As with all of the recorded testimony of Jesus’ life and ministry there is much insight on many levels that can be found in the story of the ten lepers. In this short reflection, however, let us focus on one particular aspect. That is, not what was special about the one (which we will briefly refer to at the end), but what was the problem with the nine. Looking backwards it seems that they really missed the point. In fact, Jesus was absolutely incredulous over their ungratefulness.
Now, because Scripture doesn’t specifically identify the issues of each of the hearts of the nine ungrateful lepers, we are left to speculate and consider the possibilities. Jesus makes it clear that the appropriate response by all of the ten should have been to do as the one righteous foreigner, but nine out of ten didn’t. That is a daunting indictment of our human condition. Only one in ten reacted to Jesus goodness in a way that pleased Him.
Let us now offer nine commonly observed human responses that might help us understand why each of the others missed the mark. Maybe if we can see some of these tendencies in our own lives it may help us to respond to Jesus’ goodness in a way that pleases Him better. No child of God wants to end up being perceived by Jesus as an ingrate.
1. Perhaps the first leper was struggling with unbelief. He walked away from Jesus not sure if he was really being permanently healed or if it was just his own excitement making him feel better. This is the guy who, after receiving evidence of a healing or deliverance, waits for the leprosy to come back rather than giving thanks to Jesus. He was not enjoying the moment but anticipating failure. His heart did not naturally respond with faith and thanksgiving but with suspicion, doubt and unbelief.
We are each called to fight the fight of faith! Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" Mark 9:23-24.
When I was a twenty six year old spiritual leper, Jesus Christ blessed me with the cleansing power of His Holy Spirit. Even though it was a powerful, life altering baptism in God’s love and power, I recognized my responsibility to continue to believe His eternal work was done in me day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. There was a constant knowledge that without intentional faith and expressed gratitude I could become distracted enough to lose the wonderful blessing.
Jesus says in Mark chapter eleven that when we pray, if we believe we received it, we will have it. The way Jesus expected to be treated by all ten lepers for this miracle was through passionate thanksgiving. A sure way to express unbelief is to withhold thanksgiving waiting to see if the blessing sticks like leper number one.
2. Maybe the second leper felt somewhat grateful but was too embarrassed to approach Jesus and His entourage. This is a second-class, timid spirit that says things like, “He’s too busy for me… I’m too embarrassed to ask to see him… What am I going to say? I’m afraid... I’m just a little person… I’m not important enough to interrupt His meeting… I don’t like speaking in front of crowds… I don’t want to be rude.”
Although this common ‘aw-shucks-it’s-only-me’ talk has an outward appearance of niceness and self-deprecation it is really false humility rooted in fear and pride. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) the servant who, out of fear, buries the money his master entrusts to him instead of investing it invokes a similar strong reaction from his master (You wicked and lazy servant…) as our nine ungrateful lepers invoke from Jesus. There is no acceptable reason not to openly and publicly lavish gratitude on Jesus when God visits with His blessing.
When God makes an investment in a person, bringing healing, salvation, freedom, prosperity, inner wholeness or any other good thing, He expects an immediate, lavish, public display of gratitude… it is simply the right thing to do. Thank you, Jesus. Everyone get out of my way while I interrupt your ‘religion’ with my gratitude!
3. I think that at least one of the nine lepers was so excited that he went to tell his family and friends the good news and forgot all about Jesus. I’ve seen this happen many times when, after praying for someone in a difficult or desperate situation, God amazingly answers the prayer and the person runs to tell their family and forgets to give Jesus credit other than sometimes a little half-hearted nod.
