“Jesus – means or the end?” Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

If you did the survey, if you asked all the people whom you know, especially those who are not Christians, if you asked them – have they ever prayed God – what do you think, what would their answer be?

I guess that vast majority, if not everyone would reply that, yes, they have prayed to God at some moment of their lives. And if you asked further, when did they pray, what was that situation about, what was the reason for their prayer, what do you think, what would their answers be?

When do people pray? When do they turn to God? When we run out of other options. When we face something that we can’t deal with on our own. When situation runs out of our control. Terminal illness, ours or someone else’s.

Financial challenges. Crisis in relationships. Dangers for our lives, or lives of our loved ones. Fear. Despair. Pain. Loss. Injustice. If we put our thoughts and experiences together, we could come up with rather long a list.

People pray when these things happen. But it doesn’t make them Christians. It doesn’t bring them into God’s Kingdom. It doesn’t grant them eternal life. It does reveal something profound about our human nature.

Or we should say about our creaturely nature. These situations reveal our limitations, they reveal that the knowledge of God is built into us. For us, Christians, it makes perfect sense. We know we are not gods, we are the favorite creatures of our God, and we are created to receive all good from His hand.

But situation like these, when we realize that we are not in control anymore, also reveal that there are two very different ways people approach God, two very different reasons why they look for God. They may search for Him as means to their own desirable ends, or they may search for Him as the end in itself.

This is what our today’s reading from Luke helps us to meditate upon. Who is Jesus for you? Is He just means to your own desirable ends, or is He the end of your pursuits? What a big deal, some may say, does it matter how people come to Jesus – as to the means or as to the end? Yes, it matters greatly. For these two attitudes are as far one from another as paganism is from Christianity. One of them leads to Jesus, and the other leads away from Jesus. Therefore, today we will reflect on these two attitudes towards our God. Jesus – means or the end?

The Holy Spirit working through Luke has recorded for our benefit this encounter between Jesus and the ten lepers. This event helps us to see and understand the difference between these two attitudes toward God. Seeing Him as means to the end, or seeing Him as the end?

“As he [Jesus] entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. And he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.”

Ten lepers… that’s one of those situations that we reflected on earlier. They were sick, they were incurable, they were cast out of their society, doomed till the end of their lives to live in misery, and there was nothing they could do on their own.

They couldn’t just pull their lives together, they couldn’t men up and get their stuff going. And there was no one else who could help them. But they had heard about this Jesus. That He had the power to heal everyone, and to help everyone.

He could be their solution. He could deliver them. We could say that, yes, that far they were correct. And now Jesus was passing them by. They lifted up their voices as laud as they could: “Master, Jesus, have mercy on us, help us, deliver us!”

Imagine how sincere were their prayers! From the depth of their hearts. Their need was real, and the solution suddenly was within their reach. They saw this Jesus, of whom they had heard so much. “Jesus, Master, help us, have mercy on us!”

Jesus had compassion on them and said to them: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. Our God is merciful and gracious. Abundantly. More than we know. He often hears prayers of those, who don’t even know Him. He often responds even to those prayers.

He often grants His help, healing, solution, protection, restoration, justice, and so on and so on. Even to those who don’t come back to thank Him. For He is God who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Mt 5:45)

But then in this very event we can also clearly see the difference between the two attitudes toward God. “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. And he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” The nine represent those who only searched for God as means to their own ends. Their need was real, sure.

Their prayers were genuine, of course. Jesus heard their prayers and graciously granted them healing. That was what they wanted. And that was it… They went. They got healed, and none of the nine returned to Jesus. Their attitude led them away from Jesus. Nine out of ten…

We can easily hear the hurt and sadness in Jesus’ words: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” Where are they? And how often do we witness this happening? How often do we see people searching for God’s help or gifts only to leave without looking back as soon as they have received what they wanted?

Crisis in life, loss, danger, despair… people pray for God’s help. We pray for them. Jesus answers … never to see them again. Similarly, from time to time we see people asking for baptism, or confirmation, but … rejecting Jesus.

