Bible. The disease begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward into the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal. Wherever the leper went he was required to have his outer garment torn as a sign of deep grief, he was also required to shave his whole head and cover his head with his clothing, a sign of lamentation at death—his own death. Furthermore, he had to warn passersby of his condition by crying out “unclean, unclean!” wherever he went. He couldn’t greet anyone or receive a greeting, because in the middle east in the first century, you didn’t greet someone without embracing them, which would also make that person unclean. If you were blessed enough to have your leprosy go away, you didn’t just go home. You had to show yourself to the priest, who examined you and quarantined you for seven days, just to make sure you really were healed. On the eighth day you had to make offerings and sacrifices and be involved in a very lengthy and elaborate ritual to declare you clean and fit to return to society. Leprosy was no joking matter. (Easton’s Bible Dictionary; Leviticus 13-14)
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.