In the book of Micah, the Lord’s heart is grieving because of this kind of attitude among people: Woe is me! For I am like those who gather summer fruits, Like those who glean vintage grapes; There is no cluster to eat of the first-ripe fruit which my soul desires. Micah 7:1 The Lord is longing; His soul desires in this scripture to harvest the ‘first-ripe fruit,’ which is that immediate burst of joy and thanksgiving that comes off the human heart when something good happens. He is so fulfilled by our genuine gratitude that the Bible says He is “enthroned in the praises of Israel” (Psalms 22:3). That means that the more we rightfully praise Him, the more He takes control as sovereign King of our lives. But like our leper friend, many of us run to tell our wife, children, friends, co-workers and neighbor the good news and neglect for days or weeks giving thanks to the only one who actually deserves it. What a shame.
Truth be known, many people will not really enter into your joy anyway… friends often react with insensitive remarks of unbelief, jealousy or bitterness at a miracle or even find a way to turn the conversation to themselves. Many people are not deep enough to grasp the gravity of a genuine blessing from God and refuse to correlate and credit the situation to Jesus. The ‘first-ripe fruit’ of your joy and thanksgiving ends up wasted on people without ears to hear rather than filling the heart of the One who planted and tends the vineyard.
4. Perhaps the problem with another one of our nine unappreciative lepers could be that he attributed the healing to the priest rather than Jesus. Because Jesus sent him to show himself to the priest, he easily could have misinterpreted the source of healing power as being the old religious system rather than the new move of the Spirit. He probably considered Jesus a spiritual guy but couldn’t break from his prejudiced idea of his parent’s structured religious system being the only source of God’s true power. To personally honor Jesus, in his mind, was to disrespect his inherited religion.
Many thousands of people today are trapped in old religious systems of worship that literally separate them from God and prevent them from having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A dear friend of mine was a member of a large denomination and even though she was blessed, more than once, by the Holy Spirit’s tangible presence outside her church, she always recoiled back into the limitations of her denomination. Like our theoretical leper number four, she cried out to Jesus from afar off and when God answered her prayer, her religious pride and fear of the unknown rose up and she regressed even deeper into a church that offered no real life; only convoluted theology, dry sermonizing and no real power.
In fact, many times, inherited religious systems can be a decoy, offering beautiful human stage props to cover the fact that God has left them long ago. In the Scripture, Moses placed a veil over his face to hide the glory that was departing (2 Corinthians 3:13). Likewise, expensive buildings, medieval robes, academic elitism, awe inspiring music, impressive programs, glorious stained glass and thousands in attendance can put on a convincing imitation of God’s presence. Church can become like the Wizard of Oz; a man behind a curtain controlling a false manufactured memory of God with no real presence or power.
Jesus said: "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:7-8). There is a time where God expects every Christian to respond based on inner conviction and not like a spiritual Serengeti wildebeest during the annual migration. This fourth leper should have returned to Jesus and shown the same gratitude as the foreigner.
5. Maybe leper number five did not connect Jesus with the miracle. This guy just took the blessing and ran, considering it his good fortune, luck, natural healing, yin and yang, or coincidence. Many people are stingy in their willingness to acknowledge gratitude or express appreciation and would rather attribute a freely received gift to luck or fortune rather than expressing heartfelt appreciation to any man and/or admitting their poverty apart from an undeserved act of God’s mercy.
Jesus’ perturbed response to the absence of the nine ungrateful lepers reveals that they all missed something that should have been obvious: the principle of ‘a debt of gratitude.’ That is, when good is received, the right response is expressed thankfulness toward the giver of the good thing. In fact, in our day of fear of litigation, social hostility, situational morality and the nanny state, the godly concept of thankfulness has been lost as a widely celebrated virtue. Too many people stubbornly expect to be cared for and are not thankful when they do receive something good.
Leper number five did not acknowledge that his healing cost somebody something. Although he cried out with the others, “son of David, have mercy on us,” when Jesus did have mercy, the leper rejoiced in his own good luck. How many people cry out to God in a moment of despair and then reward only themselves when something good happens.
6. Theoretical leper number six considered it ridiculous for God to expect an emotional show of gratefulness. This attitude is the idea that being expected to openly express gratitude, praise and worship to God is undignified and makes God look selfish and egocentric. This leper is thinking, “Why would God want me to praise Him, anyway… what is He some kind of narcissist?” This leper thinks he is equally grateful just quietly feeling thankful in his heart, after all, “You can’t judge me, God knows my heart.”
