Sunday, August 24, 2014

Effective Thankfulness (Luke 17:11-19)

1.     Challenging Questions

This passage singles out one person who had been cured of leprosy … who in turn showed gratitude and gained extra blessing. This passage also highlights nine other people who gained the same cure but didn’t return to thank Jesus.

Jesus loved all ‘ten’, and was offering the same outcome to all, but nine didn’t avail themselves of the opportunity. The question for me is – “What were they thinking”? What was going on in their heads? And then we go on to wonder what relevance this might have to us. This leads then to a further question … ‘Why do so many people go so far with Jesus and no further’??

2.     Back to the beginning

People who suffered from leprosy were outcasts … excluded from mainstream society … forced to live in remote and desolate places, enduring horrible conditions. This was due to their disfigurement and because they were thought to be contagious. This also meant they were often separated from their family, and they could not attend the synagogue and fulfil their religious observances. These ‘lepers’ were generally despised, feared and thus marginalised. As such they were left to their own devices, living in a sort of chaotic quarantine!!! They suffered from poverty, hunger, mental anguish, and shame (even though they were often not at fault). For all these reasons such affected people were desperate. What is termed “leprosy” in bible times was not necessarily the most problematical “Hansen’s disease”, but could have also been eczema or psoriasis or such like. All such skin conditions were lumped together under ‘leprosy’, treated as contagious and undesirable, leading to the sufferers being treated as sub-human.

So this day while Jesus was travelling along the road, ten leprosy sufferers tentatively approached Jesus for help. Having caught his attention, they called out for mercy. Why, when they were in such a desperate condition, did they “keep their distance” (v.12), rather than just falling at Jesus’ feet then and there? This was of course the law – such sufferers were not allowed to approach any ‘non-leper’. And if they accidentally came across someone’s path, they were obligated to call out “Unclean, unclean”! When Jesus noticed them, he was impressed with their faith (or at least a belief in Jesus big enough that they might receive some help). Where had such faith come from? Perhaps the stories about Jesus, including his healing of ‘lepers’, had become well-known around the grapevine even through the margins of society. And then, desperation and suffering can be triggers for opening oneself to any possibility of outside help.

Calling Jesus “Master” (v.13) certainly indicated some level of faith and expectancy. These ten leprosy sufferers seem to have felt that Jesus could do something for them, even if they stayed at a distance; such was the power Jesus had over human conditions. Now we know that not all illness is cured like we see in this passage, in fact it seems that it is the norm for us to endure various illnesses while maintaining out trust in God. Sometimes there is a measure of relief, sometimes marked improvement, sometimes complete healing, but often health challenges continue. We wonder why … and are left to trust in the wisdom of God. But here in this passage, we are surely given a window into the magnificent capacity of Jesus to change the course of our lives.

We pause to consider whether we are prepared to approach Jesus for help with points of need in our life, or whether, for whatever reason, we keep our distance. Maybe it’s outside the norm we have adopted to close the distance between ourselves and Jesus!?! We shouldn’t allow any feelings of unworthiness or guilt or shame stand in the way of calling for or reaching out to the One who so much wants to love us. Can we put aside our inhibitions and throw ourselves onto the mercy of Jesus; thereby putting ourselves on the path of health and wholeness?

How did Jesus respond to the ‘ten lepers’?? Jesus told the ‘ten’ to go and show themselves to the priest at their local synagogue. This was because it was required for a priest to declare someone free of leprosy before they could return to normal community and family life. These ten lepers would know that well, and thus realised that Jesus had in fact responded with mercy to their need. What do you notice about the way things happened (v.14)?? They went to do what Jesus had said, and THEN … they were “made clean”!! Jesus was testing their level of faith, asking them to act as if their healing was assured.

3.     An extra step

One of these ‘ten’ returned to thank Jesus. Not only that … because he no longer felt inhibited and oppressed by this leprosy condition, this ‘one’ felt free to fall at Jesus’ feet in gratitude and adulation! And it is quite clear that he was happy to go public about this, because the text says that he was “praising God with a loud voice” (v.15). He also had clearly made the connection between Jesus and God. This ‘one’ of the ‘ten’ realised that such a miraculous outcome deserved a personal heartfelt response. This particular person had obviously thought about the significance of what had happened a little more, and how wonderful it was, and how great was the One who had brought it about! This day, this former ‘leper’, realised he had been touched by God. It’s when we slow down and take the time to think about where and when God has acted for us in mercy, that we grow in our faith.

There is a quirky little remark here for any witness or reader of this event!! This one who returned to worship Jesus would have been the least likely to respond in this way to a Jewish teacher (v.16b). Samaritans and Jews did not get on well together – there was much entrenched antagonism between them. Yet Jesus’ ministry was going to cut right across not only the divide of human wellness, but also across any racial divide (challenging any old enemies to become friends). Everyone and anyone has access to Jesus should they desire it!

The nine others heading off together to their Jewish priest might have felt satisfied in each other’s company, but the one Samaritan became aware of his need to be in Jesus’ company. We then see something extra, something special, something even more extraordinary happen. What do you see in the text (v.19)???

To be made “well” is akin to being ‘saved’, which is of much greater import than just being “made clean” (v.14) [or ‘healed’] in a physical sense. To be made “well” encompasses all parts of our life, most especially to the depths of our spiritual being. To be made “well” is to be made ‘whole’. This one former ‘leper’ was now fully alive!

This is then something that the other nine missed out on. Why?? They just went about their own business! They were possibly satisfied just with their physical improvement. A shame really, because they had come so far to miss out on the cherry sitting on top of the ice-cream! This is like the child who receives a beautiful gift, but then is just satisfied playing with the wrapping paper or the empty box!! I think that this says something to those who:
·        take their Christian walk very casually, or,
·        pick and choose a little bit concerning the teaching of Jesus, or,
·        are just satisfied when their immediate personal needs are met, or,
·        push Jesus back into a comfortable box for them, or,
·        are prepared to accept mediocrity rather than full freedom, or,
·        don’t give priority to worshipping and serving Jesus with their fellow believers, or,
·        don’t take seriously enough the concept of becoming more like Christ.

Another analogy … this is a bit like a class of ten students at school … nine of which would only do enough to just get that ‘pass mark’. There is something to be missed out on, if we are not sincere in our faith.

4.     Being thankful

It seems that it was this particular one former leper’s attitude of thankfulness that made a tremendous difference. His gratitude actually demonstrated the reality of his faith. This can lead us down the path of fulfilling that most challenging of instructions from Paul: “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess.5:18); for instance,

·        we can be thankful for the alarm even on a cold morning, because we are alive
·        we can be thankful for the dirty dishes, because this means we have been fed
·        we can be thankful for tiredness, because it means we have had something purposeful to do
·        we can be thankful for life’s challenges, because these will inevitably grow our faith.

Being thankful:

·        reminds us that we need help in life
·        allows us to reflect on our blessings, and consider those lacking similar benefits
·        helps us understand what is most important in life.

The other nine would have no doubt felt good going off to their priest to be declared “clean”. But there was ‘one’ who caught something of Jesus that he wouldn’t let go of. Having experienced Jesus and the full impact of his ministry, this former ‘leper’ now became a worshipping, praise-filled follower of Jesus.

Colossians 2:6-7 reads: As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith; just as you were taught; abounding in thanksgiving.

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