Oooo…! Rhyming…Well more about that later. At the last Thursday evening Bible study, Jack was in high spirits. The Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD, see the post, “Jack! Hairless!”) was obsessed with someone’s shoes; when she took them off, Jack Lewis would focus on nipping at her feet. Now here is the interesting part: every time that I even gestured towards the BBSD’s kennel, he would run right in, leaving his obsession behind, and allowing me to lock him in. After 5 or 10 minutes, Jack Lewis would ask to be let out and then we would go through the same pattern of events again. It seems to me that the kennel is a comfort to Jack because it shows him where the lines and limits are, and delivers him for awhile from temptation. Once again the BBSD offers wisdom for living. Having limits helps me to focus my energies, rather having them so diffuse and scattered that much time and energy is lost. To be on a path is to have made a decision, so that I am not stuck in neutral. Now there are good paths and bad paths, but I am thinking of the path on which the Light of Christ shines, where my Lord Jesus leads.
At the Bible study, with Thanksgiving Day 2014 approaching the following week, part of my teaching included the story of Jesus cleansing/healing the ten lepers recorded in Luke 17:11-19. I also recommend reading Pss.103 and 107 so that we might, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits…” You might also reread my post, “What Is Reformed Coffee?” of 9/23/14. I sometimes say that sharing our sorrows with another Christian cuts them in half (“Bear one another’s burdens”) and sharing our thanksgivings doubles them. Expressing thankfulness and gratitude completes the experience of blessing; it’s the difference between blessing and mere dumb luck or chance.
“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.'” (Luke 17:11-19, NRSV)
Jesus and his disciples took a route to Jerusalem that went near Samaria and Galilee, so that they were likely to meet Samaritans and Gentiles. In one village, ten lepers approached Jesus, “keeping their distance”. Some Bible translations have a footnote that says something like, ‘leprosy’ can refer to several skin diseases. The important point, in Ancient Israel, was that many skin diseases that involved a discharge, called for exclusion from worship and quarantine from the community until a priest certified that one was clean and then sacrifices were offered. The issues, among others, involved ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ provisions to protect worshipers from the holiness of God and rules to guard the physical health of the community. You can read about diagnosing diseases in Leviticus 13 and about certification of a cure in Leviticus 14.
In the Age of Ebola, and with an open Southern border, Americans hardly need much imagination to understand the anxiety that a disease like leprosy or other skin diseases might cause 1st century people, and the loneliness and affliction of social isolation that diseased people in the 1st century would endure. But let us understand that leprosy is still with us, especially in India, China and Africa. In the 1980s, there were about 5.2 million chronic cases of leprosy. By 2012 chronic cases were down to about 189,000, with about 230,000 new cases. Leprosy is a disease that runs along neural pathways and can cause horrible damage to the eyes and to body extremities, like the nose and mouth, hands and feet, arms and legs. Sometimes the extremities are worn away because the leper did not feel the injuries. No symptoms appear for 5 to 20 years after infection. Leprosy is thought to spread by moisture droplets from the respiratory system and is actually not very contagious. Today leprosy is curable through a course of 6 or 12 months of certain antibiotics, depending on the type of leprosy, and the treatment is administered free by the World Health Organization. Over 16 million people have been cured of the disease in the last 20 years. However, there are still more than 1,000 leper colonies in India and hundreds of colonies in China. I have some horrific pictures of today’s lepers, but decided not to use them because you can’t just unsee these tragic pictures. Instead, just to show a little of what we are referring to I have included the following picture.
The lepers “called out” to Jesus the succinct prayer that has all the elements that desperate people, including sometimes you and me, need in their prayers: 1) they addressed the personal God made known in Jesus, not an impersonal god or force, not the universe, not ‘to whom it may concern’; 2) they recognized that Jesus is “Master”, or as we might say, our ‘Lord’ or ‘Sovereign”; 3) they were not shy about praying for themselves, “us”; and 4) they acknowledged that they needed “mercy”, as we all do, because we do not deserve, nor have we earned, God’s gifts; God owes us nothing, and yet God is eager to save and heal us because of his great love for his creatures, ‘us’.
Note also that it was as the ten lepers obeyed Jesus and went to show themselves to the priests, as required (remember Lev. 14), that they were healed. Their obedience demonstrated their faith in Jesus, since they were not healed before they left. My Dad used to saying something like, one can’t steer a parked car. Sometimes we are unwilling to move, or are paralyzed, until all circumstances are favorable. It is as we obey, seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, that all that we need is added to us (Matthew 6:33).
One of the lepers, “…when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” (Lk. 17:16a, NRSV) The man was a Samaritan, not the expected hero for Jews (the same point applies to Jesus’ story about ‘The Good Samaritan’). Jesus used this event as a ‘teaching moment’, wondering aloud that only “this foreigner” returned to give “praise to God”.
But here is the point for our Thanksgiving reflection: this prostrate, praising and thankful man drew from Jesus these words: “Get up and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Lk. 17:19b, NRSV) Jesus desired that all of the ten lepers would be restored to community, fellowship, to society; thus he sent them all to the priests. But this one that turned back had a relational and healing moment, beyond the other lepers, with Jesus. This is what I mean by thankfulness completing the experience of blessing. The man received further command and authorization. And then those encouraging words that sealed the relationship and nailed down the man’s understanding: “Your faith has made you well.” The Greek word for ‘made well’ is sometimes used also for ‘saved’, ‘rescued’, ‘delivered’, ‘kept safe’, ‘preserved’, or ‘cured’. Is it too fanciful to suggest that the Samaritan was saved or rescued in more than one way? Look at what he might have missed, if he had not turned back to give thanks and praise! Giving thanks is always a good idea. Living in gratitude to God and living a life of praise are simply appropriate to Reality: who God is and who we are.
In Luke 5:12-14, one can read of Jesus actually cleansing or healing a leper by touching him. Jesus was willing to be ceremonially unclean and, in the opinion of his time, to risk infection. I hope that you feel touched this Thanksgiving.
Thanks for reading.
This post was powered by, “The Banner Days Sampler” (2014) CD by The Banner Days, “O Happy Fault” (2014) and “Death, Be Not Proud – EP” (2014) CDs by Audrey Assad, “Let’s Turkey Trot” (2014) single by The Dollyrots, and “Namaste Sate” (2011) CD by Aradhna.