Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The One Who Came Back

My devotional this morning led me to read Luke 17:11-19, where Jesus heals the 10 lepers and only one returns to express his gratitude. Of course, the point of the devotional was to be grateful for the things God has done in your life and I honestly went into it thinking, "I know: yada;yada"), but as only He can, God brought some other things to my attention this time.

Luke takes great pains to point out all ten lepers were healed as they walked away from Jesus toward the priests (v.14). Numerous sermons have been preached about the amount of faith these men had to turn away and begin walking before healing took place. I don't deny that's a great likelihood. But, I also wonder, as people in a position of great desperation, was He simply their last hope? I mean, what's the worst Jesus could say when they ask for mercy? "No"? They won't be any worse off than they are already. Instead, Jesus tells them to do something marginally ridiculous. He doesn't say hello, wish them God's grace, or even touch their decaying bodies. He tells them to go show themselves to the priests.

Now, they didn't say anything apparently (which is a credit to them, because I would have looked at Jesus like he was crazy, followed by a snide, "Seriously?"), but at least one of them had to have been thinking: "Um, Jesus, we know you're a nice guy and all, and seem to know a lot about God and stuff, but...we've already done that." The laws–see Leviticus 13 for full details–gave instruction to present oneself to the priest to be declared unclean. (I guess priests back then also went to med school?) Presumably, all ten of these men had done that. So, why, before they were healed, was Jesus sending them back to the priests? Jesus, of course, knew that Leviticus 14 instructs lepers who believe they've been healed to return to the priests for verification, sacrifices of offerings and reestablishment in the community. But you go to the priest for this confirmation after healing has occurred. Jesus is sending them before "doing" anything. He doesn't wave a magic wand or speak words of power over them. I wonder if they walked away, not in faithful assurance of healing, but rather in confusion, dejection, or even apathy, thinking: "It was a nice try. At least worth a shot." I wish Luke had recorded their real thoughts and the fervor with which they did or did not walk away from Christ.

He did, however, record an important fact: one of the lepers (the grateful one) was a Samaritan. Remember, these are the people Hebrews would walk miles to avoid. Funny how crisis draws enemies together. When they were all afflicted with leprosy, he was welcome in the unsightly family. But, now, following their healing, would he be welcome? Would the Jewish priests even look at him? Would the other nine still invite him to dine at their family tables, or would getting better make him an outcast once again?

Jesus says to him in verse 19, "Your faith has saved you." I think He's offering the former leper and Samaritan a place of belonging. He is saved. He is rescued. Not only from a terminal illness, but from isolation, loneliness and exclusion.

I suspicion that's why Luke alone tells this story and Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. He knew what it was like to be an outsider. According to tradition, Luke was of Greek heritage, not a Hebrew (like Matthew, Mark and John). He wrote so non-Jews might know there was hope for them in this Messiah, this Christ. Jesus offered promise for a future for all humanity who found faith in Him. I also suspect that as a doctor (which tradition also tells us he was), Luke had an interest in diseases–especially when they were healed!

Though he'd cried out from a distance as a diseased outcast (v.12), the Samaritan surrendered his pride in front of a Jewish rabbi and humbly and gratefully came back, came near, falling at the feet of the One who cleansed his life (v16). He didn't deny the truth or gravity of his previous condition like we sometimes do. Imagine if he'd said, "Thanks Jesus, but you know, my leprosy wasn't as bad as Bob's." ????? How ludicrous! Yet that's what we sound like when we delude ourselves into believing our sin wasn't that bad. "I'm a good person, overall." No, we're people in need of cleansing, even if only a little. And we are insufficient to cleanse ourselves. The Samaritan had already known he needed mercy (v.13), but he willingly received it. And, he recognized the power of God as the source for the change (v.15).

Jesus is clearly delighted by this man. I imagine a broad grin spread across His face as he looked down at the man and invited him to stand (v.19). Though he'd been humbled by mercy, Jesus reminds the Samaritan that his dignity is restored. He is not a "thing" to feared and run from any longer. He is whole. He is well. The one who came back now belongs.

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