Looking for Ourselves
When we read about different events that happen in the Bible or hear the different parables from Jesus, I think a very natural response is to think about were we fit. We think about what we might have done in a similar situation or which character we resonate with the most. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing to do, because it helps us to focus on the lessons from the event or the parable that will have the most impact on our faith and our lives. At the same time though, there’s a danger of focusing too much on a person or a character that we identify with where we might miss out on the other lessons God’s Word has for us.
For example, today we hear about a group of lepers approaching Jesus. From a distance they yell out and ask for His healing. He tells them to show themselves to the priests - which was something people were supposed to do if/when they recovered from leprosy to demonstrate that they were healed and could rejoin society. They go and on the way their leprosy disappears. One of them, a Samaritan, turned around and praised God. When we think about this story, I think our instinct (the one that always paints us in the best possible light) tells us that surely we would have the decency to turn around and tell Jesus “thank you.”
But I want to ask you this, when is the last time you wrote a thank you note to someone?
You see, the nine woke up that morning in a place with other lepers. They were miserable. They woke up and looked down at themselves and saw the same sores, the same sickness that had gotten them exiled out here. There might’ve even been some indignation there, when they looked around and saw all of these unclean people around them. They didn’t think they deserved this, they didn’t deserve the suffering, they didn’t deserve to be exiled from their community.
As they were sitting there, feeling sorry for themselves, someone announces that some guy named Jesus is walking by. He’s supposed to be some sort of great healer and teacher. So nine of the lepers make their way to the road Jesus will be using and when they see Him they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” He tells them to go to the priests and they start to get excited, because that is something they would only be able to do if they were healed. And, sure enough, as they’re walking they look down and notice that their skin is healed.
Now I can’t tell you why they didn’t turn around. Maybe they felt entitled to that gift, maybe they felt like they had suffered enough with the disease and that Jesus kinda owed it to them to heal them, maybe they felt like they were part of God’s chosen people and that them being healed was just a natural conclusion. Or maybe they were just so excited to go out and celebrate their recovery, maybe they couldn’t wait to see the family or the friends that they had been separated from. Or maybe they went the rest of the way to the temple, maybe they finished showing themselves to the priests.
We may not like it, but when we think about where these people were at mentally, are we really that different? Sometimes we might feel entitled to God’s gifts, sometimes we might feel like we’ve suffered enough with our finances or with the obstacles God has put into our lives or with the disease we’ve had to overcome or with the tragedies we’ve witnessed and God kinda owes us a blessing. Or sometimes we feel like we’re God’s chosen people and Him blessing us with prosperity or wellbeing or a church building is just a natural conclusion. Or sometimes maybe we are just to excited about our gifts and can’t wait to go use them or show them to friends and family.
How often is our first response actually, genuinely to drop to our knees and thank God? How often is our first response actually, genuinely to go to worship and glorify Him?
But let’s shift our focus to the Samaritan. He woke up in the same place as the other nine. He was miserable and his arms and legs were covered with the same painful condition as the others. He felt isolated from friends and family too, maybe even more so because he was a Samaritan, an outcast among outcasts. But when he looked around, there wasn’t any indignation - on some level he knew that he wasn’t special, he didn’t think that he was above suffering.
As he was sitting there, he hears the same announcement as the other nine. He joins the other nine making their way to the road and when he sees Jesus he cries out and asks for help - same as the other nine. He starts to walk to the priests, just like Jesus said, but there’s this pit growing in his stomach. He is a Samaritan after all. Are the priests even going to let him do what Jesus told him to do? Is he actually going to be healed? Could Jesus really care enough about him to help in such a huge way? With all those thoughts swirling in his head, he looks down and sees his skin . . . perfectly healed.
He doesn’t see the other guys, he doesn’t see their reactions, because he turned right around and starting marching right back to thank Jesus for what He had done. He hadn’t even been sure he could be healed and Jesus did the impossible for him. And when he does that, Jesus asks where the other nine are? I don’t know what went through that man’s head, but do you think it could of been a little bit of smugness? A little dash of self-righteousness? A thought of “yeah, that’s right, I’m the only one who did the right thing”? A little bit of a self pat on the back?
We might like if we’re compared to this guy a little more. Because he is definitely the one who gets painted in a better light. Maybe you do realize that you don’t deserve jack squat from God. Maybe that does put you into a head space where you immediately thank God for what He does for you, maybe you never miss a worship service or a tithe or an opportunity to serve because you feel the need to glorify God so deeply. Just take care that that insidious attitude doesn’t creep into your head, that smugness or self-righteousness - because you are no better than the other nine.
The Great Physician
Because I want you to note something, Jesus tells that one guy that his faith made him well. And I think it’s safe to say that the faith of the other nine also made them well, because they definitely didn’t earn it, they didn’t deserve the healing. And I also want to note that there is absolutely no suggestion that Jesus rescinds the blessing He gave to them. He restored those lepers based on their faith and everyone who has ever read about it has gotten a window into Jesus’ power to restore creation to what it should be, to how God the Father designed it to be. And that same Jesus has the power to restore us too, and that may not take the form of some physical restoration - but He has restored our relationship with God to what it should be, and that restoration gives us access to the promise of eternal life with Him.
Do we owe Him thanks and praise and glory for that? Absolutely. Should we feel self-righteous when we respond like we’re supposed to? Absolutely not. Does the gift come to use regardless through faith in Jesus? Absolutely.