Christ Above All
Robert C. Shannon
(c)opyright 1989, Robert C. Shannon.
And Then There Were Nine
    Some of the questions Jesus asked go straight to the heart.  One is found in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.  And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.  And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests.  And it came to pass that, as they went, they were cleansed.  And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.  And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?  There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.  And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.
    Where are the nine?  Don't you think that question might have brought a flush of emotion to the disciples?  Doesn't it do the same for us?

    I want to begin with the misfortune that is written large in this story.  There were ten men who had leprosy.  We have a new name for it now.  We call it Hanson's disease.  We have a cure for it now.  There was none in Jesus day.  It was thought that there would never be a cure for this disease.  It is a disease that untreated grows progressively worse.  Eventually the extremities of the body are deformed.  Sometimes they disappear altogether and one is left without hands or feet, and if he should survive long enough, without arms or legs.  The ultimate relief from leprosy was death.

    It was this to which these ten unfortunate men looked forward: increasing pain, a decreasing usefulness of the body, eventual death.  Leprosy, because it was misunderstood in Jesus' day, was thought to be highly contagious.  We now know that that is not so.  But they thought it was so.  Every leper was required to announce his coming by shouting, "Unclean!"  Wouldn't you like to have that burden, whenever you met any person, to announce in a loud voice your own misfortune and warn him to stay away?

    These lepers, seeing Jesus, stood afar off.  We don't know how far off, but if the wind was blowing, they were required to stand at least 50 yards away.  So, if it were a windy day, they stood at a distance of 150 feet, not daring to come any closer.

    It had been years since one of these men had known what it was to have a firm handshake or an encouraging arm placed about his shoulders.  It had been years since anyone of them had known the embrace of a wife or the kiss of a child.

    Is it any wonder that there has always seemed to be a similarity between leprosy and sin?  Sin has often been referred to as "the leprosy of the soul."  What loneliness sin brings to people!  How it cuts them off from God, from their fellow men, from those they love.  How contagious it is!  How progressive its course!  How deadly its outcome!

    But there is something else about this misfortune that intrigues us.  That misfortune has brought together some people who ordinarily wouldn't be together at all.  Jesus is in the border country between Galilee and Samaria.  At least one of these lepers is a Samaritan.  The Jews and the Samaritans had no dealings with each other.  They had not for hundreds of years.  The Jews regarded the Samaritans as traitors who had fallen in with other nations and had mixed their pure blood with the blood of others.  They had no deals with them.  That's why there was such astonishment when Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman by Jacob's well.  He did the thing others never did.  Here we have misfortune breaking down the barriers.  Isn't that often the case?

    I have read that sometimes when there is a flood or a forest fire, animals will join together peacefully that ordinarily are enemies.  I don't know whether that is so or not.  I have read that it is so.  The natural enmity that might exist between certain animals is forgotten in the awful danger of a flood or a forest fire.  Certainly we know that when war or calamity strikes the human race, the petty differences that divide us are forgotten.  The trivial barriers are overlooked.  It's a shame that misfortune has to accomplish what good fortune ought to accomplish.

    We ought to be brought together because we have all been blessed by the Savior.  Because we know Christ and love Him; because of the good things that have happened to us.  These ought to be the things that unite us.  How sad it is that men are more united by misfortune than they are by good fortune.

    We are drawn at once from that part of the scene to this: the remarkable ingratitude of nine men who had just been healed of an incurable disease and who did not come back to thank the healer.  What are the roots of their ingratitude?  I think we can guess at them.  When Jesus asked, "Where are the nine?"  He was not asking for information.  He knew exactly where every one of them was.  We can only guess, but I don't think our guesses are going to be very far wrong.

    Is it not safe to suppose that at least one of the nine had gone to celebrate?  He'd gone to the local bar to get good and drunk in celebration of his having been healed!  Or else he had gone to one of the local brothels to celebrate his healing in that way.  Would we be far wrong to guess that at least one of the nine was ungrateful because of sin?  Sin blocked the natural stream of thankfulness and gratitude.

    Certainly we would be very harsh if we were to guess that was the case with all of them.  So, we must assume that some of them were not on such errands at all.  Some of them may have been ungrateful simply because they chose the good instead of the best.  It's a choice we all often make.

