We spend a lot of time talking about how Christians should and shouldn’t act. We should tithe. We shouldn’t lie. We should help others. We shouldn’t hurt people. We should read our Bibles. We shouldn’t…etc., etc.
When I look at how much of that we sometimes focus on, I can understand why some non-Christians folks don’t have much interest in our faith. Of course, our faith in Christ should have consequences in how we live our lives. We claim to be different people, changed into something new by the grace of God. But if the new people act just like the old people, what’s the difference?
On the other hand, we’ve compiled an impressive list of thou-shalt-nots for people whose religion was founded on the concept of removing barriers between people and God. We have met the Pharisees, and sometimes they are us.
Jesus pointed out in one conversation what the law boiled down to, and we call the greatest commandment. We’re to love God with all we have, and then as a corollary, we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves.
In the story of the ten lepers, we see Jesus boiling down the right relationship between God and human beings to its essentials. Later, the Apostle Paul will flesh this idea out in the first chapters of Romans, but Luke tells us a story of Jesus that gives us the essence.
Jesus meets ten lepers before he enters a village. They stay far away, like the law required them to do. People with leprosy couldn’t live with others, and often grouped together in bands of outcasts like this. Their former lives are meaningless, as we’ll see.
They call out to Jesus for mercy, and he directs them to go to show the priest they are clean. Even while they head back to town, their disease disappears. One man, a Samaritan who would ordinarily never have been with a group of Jews, runs back to Jesus when he sees his disease vanish. He praises God and falls to his knees.
Jesus notes that only one of the ten he healed offer thanksgiving for the mercy they sought, and tells him, “Go on your way. Your faith has made you well.”
Now this is interesting. “Your faith has made you well.” Do the other nine lose their cure? Probably not. The word translated “clean” in v. 14 is not the same as the word translated “well” in v. 19. So Jesus doesn’t say the man is cured because of his faith. He’s already been cured, and that’s because Jesus did what the men asked: He had mercy on them and healed them.
What did the man’s faith do, then? It made him return to his healer and thank God for his healing. And that, Jesus said, made him well. The other men may have been cured, but at this time, at least, they haven’t been made well. Think of it like someone with a cold who takes a cough drop – the cough is gone for awhile, but the cold remains.
What is it that makes the man well and truly whole? Praise to God for what amounts to a brand new-life, a return from the dead. People wrote lepers off, families often acted like they were dead and gone. But these men have been reborn, and the one foreigner knows who to thank for it (God) and what to do about it (thank him).
Paul will spend a lot of time telling us that everyone everywhere can know God is our creator by watching his creation. And God only wants us to respond to that knowledge properly with our praise, thanksgiving, respect and obedience. Because we haven’t, God has brought Christ into the world to re-shape us so we can.
The Samaritan leper does just that. He has asked for new life, in the form of a cure. He now has new life, and so he shows his praise and respect to the one who have it to him by thanking him. He is now well.
And this is what God calls us to do as well. God offers us a new life in Christ, a life with the possibility of real change. People in despair over what seems to be a broken life can find healing. People cut off from those around them by pride and arrogance can find humility and a community.
The Samaritan’s cure came about through the grace and mercy of Christ, just as ours does. Neither he nor we earned it. We ask. Because God loves us, he answers.
But then comes the part where the changed life really shows up. Do we offer our praise and gratitude to God for the change? Do we decide to live our lives knowing we are changed people, even though we might not see much evidence right away? If we don’t, we’re just cleaned up for a little while.
But if we do, then we too are made well by the good news of Jesus Christ.