Summary: Exploring the connection between faith and the work of God. in the end our faith is in a person who is so far beyond our understanding that all we can do is to trust him, whether or not we understand what he’s doing with us.
Today I want to talk about faith. It’s one of those words that we use a lot as Christians but I’m not sure we’re always completely clear on what we mean by it. In particular I want to think abut the connection between faith and the work of God.
How much faith do you need to see God answer your prayers? And can you expect God to answer your prayers if you don’t acknowledge him when he does?
These are the sorts of questions thrown up by this story today. Here we see 10 people who are healed by Jesus, yet only one who appears to show any response to him.
Jesus is travelling towards Jerusalem on his final pilgrimage to Jerusalem when he comes to a small town. Just as he’s entering the town he’s met by a group of ten men who are suffering from leprosy. As was the case in those days, they’re outside the town, keeping their distance from people. But when they see Jesus they call out “Jesus! Master! Take pity on us!” They may be outcasts but they know who Jesus is and they’re hoping he might heal them the way he did another leper at the start of Mark’s gospel.
Now in that incident, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the man and says “Be clean!”. But here, all he says is “Go, show yourselves to the Priests.” There’s no direct contact, no touch that would communicate healing. Just the implication that they’re to show themselves to the priests because they’ve been healed. Can you see what he’s doing? He testing their faith isn’t he? If they believe that Jesus will heal them then they’ll go. And in fact that’s what they do, and as they go they discover that they’ve been healed.
Here’s the first thing for us to learn about faith. Sometimes you have to actually act on your belief before you see God at work. Sometimes it’s not until you take the first step, or the first series of steps that you discover whether God is indeed at work in you. [This is what we found with our first Messy Church service wasn’t it? We didn’t really know whether it was worth doing, whether people would come, until we tried it. And of course people did come. God did answer our prayers. So we’re going to do it again in a couple of weeks time.] Well that’s what happens here. These 10 men demonstrate their faith in God by setting out for the local synagogue to show themselves to the priests. And their faith is rewarded.
But then one of them, when he discovers he’s been healed turns around and comes back to Jesus to thank him. And notice what he does. First of all he comes praising God with a loud voice. He recognises that the power to heal him has come from God, that Jesus is working as an instrument of God’s power and he wants everyone to know about it. And when he gets to Jesus he throws himself to the ground in an act of obeisance, showing his awareness of Jesus’ closeness to God, as well as thanking him for his love and care. Then comes the sting in the tale, the WOW! moment. Luke adds: “And he was a Samaritan!” He was a member of a nation that had nothing to do with the Jews - and vice versa. Yet here he was returning to acknowledge his debt to this Jewish teacher and healer.
Well, Jesus looks around and asks “where are the other 9?” Was this foreigner the only one to come back and give praise to God? Presumably the others were Jews. Why hadn’t they come back as well?
Well, perhaps they were so overcome with the joy of being healed that the thought hadn’t crossed their minds that they should return to thank Jesus. Or perhaps they were afraid that if they came back before they carried out his instruction the healing wouldn’t be permanent. On the other hand they may have been so intent on completing the requirements of the Jewish law that they wouldn’t stop until they got to the priests and were declared clean again. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that only this one man, and he a Samaritan, returned to give thanks to God and to acknowledge Jesus. And so it was to this man alone that Jesus could say “Go, your faith has made you well.”
Now, as I said, it seems to me that this account raises a number of questions for us about faith. First of all what part did faith play in the healing of the ten lepers? That is, what caused them to be healed? Was it their faith that brought about the cure? Or was it like the case of the Gerasene demoniac, that Jesus simply decided to do it and it was his power, or God’s power, independent of their faith in Jesus that resulted in them being healed? Does the fact that 9 of them failed to return to thank Jesus indicate that they didn’t really believe in him? They just thought he was some sort of magician perhaps?