    Is it not fair to suppose that one of them said, "I must see to the affairs of my business.  When I got this disease I left it in the hands of my brother-in-law and everybody knows how incompetent he is.  I'm going to have to hurry to make sure that my brother-in-law has not driven my business into bankruptcy."

    Nobody can argue with a concern for business.  Perhaps there were employees who depended upon the success of his business for their own welfare.  Perhaps if his business failed, there would be children who would go hungry or be homeless.  Is it not a good thing for people to be concerned with their business?  Can we find fault with a man who is concerned about it?  We can if it takes precedence over more important things in life!  He chose something good.  He might have chosen something better.

    Perhaps another said, "I've got to find an old friend; a friend I have not been able to talk with all these years.  I've not felt his handshake for a decade.  I'm going to look up my old friend and we're going to establish that broken friendship again."

    Was there not another who said, "I'm going home to my wife and to my children.  How often I've longed to feel the embrace of my wife.  How often I've longed to feel the kisses of my children.  I'm going home."  Who can argue with that?  Isn't it a good thing to want to go home?  Isn't it a good thing to cherish family ties, to love wife or husband, to love our children, to want to be with them?  Isn't that good?  Indeed it is.  In choosing the good, he missed the best.

    Perhaps there was another who said, "I'm going to do exactly what Jesus told me to do.  I'm going to go to the priest and show him that I am cleansed."  Under the Old Testament law, the priest was not only the religious leader, he was also the public health officer.  While there was no cure for leprosy, sometimes there was a strange remission in that disease.  So, there was a provision in the Old Testament law that if a leper entered remission, then he could go to the priest who as the public health officer would certify that he was free from leprosy.  Then he could rejoin the human race.  He no longer had to announce himself with the cry, "Unclean!"  He no longer had to stay fifty yards away from everyone else.

    There was probably a man who was doing exactly what the law said.  He was a stickler for that.  Today he'd say, "If it says 55 miles per hour, you don't drive 60.  You never go through on the caution light.  You go through on the green:."  It's a fine thing to be concerned about the technicalities of the law.  We're all better off because there are citizens so conscious of their duty.  He chose something good, but he might have chosen something better.

    Would it be fair, also, to guess that there was someone among the nine who went on one of these errands out of pure thoughtlessness?  It just never occurred to him to go back and say, "Thank you" to the man who healed him.  If someone had mentioned it, he would have said, "That's a great suggestion.  I'll do it.  What a fine idea.  I don't know why I didn t think of it myself."  Pure thoughtlessness and simple neglect may have been responsible.

    But don't you catch a note of sadness in this question?  Don't you think Jesus was hurt when He asked, "Where are the nine?"  When we've examined the roots of ingratitude, then perhaps we're ready to examine the fruits of ingratitude.

    You can see the fruits in the life of a nation.  Did you ever wonder why in the middle of the Ten Commandments there is that one that seems so out of place, "Honor thy father and mother?"  That doesn't seem to fit in with, "Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not commit adultery," "Thou shalt not bear false witness."  It seems to belong in a different category.  Why is something that is a mere matter of courtesy included among these basic moral laws of life?  Have you ever wondered about that?  Has that commandment ever seemed to you strangely out of place among the ten?  Perhaps we can understand it if we get the full verse "Honor thy father and mother that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."  The reason is there.  It is not the reason that might at first appear.

    When I lived in Tennessee I knew a man who was nearing 100 years of age.  People used to ask him, "How did you live to be so old?  What's your recipe for a long life?"  He would quote the verse that I've just quoted.  He said, "I honored my father and mother and that's the reason I've lived to be such an old man."  He misunderstood the verse.  The verse is no guarantee of longevity.  I cannot promise you that if you honor your father and mother you ll live to be 100, or 80, or even 75.

    Listen to it again. "Honor thy father and mother that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."  He was talking about the nation, not the individual.  God was saying, "This nation can survive and be strong only so long as this commandment is kept."  When this commandment is disregarded, then the foundations of the nation are weakened.  You can see that!  It's crystal clear!  We know precisely why this is among the ten commandments.  National survival depends upon gratitude.  He who is ungrateful makes a poor citizen.  Poor citizens make a poor nation.

