On His way to Jerusalem, somewhere between Samaria and Galilee, Jesus encountered ten lepers on the outskirts of a village. News of who Jesus was had reached these unfortunate souls, and so, staying at a distance as was their lot as outcasts, they cried out to Him for mercy. In response, He instructed them to go and show themselves to the priests. As they did so, all ten of them were healed. How kind is our God, loving indiscriminately, and curing the incurable.
The incident is recorded in a way that uses words economically, yet it is richly nuanced for those with enough background to read between the lines. The only fellow who made the effort to thank Jesus was a Samaritan, and the way in which Luke phrases things strongly implies that the other nine were all Jews. Jews and Gentiles were reluctant bedfellows, but these men had found community in their leprosy. Therein is a parable, for all men regardless are united in their sinfulness, and sin is nothing other than leprosy of the soul.
The ethnic divide in the group infers different priests and different temples – the Samaritan to Samaria; the Jews to Jerusalem. Does this not again speak to the modern church in penetrating ways. We, who were united in our lost-ness, are often divided in our found-ness, as church affiliations define us in polarising ways. This is so disturbing given that our very lives rest in a common salvation. A further noteworthy nuance is the way in which this incident blends into the broader story. Jesus was often rejected by Jews, yet received by the Samaritans and other Gentiles. Self-righteousness is indeed the enemy of faith, and Law is a ministry of death. It is so to those it disqualifies, and in another way it is also so to those who deceive themselves and permit their religiosity to craft and nurture pride within. Nothing quite carries the stench of death like fetid self-righteous arrogance, don’t you think?
But Jesus healed them all! He healed the half-breed Samaritan who flung himself at the feet of Jesus in gratitude. He healed His Jewish brothers, whose testimony remained within the confines of the religious community in Jerusalem; the same community that campaigned vociferously for Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans. How ironic. Nevertheless, Jesus healed them all. Is this not an essential lesson for all who love to bless and minister to others? Love them all, no matter how leprous or self righteous they are. Love the grateful and the ingratiate equally. This is grace.
I’m not suggesting that loving and expecting nothing in return is easy. The only way to travel down that path, albeit with stumbling steps, is with the help of the Spirit, and in the recognition of that being the way in which God loves us. Perhaps those who struggle the most with this are church and ministry leaders, for the success of our churches and ministries depends on others being willing to sacrifice alongside of us. For us, giving and giving without substantial return on investment spells vocational disaster, and so we – the professional lovers – are somewhat surprisingly the most likely to resent the “other nine”. When Jesus drew attention to these other nine (the account is in Luke 17:11-19), He was shaping our personal responses to grace. His philosophy of ministry remained unchanged – He healed them all. And so should we. But let’s you and I be like the one, responding to grace in faith and gratitude, and allowing these to move us. In doing so, we will be those who give praise to God in all things.