Only a humble, unselfish person can truly lavish thanksgiving on God and others. False lavish thanksgiving usually comes off either shallow or ostentatious. Genuine thanksgiving is humble, lovely, pure, holy and powerful. It draws the grace and power of God.Leper number six, in his assessment that God couldn’t possibly care how people praise Him, has mistakenly anthropomorphized God, wrongly attributing to God the selfish, sinful nature of man. God is not a man, which is why He sent His Son as a man, on assignment to build a bridge and restore the broken relationship between us. Jesus came to clearly teach God’s created beings how we should respond to our creator when our hearts are right. He was reinforcing what was already clearly taught in the Psalms about expressing praise and thanksgiving openly and passionately.
In an automobile manual, the manufacturer authoritatively describes how their product should function when properly cared for. Jesus was authoritatively identifying malfunctioned human beings in this event. He clearly showed that when nine lepers did not respond with immediate, open gratitude, they were flat wrong and he was completely unsympathetic in His harsh assessment of their behavior as unacceptable. Their ‘idiot lights’ were shining brightly.
7. Leper number seven noticed that only the foreigner returned to thank Jesus but none of the other Jewish lepers so he wasn’t going to risk looking like a fool. He examples the person who says, “Our church doesn’t do it that way,” or “I’m not going to look like a fool and praise expressively because everybody will look at me.” This leper fears what people think of him more than caring about what God thinks of him. Even though he was a known leper, after being cleansed of a hideous disease he was too prideful to humble himself before Jesus. This is a follower-leper, a spiritual lemming who will never do anything dubbed uncool by the in-crowd.
The inner condition of this leper is not the same as number four, who did not return to Jesus because of his loyalty to his parents’ church. This leper was just concerned with peer pressure. He thought that people would laugh at him and call him a fool for being a Jesus freak. In the modern Christianity, this is the kind of believer that cares more about what public opinion polls say about the church than what Jesus says about the church.
When our church moved from a quiet country road in a remote area into the heart of the Village of Margaretville there were a number of uncomfortable church members. Although all of our members love our church and modern worship style, the thought of being publicly seen with these ‘Charismatics’ was painful for some. How many believers care more about looking cool than truly thanking Jesus?
Jesus said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?”
8. Leper number eight thought he wanted to be healed until it happened. He was crying out with the rest of the ten but never really expected to be cleansed because his life was built around his handicap, and therefore he perceived his healing as a burden rather than a blessing. He was content being unclean. He liked that people pitied him and did not expect him to grow, change, achieve or perform well. He was making a living and had social acceptance as part of a community of handicapped individuals. He was content at living in a sub-culture of lepers and the thought of being made whole was terrifying.
In John chapter five Jesus asks the infirmed man at the Pool of Bethesda if he wants to be made well. The question sounds odd until you realize that the man, lying on his bed, had been staying in his infirmed condition (at the healing pool) among a variety of other handicapped people for thirty eight years. How painfully revealing to think of how comfortable we can become with our own infirmities when we are accepted just the way we are.
Interestingly, the man does not quickly answer yes to Jesus’ question but explains that he’s waiting for an angel to stir the waters (a revival?) and there has been no one to help him in (an indictment against his local church?). Likewise, how many in the church claim to be waiting for a healing in their body, soul or circumstances but never hear the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ words to, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8).
After joining Facebook I was disappointed at how many supposed Christians openly share off-color, unkind and inappropriate things. Unfortunately, like leper number eight, many do not really want to be cleansed. They do not fall at Jesus’ feet with thanksgiving because they do not really want to be that close to Him or adopt the purity, holiness and separation unto God’s purposes required. They think a dirty halo is kind of cool.
