Psalm 8, Luke 17:11-19
October 14, 2007
This is the story of the Ten Lepers. It is a story of healing and restoration. It is a story of the gratitude of one man. It’s about this Samaritan who returned and gave thanks to Jesus.
Now first we should see the great gratitude he had! Leprosy could be a horrible disease, especially for ancient people who didn’t know anything about germs or bacteria, or even how diseases spread. And of course, they had none of our modern day treatments for such diseases. Sometimes in our day of modern medicine we don’t realize how debilitating some diseases were for the people of old.
I was amazed to learn that the medical sciences were some of the last sciences to be developed. As recently as our own American Revolution, they were still practicing blood letting. One author suggested that George Washington may have died from blood loss and anemia as much anything else, because of his doctors using this technique of draining blood to remove bad “humours.”
Only relatively recently did we learn to practice such things as sterilization. Only a hundred years ago during the Civil War, doctors had some of their greatest difficulty, not with the wounds of their patients, but with the infections that would frequently develop because they knew little of germs and microbes.
Leprosy is actually a term that could refer to several skin or even respiratory diseases. The word sounds a lot like the animal “leopard.” If those two words aren’t related, they sure sound like they should be. But that doesn’t mean leprosy was just spots on the skin, like measles or chicken pox, or something of that nature. Leprosy could cause a disfiguring of the limbs and face, and irritating skin lesions that spread and became decayed. The only thing they knew to do in those days was to quarantine lepers. These ten men who called out to Jesus “stood at a distance.” And, of course, he healed them at a distance.
The other thing to remember here is that their religion was tied up in all of this. As you know, their religion was also their law. Well, it was also tied in with their social and even their medical practice. “The Talmud” was their book of religious, legal, and social codes. In that book there were instructions on how to deal with leprosy. And according to the Talmud, a leper was not just infected with a disease. A leper was also “ritually unclean.” They were prohibited from exercising their religious life. And a person suffering from this disease was required to stay away from others, not just because they were impure, but because they were not to take the chance to make others “ritually unclean” as well. So they were required by law to cry out “impure” to anyone who came near. Imagine having a disease that made you feel awful, but also made you feel bad about your faith, as well.
By the way, Leprosy could sometimes go away. The “Talmud,” also had instructions about when to consider a person “cleansed” of leprosy. And notice, in healing these ten men, Jesus told them to do what? He told them to go and show themselves to the priests. He knew the religious laws and the instructions about this disease!
I tell you all that because I wanted you to see what Jesus had done for these men. He had given them back their lives! He had restored their access to the practice of their faith. He had made them able to rejoin society! It was an incredible thing he had done for them. And even after all of that, only one of them came back to Jesus to express his incredible gratitude. This man came and fell at Jesus’ feet! He was overcome by this amazing thing that was done for him!
As I think about this, it seems to me that when Jesus asked, “where are the other nine?,” he wasn’t just making a point about gratitude or an object lesson about being thankful. I think he is incredulous that this amazing thing had been done for them, and they just walked away, not showing any gratitude. He had done a wonderful miracle for them, and they were nowhere to be found. And I wonder, are we ever like those nine?
In the New Testament there are many places where the writers, especially Paul, talk about praising God even when we are going through tough times. “We rejoice in our sufferings,” he said. “Praise God in all circumstances.” And those are important things to learn. When life is difficult, keeping that attitude of praise is an enormous asset for us and for our relationship with God.
But what about the good times? Sometimes that’s where we neglect our faith the most. Sure, when life is tough, we turn to God. So do many people! There are no atheists in fox holes, they say. But when times are good, when times are great, do we sometimes forget our need for God? Do we sometimes forget that all good gifts come from him? Are we too busy working or even too busy enjoying life to remember God and how he makes life good?
Remember also that Jesus identifies this man as a Samaritan. He was one of that part of society that was “disliked” by the “pure Jews.” That’s because they had intermarried with the people outside of the faith during one of the occupations of Israel. They were often looked down on, and Jesus often used them as teaching examples. And when he did, I’m sure he “stirred up” a lot of emotions. But he was not afraid to confront people with their own hatred and prejudice. He hit those kinds of thing head on!
Well, here this man was one of those Samaritans, and I think it’s safe to infer from this statement that the others weren’t – at least not all of them. Some of them were good Jews! Again some were people who would have been thought of as better and more spiritual than the Samaritans!
Yet, here we have these nine men, some of them Jews, maybe all of them. And when Jesus gave them back their lives, they just said “thanks” – and walked away. And Jesus was amazed! Only one man came back and threw himself at Jesus’ feet. He was filled and overcome with gratitude. He took in this amazing thing Jesus had done for him, and he reacted in this act of praise and thanksgiving.
How would life be different if we remembered to praise God in all the good times in our lives? Again, this seems a simple thing. And sometimes when something good does happen, we do utter a quick “Praise the Lord.” Though sometimes it seems more like “Praise the Lord, I got what I wanted, rather than having a continual attitude of praise. How would life be different if we had this attitude of praise all the time?
There is a hydro-electric plant on the side of the Niagara gorge a few miles down from the falls. And it’s an amazing piece of engineering. If it weren’t for keeping the beauty of the falls, engineers could shut off the falls and divert the entire Niagara river through that plant to produce electricity! It’s incredible! And yet, with all that amazing human engineering, if you stand at the visitor’s center looking out over the gorge, you will see a wall inscribed with these words, “O Lord, Our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth. When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars which thou hast created, what is man that thou art mindful of him?” That puts our works in proper perspective with God’s works, doesn’t it?
If you think about it, what God has done is this world is “indescribable” as the song says, The gift of this life is incredible. What our eyes can see, what our ears can hear, is incredible! As one writer said, “God in creation is so lavish with beauty that he seems almost to be wasteful with it.” In a few weeks here there will be colors in nature that it will seem that God reserved only for that moment! Yet how many people will barely notice?
God has given us all that. And he’s given us the gift of all of the people in our lives, each a perfect creation. He has put us together in this world to share this life. Yet of all the things people tend to neglect the most it’s other people!
God has given us all of that – not to mention our incredible privilege of sharing this life with him in personal relationship. And even in all that and more, people too often walk away like the nine cleansed lepers!
Let that not be said of us! Let it be said that we live in an attitude of praise. Let it be said that we growing all the time in our ability to praise God when things are “not so good” in our lives. But let it also be said that we know how to praise God for all things good!
Eternal God, your hand in our lives is indeed as amazing as the beauty of your hand in creation that surrounds us. Help us through your holy spirit to remember to praise you in all things, good or not so good. Help us to grow in the ability to choose an attitude of praise for our lives, and so to live in your joy and in your glory. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.