Friday, November 30, 2012

We Are The Nine

Many people are familiar with the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17.  The lepers call out to Jesus from afar, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”   The passage continues, "when Jesus saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.” Their disease has been healed, their skin is whole and sound. But after this miracle, only one of the ten returns to praise God and give thanks.
The first thing to understand here is that giving thanks is not a requirement.  Jesus does not say to the ten lepers, “If you give thanks and praise the Lord, I will heal you.”  Of course not.   Jesus sees a need and fills it.  Think of Abram back in Genesis 15.  God did not tell Abram,  "I will make your descendants as many as the stars in heaven, IF you believe in me."  No, rather God saw that Abram was troubled, he had no heir, he was all alone, far from his kindred.  God saw a problem and he fixed it by giving his friend Abram innumerable sons and daughters.

I saw a video once of a young woman pulling back a man who was just about to step into the street.  He would have been hit by a car but she pulled him back just in time.  She did not do this thing so that he would thank her, she did it because she did not want  her fellow human being to be hurt or worse!  This is why God saves us and helps us.  It’s because we are in trouble and he loves us, not because he is expecting something out of us.

Giving thanks is not a requirement but certainly when we fail to give thanks we fall into many troubles.  Giving thanks to God helps us to remember him.  We are so prone to forget, and when we forget, we start to worship other gods.  We all believe in something it is only a matter of what.  We become like what we believe in.  If we depend upon and trust in cold hard cash, we become, cold, hard and in the end, as easily destroyed as paper money.  When we worship other gods we end up hurting ourselves and all those around us.  Think of the Israelites who, in the end, were sacrificing their own children to gods of stone and wood!  God’s anger goes out against oppressors like these.  It is just the same today as it was then.  He handed over the murderous Israelites to their enemies and he can hand us over as well.  I would argue that he has already done it!  As the theologians, Richard Hays and N.T. Wright remind us, the Lord hands us over to spiritual enemies who come to vanquish and burn us even more than the Philistines did the Israelites.  We can read about the effects of these spiritual enemies in the “vice list” of Romans 1.  But God raised up King David to vanquish the enemy and give his people rest.  And now God has raised up Jesus, our Living Savior and Lord to utterly vanquish those spiritual enemies that attack the souls, minds and hearts of men and women.  In his grace and might he has rescued us as individuals, communities and whole societies from "hands too strong for us."  And he is not done!  Moreover, God in his grace gathers us together in assembly each Sunday, each Lord’s day so that we may “mutually encourage one another in the faith.” Or to say the same thing in different words, he gathers us that we may remind one another of God’s faithfulness and Jesus’ resulting victory on the cross and how we have become through all of this, “more than conquerors” through him who loved us.  He does this in his great mercy that we might not forget and go astray and hurt ourselves and others.

But so often we do not give thanks, we are like the nine.

 Do we really understand what it means when the Bible says, “by his stripes we are healed”? Do we say when we are enjoying good health, “I am happy today, because Jesus was scourged with whips”?  Let me be the first to answer, “I don’t!  The philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard wrote “one man is a theologian because another man got nailed of the cross.”  Do we give thanks for all the shining insights that we have and remember that it is all because of our Lord suffered for us?  In this and in so many ways we completely miss the boat.

But the wonderful and totally surprising thing is, God is the savior of the thankless.  He is the savior of people precisely like us.  Consider how thankless and thoughtless Jacob was even in the face of God’s great assurances and promises in Isaiah 43.  What is God’s response?  How will he fix this problem?  God's  answer is abrupt, without lead in, without introduction, “I, I am he, who blots our your transgressions.”  How he will do this is not discussed, we only learn how it will be later; the messiah will come, a tender plant, a root out of dry ground and how he will bear our sins (Isaiah 53). 
So often we go astray.  How thankless I have been, but how good God is! Or as Paul puts it, “wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”