Orthodox America

  “Where are the nine?”

From the beginning of His public ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ attracted multitudes of sick people hoping to be touched by His miraculous power of healing. All four Gospels describe cases in which the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear... Besides serving as manifestations of Christ's divinity, these cases of physical healing frequently contain important lessons for Christians of all times. This is certainly true of the story of the ten lepers recorded by the Evangelist Luke, the 'beloved physician".

       Leprosy is an ancient disease. It was present in Egypt as early as 4000 B.C. and from there spread to the Holy Land. Later transmitted by the Crusaders to Europe, it was one of the most dreaded plagues in medical history. Besides being infectious and defying treatment, it caused tissues to atrophy, leading to the loss of extremities--toes, fingers, ears, noses, even whole limbs, monstrously disfiguring its victims. According to St. Luke, "many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet (i.e. c.875B.C.) Its significance among the Israelites may be judged from the fact that two entire chapters of the Old Testament book of Leviticus are devoted to "the law of leprosy". All those who had even remote signs of the disease--skin lesions, boils, inflammation--were required by law to show themselves to the priests. If it were determined that the person had leprosy, he was banished from society: his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, "Unclean, unclean "...He shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be (Lev..13:45-46). improper diagnoses were not uncommon. Those who recovered from their "leprosy" were required to have this verified by the priests, who would then arrange for an elaborate, weeklong rite of purification, after which the person was readmitted to society. One can understand why in the Gospels the healing of lepers occupies such attention. Outside of a miracle, what hope had they of ever returning to life. 

     The incident with the ten lepers took place at the end of Christ's ministry. He was on His way from Galilee to Jerusalem, to His Passion, when, outside a village, ten lepers standing some distance away--for they were not allowed near the company of healthy men---shouted, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us! They knew He had cured many other lepers and they were certain He could heal them also, if only they could get His attention. The Lord took notice, but instead of touching them and saying, Be ye clean, as He had done to another (Mark 1:40-41), He did not let them approach and sent them straightway to the Jewish priests. The lepers knew that the only reason they would have for going to the priests would be if they were healed--so that the priests would readmit them to society. So strong was their faith that they did not stop to reason, or to wait for a manifestation of their cure. Faith inspired obedience, and without a word, they set off as the Lord had bidden them. Their faith was rewarded: as they went, they were cleansed.

       We can but imagine the exhilaration they must have' felt on being restored to life; they must have been beside themselves with joy. But, alas, they forgot about the Source of their joy, the One who, just moments ago, had been foremost in their minds. Once their greatest dream was realized, once their need was met, their prayers answered, they forgot all about their Benefactor. Immediately, their minds had become otherwise occupied.

      Only 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 (Luke 17:15-16).

      The Samaritans were foreigners; they were scorned by the Jews, who prided themselves on being God's "chosen people." Here is an example of how someone who is considered to be in some way inferior can prove to be superior spiritually. But there is another, more important lesson here.

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God.. (I Thes. 5:I8)

      After the Samaritan had given thanks, Jesus turned to those nearby and asked, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?

      Christ did not heal the lepers in order to make them His debtors, in order to win their gratitude; He cured them out of love. Why, then, was He sorrowful that only one had returned to give thanks?

      Our Lord is always concerned for our highest good, that we should enjoy the blessedness of eternal life with Him, in Whom alone lies true happiness and joy. To this end, God uses every opportunity to bring us into spiritual union with Him. Because we naturally turn to God most readily in times of need, it is through grief, illness or other misfortunes that We often experience our moments of closest communion with God. This is not to say that we must be suffering constant hardship in order to be close to God. Such closeness can also develop through a profound sense of gratitude to God for the countless and undeserved benefactions which He bestows on us. In failing to give thanks, the nine lepers not only showed their ingratitude; worse, they severed, as it were, that communion they had had with God when they were in such need of His help, when they looked to Him as their ' only hope. They were cured physically, only to show themselves to be sick spiritually, as they turned their backs on the Source of life and selfishly went their way. The Samaritan, on the other hand, in returning to give thanks and glorify God, strengthened his communion with God and showed himself worthy of spiritual healing as well; of the ten lepers, only this "stranger" was made truly whole. 

      We're quick to ask but slow to give thanks; sometimes we simply forget to express it, other times we take our blessings for granted, unconscious of how much we have to be thankful for. Let us do all we can to strengthen our communion with God. Our prayers should include not only petitions and praise but also thanksgiving. At the end of our evening prayers let us not forget to thank God for granting us "during the past day, by His grace, His gifts of life and health," and ascribe to Him with thanksgiving any good we may have done. In the morning, upon arising, let us remember to thank Him for the gift of a new day. We have very little that we can give to God for all the goodness He bestows on us. Let us at least offer to Him the fruit of our lips, a constant praise of thanksgiving, thus bringing our hearts to abide more surely in Him.

Fr. Philip Blyth Surety-of-Sinners Mission, Redding, CA