Ten lepers. Christ met them as He traveled to Jerusalem. There is no modern equivalent to their plight. Cancer victims might in some ways parallel the physical problems encountered by lepers. But cancer victims do not share in the physical isolation imposed on lepers in ancient times. They became outcasts from family and society, no longer allowed to associate with healthy people, whether lifelong friends or family members. Nor do cancer victims, for the most part, experience the total loss of home and livelihood that lepers endured. They begged in order to survive, living at the mercy and generosity of others, foraging or scavenging whenever and wherever possible. The hopelessness and despair of their condition, the loneliness of their existence, and the almost certainty of a miserable death can scarcely be imagined.
Small wonder, then, that when they recognized the Lord as He approached, and, even as they “stood afar off . . . they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Lk. 17:12b, 13). Doubtless, their imploring cries were boisterous, raucous, and insistent. After all, they were required by law to remain at a distance, so they spared no effort to gain the attention of the One who offered their only hope.
It is common for us, no doubt, to be zealous in our appeals to the Lord. What we need or feel that we need (or sometimes merely desire) often consumes our thoughts and energy and the majority of our prayer life. We come breathlessly to the Lord, giving Him His barest due—“Jesus, Master”—before rushing into our appeal with all the fervor that single-minded desire can muster.
But here we pause. For as self-centered and irreverent as their behavior might appear, as careless as they are of paying Him His due, the Lord does not rebuke them or even express dissatisfaction with them in any way. And in fact, His response is both instantaneous and positive: “Go shew yourselves unto the priests,” He told them. “And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed” (v. 14). This is truly a remarkable insight into the love and graciousness of our Lord.
What follows, however, is of a different sort. As they all begin to dash headlong to the nearest priest in order to be pronounced clean and be restored to their families, their means of living, and a normal life, one—a Samaritan stranger—pauses, turns back, and “with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks” (vv. 15b, 16). “And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole” (vv.17-19).
However boisterous the Samaritan’s plea had been, his praise was louder. Once abject misery had bowed him to the ground; now exultant thankfulness does so. True thankfulness is a rich and rare expression of gratitude, manifestation of humility, demonstration of joyful appreciation, and acknowledgement of indebtedness that glorifies the Lord more clearly and selflessly than virtually any other activity. But it requires our turning back from our compelling personal desires to those of the Lord. The Lord happily blessed ten lepers, but nine of them saddened Him with their selfish ingratitude. One glorified Him with the thanksgiving that was His due. Are you—will you be—among the nine or as the one?
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