Summary: A challenge and encouragement to recognise Jesus, receive direction from Jesus, respond obediently to Jesus, rejoice in Jesus and rise up forgiven by Jesus.
Jesus was travelling the border between Samaria and Galilee. Samaria is the Biblical name for a part of the territory that many people call the West Bank. Jesus called it Samaria; and Galilee was where Jesus spent a lot of time. He was travelling this border (17:11) as part of his final journey towards Jerusalem and the cross; and as Jesus enters a village he hears ten men shouting at him from a distance (17:12): “Jesus, Master, have pity on us” (17:13)! They’re standing at a distance due to their leprosy – not necessarily what we call leprosy today, but certainly they were suffering from serious skin conditions which all fell under the category of leprosy. For health reasons they were kept apart from the healthy, living alone – but some religious teachers had gone much further than the Bible by teaching that leprosy was an external sign of sins committed. Nowhere does the Bible teach that, but even today there are those who teach – in error – that sickness is a sign of sins committed.
Let’s not make that mistake, even subconsciously. I was chatting to a lady recently and her faith has taken a terrible knock because Christian friends have suggested that a relative of hers is ill because of some secret sin. Nonsense! The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Jesus (Romans 3: 23-24). Jesus was asked about a man who had been born blind. People asked him who had sinned. Was it him; or his parents? Jesus made it clear that the sickness was not due to sin, but it happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life (John 9:3). For me, I can say without doubt that my illness – the Dystonia in my neck – has led to the work of God being evident. Yes, I would love for it to be gone but if I’d been healed 3 years ago I would have missed out on conversations, relationships with other sufferers, opportunities to pray for them, playing tennis with a fellow sufferer, and a better understanding of illness.
The wisdom of the world knows the truth of this, but religion and folk-religion can so often get this wrong. Good health and long life is not directly proportional to how good and faithful I have been towards God. Likewise, poor health, sickness and illness are not directly proportional to how much of a bad boy I’ve been. No way! Bad things happen to good people.
(PG): Santa-Claus-is-watching theology is bad theology, and I make no apologies if I ruffle some feathers. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a parent (often a mother but not always) say something like this: Look Jimmy, stop it now (Jimmy keeps being naughty, pulling tins off the shelf in the supermarket, or poking his sister in the eye, or picking his nose in public or something much worse. Mum or Dad then resorts to Santa-Claus-is-watching theology. Look, Jimmy (Jimmy doesn’t look). Father Christmas is watching you, and if you don’t stop being a bad boy now then he won’t give you any Christmas presents! Jimmy’s face goes a bit pale. Frightened, he cries.
Father Christmas is not watching! God is watching. One day we will give an account to him of our actions, but God does not weigh up on some heavenly scales how good or bad we’ve been before deciding whether you and I are in his good books or not. All have sinned, but all are justified freely by God’s grace.
So these ten men from a community of lepers call out to Jesus, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” This group of ten recognise Jesus as Master. In their situation shunned by family and society they recognise Jesus as Master and from a distance they call out to him.
Have you recognised Jesus as Master? I’m not asking how much do you know about Jesus, and I’m not asking how much you know about Church! I’m asking have you recognised Jesus as Master, as Lord? Jesus, Master, have pity on me: I’ve prayed that prayer so many times.
Recognising Jesus as Master opens up a whole world of possibilities and realities; including healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and new purpose in life.
As the ten lepers recognised Jesus as Master they immediately received from Jesus. They received instant new direction; and when we recognise Jesus as master - our lives (in some way) also take a new direction. We will receive direction from him, his word, and others who love Him. The direction the lepers received was this, “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (17:14); and each of us will receive direction from Jesus as we recognise him as Master. The direction we receive might sound encouraging. The lepers were to go and show themselves to the priests. That was what you had to do to get a certificate of health. Their direction was to go and see the Doctor. Dr Cockcroft I presume! Other times direction might be tough. A man once recognised Jesus and asked what he should do to gain eternal life. Jesus told him to sell everything and give to the poor (Mt 19:21).