Jump Start # 3119
Luke 17:17 “And Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine– where are they?”
Our verse is found in the story of the ten lepers. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem. He has an appointment with the cross. All along this journey to His death, He continues to do good. He heals. He welcomes. He helps. A couple of chapters later, Jesus will be heading to the home of Zacchaeus. Jesus was not so absorbed in Himself that He was blind to those around Him.
Ten lepers, likely nine were Jewish and one was a Samaritan. They would not typically be standing together, but they had no one else. Disease does not recognize nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, religion, wealth or position. The young get sick as well as the old. The important get sick as well as the common. In the account of the rich man and Lazarus, both men died. The rich man likely died in his bed in his nice house. Lazarus died outside, alone, by the rich man’s gate. Together with a problem.
Notice a few things:
First, the ten lepers all had the same need. There were standing at a distance. They could not stand close by. The disease plagued the body and crippled social interaction. Our recent times has introduced the expression, “social distancing,” or “standing six feet apart.” Long before this, lepers understood that. Couldn’t go to work. Couldn’t go home. Couldn’t go to worship. About all they could do was find fellow lepers and beg. Death was coming and they knew it all too well.
Second, they all thought that Jesus could help. As Jesus passed, Luke records that “they” cried out. It wasn’t just one, but the group. Many voices might get the attention, whereas, one voice might not be heard. Samaritans and Jews were not on the same page doctrinally. Yet, as the Lord passed through that village, Jew and Samaritan understood and believed that Jesus could help them. He had made the lame walk. He had stilled storms. He had multiplied food. He had cast out demons. He had even raised the dead. These men were without hope, until Jesus came. They cried out together. Troubles have a way of doing that. We tend to drop our differences and unite in compassion and helping.
Third, all of them were cleansed. Jesus tells them to go to the priest. The priest was the official authority to declare whether one could return to life or had to remain isolated. Go to the priest. They go. It seems as the text is written, that they were not cleansed and cured yet. It appears they were still leprous, but they believed something would happen. “As they were going, they were cleansed” is what the text tells us. Jesus helped this Samaritan as well as the Jews. As they were going, their hands and toes started feeling again. Color returned to their faces and arms. White splotches disappeared. You can just see them all standing looking at their hands, feet and arms. You can hear the shouts of joy and excitement. You can just see each of them looking closely at one another. “Look at my arms,” we can hear one of the saying. More than a disease gone, it was life that was given to them. They were cleansed.
Fourth, one of them ran the other direction. The group headed to see the priest. The Samaritan headed to see Jesus. He falls at the feet of Jesus and with loud cries, he thanks the Lord. He is so blessed. He is so happy. He is so thankful. Jesus has done what no one could do.
Then comes our verse. Where are the rest of them? Why haven’t they returned? Were they not thankful? Did they not receive what they asked for? They asked. They received. But they never gave thanks. Maybe they thought Jesus will know. Maybe they thought, we need to see the priest as Jesus said. Thanks was due, but thanks never came from the Jews. Only the foreigner, the Samaritan returned.
A few thoughts for us:
First, I wonder how many times we are in the crowd with these nine Jews? We pray. We receive. We fail to thank. We need God and He is there. We are glad things turned out well, but were we thankful? How many times have we forgotten and failed to thank the Lord. Nearly every public prayer includes the phrase “forgive us of our sins.” We say that at every worship. Yet, how rare it is to hear someone in a prayer thank the Lord for forgiving us. Where are the nine? Where is Roger? Where are you? This ought to sting us a bit.
Second, sometimes it’s the “foreigners” that remind us of what we ought to be doing. The foreigner may not be a national foreigner, but a visitor or someone not even a Christian. Maybe their comments are closer to the Lord than ours are. Maybe they are more helpful than what we are. Maybe they have a better faith and trust that we do. Somehow I do not think that group of cleansed lepers would hold a reunion the following year. Even if they did, I tend to think they would not have included the Samaritan. Cleansed, they no longer had anything in common with him. Cleansed they no longer needed his fellowship. Sometimes our attitudes lean more toward judgmental than grace. Sometimes we would rather execute justice than forgive. Sometimes we’d rather be served than serve. And, along comes a Samaritan. He may be in the fashion of a neighbor, or a co-worker, or a cousin, and he speaks more kindly than we do. He is more generous than we are. He extends an open hand while our fists are clenched. But because he is not one of us, we sometimes fail to learn any lessons. We refuse to think that he could be right in some areas. No one returned to give glory to God except a foreigner.
Third, Jesus gave a special blessing to the Samaritan. The Lord easily could have returned the leprosy to the nine, but that’s not the way of the Lord. But to the thankful Samaritan, Jesus said, “your faith has made you well.” Couldn’t that had been said of all ten of them? They were no longer diseased. They no longer had to stand at a distance. All of them were cured. What was different? The returning Samaritan not only was well in his body, but he was well in his soul. His faith made him well. Jesus forgave him of his sins. The Lord did that many times before the Cross. And, here we find yet another lesson for us. So many times we want the prayers because of disease, and the church prays. But how many times do we think about a soul that is sick? Heal the body but lose the soul is not a good choice. Jesus came for the purpose of saving souls. Ridding the earth of disease was not the mission, intention or plans of God. Saving lost souls is what Jesus came for. This simple story ought to remind us of this. Those nine cleansed lepers would one day die. We know that. There are no people on the earth that are two thousand years old. They all have died. However, how many of them received the grace of God and were forgiven? The Samaritan was blessed with something far better than more years on earth. He received something much grander than hope here. His faith made him well. Forgiven by the Savior, he was Heaven Bound.
What a twist of fate to think that this Samaritan could be in Heaven and the nine cleansed lepers were not. Let’s keep the heavenly perspective before us. Praying for someone to be healed only to live a longer lifetime without Jesus isn’t much. It’d be far better for that person to find the Lord and die young than to live a lifetime of sin and selfishness.
Where are the nine? What a story. What a Savior.