In Your Celebration of Thanksgiving, Don’t Miss Jesus
In today’s blog post, I want to share with you a short, online meditation, a little sermon, if you will. It is based on one of the more familiar and beloved passages of Scripture, the story of the healing of the lepers in Luke 17:11-19.
Scripture Passage: Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
This is one of those Bible stories I’ve heard since I was a preschooler. The main lines of the story are very familiar: Ten lepers call out to Jesus for mercy. He sends them to the priests and when they go they are miraculously healed. But only one of the men comes back to thank Jesus. The moral of the story? We should be like the man who came back. We should thank Jesus for his mercy in our lives.
Now that’s a fine moral. It’s surely right. But I think it misses something wonderful. This story, I believe, isn’t only about being thankful. Rather, it’s an invitation to something even more wonderful.
The ten lepers in this story did exactly what their culture demanded, keeping their distance from Jesus. Leprosy was a highly contagious disease, so they were right to stay away and call out for mercy. (Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus touches lepers, but not here.)
Jesus didn’t immediately heal the lepers. Rather, he told them to go to the priests because he knew that they were about to be healed. According to the Jewish law, a priest had the sole authority to determine if and when a person with leprosy was made clean. If a priest found a person to be healed, then the priest would make sure the appropriate sacrifices were made. Moreover, the priest’s endorsement allowed the cleansed leper to return to human society.
Notice that the lepers actually did what Jesus told them to do by going to the priest. This shows that they had quite a measure of faith in Jesus. If they didn’t believe that he had the power to heal, they certainly wouldn’t have gone to the priests. Moreover, the lepers obeyed Jesus. Sometimes we forget this when we read this story. But, in fact, the nine who were healed not only had faith in Jesus, but also they did what he had told them to do. Before we start criticizing the lepers for their selfishness, we should notice that they are examples of faith and obedience.
Yet, as the story develops, we realize that the nine lepers who believed and obeyed Jesus missed something essential. They missed the chance to say thanks to Jesus directly. They missed the relationship that should come in the context of believing and obeying Jesus. The nine who didn’t return to Jesus might even have felt grateful for their healing. In fact, I expect they did. But what they missed was the intimate encounter with the Lord, the chance to fall at Jesus’s feet and thank him directly and personally, the chance to know him personally.
Can you see yourself in the nine lepers who didn’t return? At least a bit? I certainly can see myself here. Like the nine, I have put my faith in Jesus. I have believed him. And I do want to obey him. If he says something like “Go to the priests,” then I’m on my way. Faith and obedience . . . these are central to my Christian faith. And surely they should be!
But what can I miss sometimes? I can miss relationship with Jesus, the intimacy that comes from falling at his feet in gratitude. I can be so eager to charge on to the next act of obedience that I can forget about taking time just to be with Jesus. When this happens, I miss out on one of the greatest joys of life. And Jesus misses out on relationship with me.
No doubt the story of the leper who came back reminds us to be thankful for God’s blessings in our lives. By all means, be sure to thank the Lord for his goodness to you. But this story also reminds us that the Christian life is more than accepting Jesus as your Savior and then obeying him, though these are absolutely essential, of course. Besides faith and obedience, Jesus invites us into an intimate relationship with him. Saying “Thank you” is more than something we should do to be polite. Indeed, thanksgiving opens up our hearts to know Jesus more truly and personally.
When I take time to stop and think about what God has done for me, I find my heart softening. I find my love for him growing. I find my desire to be with him increasing. Gratitude, when I let it pervade my heart, leads to intimacy with the Lord.
So, in this season of thanksgiving, let us indeed offer to the Lord the thanks he deserves from us. But let’s also allow our thanks to draw us near to the heart of God. May our thanks lead us into praise. May it draw us to adoration. May this Thanksgiving be a time for you, not only to say “Thank You” to God, but also to enjoy his presence, even as he enjoys yours. May our gratitude fill us once again with love for God!