    We see the fruits of it in family life.  Shakespeare said, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth to have a thankless child."  A lot of parents feel unappreciated.  If you wonder about the frustrations that sometimes seem to grip them, that may be the reason. If you wonder why they sometimes lash out unexpectedly, that may be the reason. If you wonder why their punishment seems unjust or their attitude unfair, that may be the reason.  A lot of parents feel unappreciated.

    It would do us all good to remember that once there was a time in life when one week of neglect would have killed us.

     If parents feel unappreciated, so do children.  Children feel their good points are overlooked and their bad points are magnified.  They feel that the spotlight is always turned on the times they do wrong and never on the times they do right.  They think that they get the blame they deserve but never the credit that they deserve.

    The world is also filled with wives and husbands who feel unappreciated.  In family life the fruit of our ingratitude is everywhere and bitter.  If people only realized how much they are appreciated.  If only we could stop being so tongue-tied about the way we really feel!  If we could stop being so embarrassed and express ourselves!

    You see that fruit also in personal life.  The nine missed the chance to praise.  Worship, at its heart, is thanksgiving.  Read the Psalms.  There is praise for God in every page.  Yet the Psalms is a book of worship.  Look through the hymnal and you will find praise and thanksgiving everywhere.

    When Jesus gave us the Lord's supper, what did He do?  He gave thanks.  If I call upon someone to pray for the offering, what do I ask them to do?  To give thanks.  It is at the very heart of worship.  Something is lost in personal life when we lose the sense of gratitude.  It spills over into all the rest of life too, so that thoughtlessness becomes a habit.

    Forgetfulness becomes a way of life.  There are spiritual dangers untold in that.  If we no longer know how to remember and if we can no longer be thoughtful, how can we be the kind of Christians we ought to be?  Sooner or later we will become thoughtless concerning God's blessings.  He who is thoughtless about God's blessings will sooner or later be thoughtless about God's commands.  He who is thoughtless about God's commands will sooner or later be thoughtless about God.  Do you see where the road leads and how swiftly it may be traveled?

    There is also here a note of gratitude.  One came back and he ought not to be neglected.  He ought not be ignored in turning our attention upon the nine.  Gratitude may be one of the most helpful lessons we ever learn.  It is one of the easiest lessons we learn.  Yet, it is seldom learned.  That's amazing.  Something that could mean so much to us and could be learned so easily is, in fact, so seldom learned.  Here the gratitude comes from the most unexpected source - a Samaritan.  A Samaritan comes back to fall on his face in the dust before a Jew, thank Him, and praise God.  How amazing!

    Have you ever seen faith in unexpected places?  I have.  Have you ever seen courage where you did not expect to find it?  I have.  Have you ever seen character and holiness in an expected life?  I have.  Countless are the times I have gone out to comfort some sick person and they have comforted me instead.  How often I have gone to strengthen someone else and they have strengthened me instead.

    How often our best predictions have failed.  Often we think of people who perhaps ought to be members of our church or are "prospective" members of our church.  We try to guess which ones are going to become members of our church and which ones will not.  Our guesses are generally wrong.  Every time we have an evangelistic effort, I have a long list of people.  I make a list of people I know are going to respond, and another list of people I think are going to respond, and another list of people I know are not going to respond.  It never works out the way I think it will.

    When people become members of our church there are some we think will be strong vital working members and others we figure won't last two weeks.  How often we are wrong.  Often we look at marriages and think, "This marriage does not have a chance:  It lasts and lasts and lasts.  We look at another and say, "This marriage was surely made in Heaven and will last forever."  And we are wrong.  We look at young people and say, "There's a young person who is going to accomplish things and there's one who is going to get into trouble."  How often we are wrong.

    It ought to teach us to be more patient with everybody and it ought to teach us to be more diligent and more exacting with ourselves.

    Let me ask you a question.  If you had been among the ten lepers who were healed, would you have been among the nine who went their way, or would you have been the one who came back to praise God?  Only you know the answer to that question.  But you know.  In the asking of it, there is the opportunity for all of us to become ourselves the best person we can be.  That's the way we pay our debt of gratitude to God.

The Riddle of the Bread of Life
Table of Contents
Trouble Hearts and Trusting Hearts

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