28TH SUNDAY OF YEAR C – 2019
THE CHRISTIAN WAY OF BEING GRATEFUL
2Kgs 5:14-17; 2Tim 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19
Today, we will be looking at a story in which Jesus grants healing to ten lepers, most of whom were more excited for the healing they had received than they were about the one who had given it to them. The story begins with Jesus making his final trip to Jerusalem. When he was getting ready to enter a village near the border of Samaria and Galilee, we are told: “As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:12-13).
- LEPROSY IN THE BIBLE
It is important to know a few things about leprosy in the bible because they will help our understanding of this story. First, “leprosy”, as used in the Bible, was a blanket term for contagious skin diseases. Regardless of the exact medical definition, the Jewish law was very clear about how contagious skin diseases were to be dealt with. Anyone who had such a disease was to go and be examined by the priests, and if it was determined that the disease was not going to go away any time soon, the person was deemed unclean. He/she could no longer be part of civilized society. He/she had to live outside the town to ensure he/she did not infect others with the disease. To make sure he/she did not spread the disease they had to constantly keep their distance and cry out, “Unclean!” when anyone came near. Needless to say, this was a depressing and demeaning kind of life. If you add to the social pressures of leprosy the potential physical pressures, you realize the horror of such a diagnosis.
This is what the people Jesus came across were probably like. There were ten men who were probably living together in a kind of camp outside the city since no one else was allowed to be near them. As Jesus approached, they kept their distance, but called out together in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” The fact that these men called out to Jesus indicates that they believed he could do something about their condition. Maybe they had heard the stories of others who had been healed of leprosy; surely they had heard the reputation of this teacher named Jesus. They must have known that this man could heal people with all sorts of infirmities. When they found out that the man walking into the village was Jesus, they must have yelled with all their might for him to come and help them. They were not going to wait to see if he came over. They knew this was their one and only opportunity of being healed by this famous man, Jesus; and they were not going to leave it to chance.
- OBEDIENCE IN FAITH
“When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.” (Lk 17:14). It is not surprising that Jesus healed these people. Scripture tells us that He had made a habit of healing people who asked him to do so. However, what is interesting in this account is how he healed them. He did not touch them; he did not pronounce healing on the spot. Rather, he told them to go and show themselves to the priests. Such a command may make little sense to us, but it made great sense in the context of the Jewish law. Since not all skin diseases were permanent, there was a provision in the law for a person to be declared cured. When he/she believed the skin disease was gone, he/she was to go to the priest to be examined. If the priest agreed that the disease was gone, the patient would have to spend a period of time under observation to be sure it did not come back. If, after the allotted time had passed and the priest still could find no trace of the skin disease, then the person would be declared clean, and would be permitted back into the society.
The command of Jesus to the lepers is worth noting. He told them to go to the priest BEFORE they had been healed. He was basically telling them to act in faith, believing that somehow they would be cleansed. Apparently all ten of the lepers did as they were told. They all believed in Jesus enough to take him at his word, even though it really did not make much sense from a human perspective.
In the Old Testament story of Naaman, found in the 2nd Book of the Kings, we see a similar command, but a different response. Naaman had a leprous spot and came to the prophet Elisha to have it cleansed. Elisha told him to do something that made no sense—to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan River. Rather than being grateful for the promise of healing, Naaman got mad, believing that Elisha was toying with him. He railed against Elisha to his servants, asking what made the Jordan River so special. He asked why the prophet was so lazy that he wouldn’t even come out to wave his hand over him and heal him. Eventually his servants convinced him to follow Elisha’s instructions, and when he did, God healed him, just as the prophet had said.
In the account in Luke, in today’s gospel text, we do not have any indication that these ten men argued with Jesus. They may have been somewhat reluctant to do what he said, thinking that they would be embarrassed to show up before the priest without having been healed, but they did it anyway. The result was that all of these men were healed.
- THE NATURE OF TRUE GRATITUDE
We told that all the ten of the men were healed of their leprosy, but the story does not end there. Instead, we see one man’s response to Jesus’ healing. “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.” (Luke 17:15-16).
Of the ten men, only one came running back to Jesus to thank him. The others were apparently so focused on their physical healing that the prospect of going back to thank the healer probably never occurred to them. One can imagine these men suddenly dancing in the streets at the fact that their leprosy was gone. They probably began to imagine being able to go home and spend time with their wives and kids, about being able to go back to work, about being allowed to spend time with their friends. They knew that the quicker they could get to the priest, the quicker they could get back to life as usual.
The Samaritan who was healed thought it best to run back to Jesus and fall at his feet in gratitude—probably before he had even been to the priest. Although he recognized that he had been healed of leprosy, he also knew that something even greater had happened: HE KNEW THAT HE HAD MET GOD HIMSELF. This is the crux of the story. The Samaritan realized that not only had he received healing of his physical ailment, but that God had taken the time to care about him. So he ran back to Jesus, “praising God in a loud voice” and thanking Him. He was not just thanking Jesus for taking away his leprosy. There was something even more important to this man.