Leper number eight knew how to make a living as an unclean outsider but now had the new problem of learning how to function as a whole person. He defined his whole life based on his outer disease but it really masked his inner uncleanness, lack of motivation and laziness. After Jesus cleansed him, he no longer had this crutch or excuse for not accomplishing anything in life. “Oh great, now what am I supposed to do, go get a job?”
9. The ninth leper considered it against his personal code of conduct to bow before any man. This was the anti-organized church leper. He would give lip service to God as long as God stayed invisible but there was no way he was going to bow down before any human being. He would sound very pious and sanctimonious instructing people that it is wrong to give any man credit because, “After all, Jesus was just saying what God wanted Him to. As for me, I only worship God.” Whereas leper number five did not express gratitude to Jesus because he simply didn’t get the connection between the miracle and Jesus, this leper saw the connection but his personal theology (or bias) was against giving credit to man.
It is interesting that the righteous leper both glorified God and had no problem falling down at Jesus feet, giving Him thanks. Don’t forget, as the ‘Son of Man,’ Jesus was just as human as any member of our race. The good leper thanked the human whose voice spoke the power of God and Jesus affirmed his actions as right.
Prideful make-believers claim to love God but disrespect the Body of Christ, the Church. These modern lepers will not express thanks to Jesus by gratefully joining and submitting to His designated leadership team and the fountain head of His blessing. Jesus said to the human leaders that He had personally raised-up to establish His organized Church: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:23) Jesus gave the power of cleansing spiritual lepers to the Church. Withholding gratitude from those through whom God’s blessing flows is as wrong today as when Jesus walked.
10. We finally come to leper number ten, the righteous leper. He, “when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.”
- When he saw... The good leper responded immediately. He did not wait for validation, confirmation or invitation. He was confident in his own personal assessment of the situation. He did not wait until tomorrow or until he had enough money to buy a gift or until he wrote a perfect speech. He instantly perceived, believed and embraced the miracle.
- …that he was healed... His faith, powered by his anticipation after hearing of Jesus healing others, caused him to be absolutely certain he was healed. He was sure that God healed, completely and permanently.
- …returned… He seemingly did not even make it to the priest to have the healing officially certified. He was inwardly compelled to return to Jesus and that was a higher, more urgent priority.
- … and with a loud voice… No waiting to see how the Jewish lepers responded. No timidity, silent prayer, solemn worship, or embarrassment. No holding back or fear of looking uncool. On America’s Funniest Home Videos, among their collection of home movies there is a scenario where people give someone a fake winning lottery ticket as a gag. Almost universally the gagged person whoops and shouts when they think they’ve won a lot of money. Why is responding to God’s grace any different? Jesus indicated that all ten lepers should have known to respond boisterously and openly to this great blessing. That we would learn this lesson.
- …glorified God… The healthy human heart accurately identifies God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The pure hearted person can see God in the blessings and circumstances of life. The good leper recognized Jesus as an agent of God’s love and power. He glorified God and in doing so, testified of His life, goodness and power.
- …and fell down on his face at His feet… The prostrate position is the position of utter humility, honor and submission. It is an expression of my leader’s superiority to me in every way and my utter loyalty to him and his kingdom. I am offering myself to you as a servant. I have nothing to bring but myself. The leper started out from afar but now boisterously barges into Jesus’ up-close presence, coming as near to the master as possible but humble enough to fall on his face at His feet. To stand while addressing Jesus would be to place himself on Jesus’ level, therefore he fell down before the Master in submission and bursting with gratitude.
- …giving Him thanks… Thanking Jesus Christ is the self-evident, central, and natural activity of redeemed humanity. It is what all Christians who have been cleansed of spiritual leprosy should do all the time. It is the elders surrounding the throne in Revelation, falling down to worship over and over and over again. It is the only right thing to do given the gift we have received and the price that Jesus paid for it.
- …and he was a Samaritan.” Everyone who cries out to Jesus is eligible for this blessing. Everyone, no matter how ‘far off’ they have been can be healed. Like our Samaritan leper, cry out to Jesus today.