Asking for wedding, but despising the Bride of Christ, the Church. Strangely many still believe that God somehow will magically protect them as they go on living without Jesus. As if our God was some kind of idol, whom we could manipulate with the right rituals. It is very sad to see it… but how about us?

Why are we here? Are we here because of Jesus, or do we just want something from Him? Perhaps, if we attend the services our God will bless us. Perhaps, here we can satisfy our social needs. Perhaps that’s just an old habit.

Perhaps, if we stick to the Church, it will somehow benefit us. Are we here for Jesus, or are we here to get His gifts? Is Jesus only means to our own ends, or are we here because the Holy Spirit invites us to love our God more than anything?

This is something only you can answer to yourself. And even then, the help of the Holy Spirit is needed. On the one hand we could say that, yes, Jesus most definitely is abundant with His blessings, and we are to pray Him in all our needs, and rely on Him in every situation. He delights to care for His family.

He protects us, He richly blesses us with friends in the community of saints, He knows what we truly need and doesn’t hesitate to provide for us. That’s all true and good. But we can also see how different these two attitudes are.

We can easily understand it when looking at human analogy. If someone whom you love with all your heart comes to you and is kind to you only to get what they want. If they are not interested in you. If they don’t care to be with you and to get to know you, and to respond to your love. If they don’t want to listen to you.

If they ignore and despise you, and perhaps are more or less respectful only because they fear you. If they only care about the stuff and benefits that you may give them, then what sort of relationships are those?

This is not what our God, what Jesus offers to us and not what He expects from us. Our God doesn’t come to us, because He needs something from us. He doesn’t need anything from us. He doesn’t need our time or attention.

He doesn’t need our good works, He doesn’t need our donations, He doesn’t need anything. Rephrasing what John the Baptist said: “God is able from these stones to create true disciples of Jesus.” We are never the means to the end for our God.

For Jesus you are the end. He knew you before the creation of the world. He knew you as He was forming our forefather Adam. He knew you when He gave the first promise to Adam and Eve, that He will destroy the power of sin and death and will bring us back to Paradise.

Jesus knew you when He became one of us. When He prayed sweating blood. When He gave up His life to be beaten, humiliated and murdered on the cross. We were the end of His mission. He did all of that not looking for some benefits, He did all of that for us, for you. For Him it was always about us.

That’s why Jesus was ready to sacrifice His life, when we were still His enemies. This is why He has called you out of this world. This is why He has faithfully walked with you and kept you in true faith. This is why you are still here.

Because for Him you are never the means to something else, you are the end of His efforts. He knows what He has prepared for you, and He will do all that He can, He will give everything so that only He could have you with Him.

When the Holy Spirit persuades us that this is true, then we are made like that one, who returned to Jesus. Then we come to Him thirsty for His beauty, hungry to listen to His life-giving words, desiring to dig deeper in His wisdom, overflowing with joy and praise for everything that our God has done and does for us in Jesus.

Then His gifts are not the most important things for us. Then our eyes are fixed on the Giver. Then we gladly invite Him to change our lives, to speak to us and to guide us, so that our praise would help others to see where the true treasure is.

When that happens, the Holy Spirit makes us like Abraham, and Job and Paul. We are ready to follow our Lord wherever He leads us. Then even in the midst of our troubled lives we can be at peace and marvel at the greatness of our God. Then we can exclaim with confidence that sufferings and challenges of this life are not even worth comparing with the glory that is prepared for us.

We don’t know what the future will bring, but we know that at the end, we will be made like Jesus, and will see Him as he is and will live and reign with Him forever. It is sad, when people are blinded by sin, and are able to see Jesus just as means to the end, not realizing the all surpassing greatness of being embraced by the Triune God, and sharing in this divine fellowship with the Father and the Son.

I pray that similarly as we are the end for our God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit would also help us to love our God with all our heart, and with all our mind and with all our soul, so that we would long for Him and search for Him with the same passion as He does for us.

Amen.

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