Summary: Why do the Gospels tell us the story of the 10 lepers. What does their gratitude (or lack thereof) teach us about them - and about us as Christians?
September 1923 - a devastating earthquake rocked the islands of Japan. And just in the city of Tokyo it destroyed nearly 75% of the buildings. The New York Tribune called the earthquake “Undoubtedly the greatest disaster in recorded time.” It was estimated that nearly 300,000 people died, and 2.5 million were left homeless. Japan was so devastated by disease and despair that it seemed that they’d never recover.
THEN HELP CAME!
Help from United States for helpless Japan. Food, clothing, medical supplies & volunteers came by the shipload. The American Red Cross collected $10 million dollars from the citizens of the United States to help Japan. And the Japanese people were grateful. They even put their gratitude into writing. Their very words were, “Japan will never forget!”
BUT … JAPAN DID FORGET.
Less than 19 years later, the AMERICAN ships of mercy were forgotten and - on December 7th 1941 - Japanese planes were sent to Pearl Harbor to wreak death & destruction. (Baptist Bread 2/9/09 Craig Burcham)
How could they forget???
In our story today, we read of 10 lepers that Jesus healed. He sent them to see the priests, and as they were on their way, they were cleansed. Now, undoubtably these men were grateful because Jesus had delivered them from a terrible fate. According to the Old Testament Law, lepers were required to live outside of the city. They were literally quarantined - required to keep a “safe” distance from others so that they wouldn’t touch anyone and make them unclean. Lepers were unclean - both physically & spiritually. A leper was required to keep a distance of six feet between others… including their family members. Leviticus chapter 13 says: “The person with such an infectious disease (like leprosy) must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” (Kenneth Sauer)
Lepers were outcastes! Totally ostracized from society. It was a devastating and a very lonely life. And then they met Jesus. All 10 of these men came to Jesus because they believed He could heal them. And He did… He healed them. And I suspect they were all kind-of grateful… but ONLY ONE of them came back to thank Jesus personally. The other nine didn’t show up. They didn’t come back. They seemed to have forgotten all about Jesus.
How could they forget?
Well… maybe they didn’t forget. Maybe they just thought they’d have gotten well anyway. Maybe Jesus just showed up at the right time. I mean (after all) Jesus didn’t really do anything TO them when they stood before Him. Someone once suggested that: One of the lepers might have been waiting to see if the cure was real; Another believed he’d go back and see Jesus later (he just never got around to it): Still another decided that he had never really had leprosy to begin with; And another said he would have gotten well anyway; One might have given the glory for his healing to the priests; Another might have said, “Any rabbi could have healed me”; And still another might have thought: “I was already much improved.”
Now those are all interesting suggestions, but I really think the issue here goes deeper than that. I think the real reason they didn’t go back to Jesus was that they were afraid. They were afraid Jesus would ask them for a commitment. Maybe He would ask them to follow Him. Jesus did that alot.
In Matthew 8 we read that someone suggested they wanted a closer relationship “Lord, let me first go and bury my father." And Jesus said to him, “FOLLOW ME and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22) Later, in Matthew 9:9 we read that Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “FOLLOW ME.” And then in Matthew 10:32-39 Jesus told His 12 disciples “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and FOLLOW ME is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”