When he arrived before Jesus and thanked him for what he had done, Jesus responded almost with sadness. He was not sad that this man had come to thank him, but that the others did not. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17-19). From his reaction and his sadness, it is clear that Jesus wants us to come back to him and thank him for what he has done in our lives. Even so, there is still more to this story than just asking people to come back and thank him. No doubt, all ten men were grateful for their healing. But Jesus recognized that the man who came back to thank Him was grateful for more than just being cleansed of leprosy. The Samaritan recognized that there was an opportunity for something even greater than just physical healing. He realized that there was an opportunity FOR SPIRITUAL RESTORATION. The most important thing for the nine was being able to get back to life as usual, being able to get back to their families, and being able to be accepted again in the eyes of the world. The most important thing to the Samaritan man was that HE COULD HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. That is the meaning of true gatefulness. As a result of his response, Jesus told him to get up and go because his faith had made him well. Jesus was pointing out that this man received more than just cleansing from leprosy—he had been made well, he had been saved, he had experienced forgiveness and a new relationship with God.
- IMPLICATIONS TO OUR DAILY CHRISTIAN LIVING
There are several applications we can draw from this story.
- a) It is not everyone who trust God for his BLESSING also trust him for SALVATION. The ten lepers all appear to demonstrate great faith. They truly believed that Jesus could heal them. Jesus told them to go and do something that did not make much sense from a human perspective but they went anyway. And because of their faithful obedience they were all cleansed from their leprosy. The problem, however, is that they were demonstrating faith in the fact that Jesus could heal them, and no more. These men took the first steps of faith but then got distracted by the things of the world. In the terms of Jesus’ parable of the sower (cf. Luke 8), these men would probably be the seeds who that fell among the rocks and shriveled from a lack of roots or the ones that were choked out by thorns. They started in the right direction but got distracted by the things of the world. It is not everyone who experiences God’s blessing who necessarily comes to know Him. There are many people who pray sincerely for God’s help in a crisis but when the crisis passes so does their faith. When they are in a crisis, the tell God: “If you’ll just get me out of this, I’ll follow you for the rest of my life!” For many of such people, after God delivers them and allows them to come out of their crisis successfully, they continue on as though nothing ever happened. These people pray fervently during the crisis and may start attending church regularly but often they will turn away from God once things are comfortable again. They demonstrate faith that God can give them what they want, but not faith that God is the Lord of the universe and should be worshiped in the way we live each day.
- b) Many believers often focus on the benefitsof Christ when we should focus on Christ himself.The difference between the leper who returned and the nine who did not was what was most important to them. The nine did not focus on who Jesus was; they only focused on what He had done for them. Even true followers of Christ can find themselves falling into this trap. We begin to drift away from WORSHIPING GOD BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS and start getting focused on WHAT HE PROMISES TO GIVE US. People will never truly follow Jesus if they are primarily concerned about what they can get from Him. We should worship and honor Christ because He is the Savior, Redeemer, the One who made the universe! We should worship Him because He is worthy of our worship, not because He will bless us if we do. The other nine lepers put the greatest importance on themselves, while the Samaritan leper put God first. That is the difference. As believers, we need to guard against the tendency to focus on the blessings rather than the One who blesses.
- c) Sometimes the people who respond to the gospel are not who we would expect.The Samaritans were not well thought of in Israel. They were not considered to be as devoted to God as the Jews were. What is surprising in this passage is that the one person who responded to Jesus was a Samaritan, a person deemed by the Jews to be unconcerned about the things of God, a person who was a sinner. This reminds us that often the people who are most willing to follow Christ are the ones who appear farthest from Him. The people who find forgiveness so appealing are the ones who feel they need to be forgiven most. It is very easy for religious people to conclude we only need God to do the “big things” because we are ok on our own. We are called to guard against writing off someone as too far gone, because we may be surprised at who responds in true faith.
The true Christian way of being thankful to God is to focus on God’s person, to focus on who God is for us. Sometimes people follow Him only as long as they will continue to get something from Him. Jesus points out that even though we can receive blessings from God without really following Him, we will only find life the way it was meant to be if we take advantage of the relationship he offers us. Here’s the question we must ask:
- If we were one of the ten lepers would we have been content with the healing or would we have come back to get to know the Healer?
- Would you have been more excited to get back to your family, your job, or your friends, or would you have gone back to Jesus first?
- We have to ask—are we using God?
- Are we seeing only what He can give us while missing the splendor of who He is?
We need to change the way we view our faith. We need to work at consistently putting God first in our lives, not because it will benefit us, but because He is worthy of our worship. As you go into this week let us work at striving to live for God without asking what is in it for us.