(...continued) In Luke 17:11-19 there is a story of ten men with leprosy who came to Jesus for healing. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests who would have to declare them free of the disease. While they were on their way to the priests they were all healed. But of those ten recipients of so great a miracle, only one returned to thank Jesus.
Those ten lepers were a bit like Bill in the previous meditation. They, like Bill, had some faith– enough to cry out to Jesus for help. They did believe that maybe he could help them. Jesus heard their plea and responded, sending them to the priests. It is important to notice here that they were not yet healed. They had to start out for the priests in faith that they would be healed by the time they got there. But they were obedient, and though still sick and full of sores, they headed to the priests to be declared well. Bill also was obedient to God’s law. He lived a good life, did what was right, and served others.
Then came the healing. Verse 14 says, “and as they went, they were cleansed;” they were healed of that dreaded disease. And then, nine of those ten men were all done with Jesus. They had received what they wanted and they were gone. Only one returned to thank Jesus, and for him, this showed that not only was his body healed, but also that his heart was changed. He was now filled with faith. He not only looked to Jesus for a favor, he now also returned to Jesus to praise and thank him. And Jesus acknowledged this change of heart: “Rise and go,” he said, “your faith has made you well.” And Jesus did not hide his disappointment with the others, saying, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” Apparently, Jesus had hoped he would hear from them too.
Those other nine men were like Bill. They did believe in Jesus, but only to a certain point. And they were willing to obey. But we see in the response of Jesus words that there has to be more. Jesus doesn’t just want just our obedience, he wants us. He wants us to know him, to return to him, and to thank him. Jesus wants our obedience, yes, but he also wants our response of faith, he wants our hearts and our prayers and our trust and our gratitude, he wants us; and so he wants us to keep in touch with him in prayer and in worship. We were made for God, for now and all eternity.
If necessary, one may have to speak of our response to God in terms of God’s commands. But why should that be necessary? Think again about the response of that one leper who did return to give thanks. He was not commanded to go back and thank Jesus. No one had to say to that man, “Now remember your manners. You really ought to get back there and thank Jesus. That is the proper and polite thing to do, you know.” No one had to tell that man to go back to Jesus. He had just been healed of leprosy, that dreaded disease that resulted in deformed and damaged limbs and faces, and meant lifelong isolation from the rest of the community. A leper in those days had no hope of ever being cured– but here this man was healed instantly by Jesus. For him to return and give thanks is what one would expect. One would think such a grateful response would be only natural and spontaneous and sincere. One would not think it would have to be commanded. And so the big question in the story is the astonishing question asked by Jesus himself, “Where are the other nine?”
We also have been richly blessed by God with life and family and health and food and sunshine and rain and so much more, all freely given. It seems very odd that we should even have to ask, “Do we have to pray? Do we have to go to church? Do we have to go every week? Doesn’t the Bible say we just have to believe?” God blesses us in so many ways, everything we are and have is from him– and yet we want to find ways to justify the least possible response. Should we not instead be spontaneously taking advantage of every opportunity to return thanks, without having to speak in terms of commands and obedience?
You remember how Bill loved his daughter Sally and his heart ached for her. And Sally loved her dad, and if she wasn’t so busy she would have visited her parents more often. But could you imagine Sally saying to her father, “Dad, I am sick of all your complaining about how seldom you see us. What will it take to get you off my back? Would it be enough if we come there once a year for three days? Would that fulfill our duty to you so I don‘t have to worry about losing my third of the inheritance?”
Such a reply would indicate there was something very wrong in that relationship. But that isn’t how Bill described it all. However, that is the attitude we display if we attempt to calculate what it will take to please God just enough to get to heaven but not so much as to inconvenience ourselves here any more than we have to. This kind of thankfulness is not sincere but only a feeble attempt to manipulate God to get his blessings.
Where do you see yourself in the story? Are you like the one leper who returns spontaneously to worship and thank Jesus, or are you like the other nine who pay only enough attention to Jesus to get what they want?
We have all probably said at one time or another, ‘I didn’t get anything out of church today.” But certainly that is approaching worship from the wrong angle. We are ‘getting’ from God every moment of our lives. We go to worship to give to God our thanks and praise.
Luke 17:17 — Jesus asked…”Where are the other nine?”
Colossians 2:6-7 — So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Titus 1:16a — They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.
Heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but remember that we are ever walking in your sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. —Bo
ok of Common Prayer