New Apostolic Church USA

Where Are You?

"Where are the Nine? Where Are You?" from the 2021 Spring Vision Newsletter

On Jesus’ way to Jerusalem, prior to His Passion and death, He is approached by ten men with leprosy. Due to the condition of their skin, they were considered unfit to live in populated areas, and, therefore, were placed in permanent seclusion from the community.

Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES

In ancient times, suffering from leprosy involved greater challenges than simply those implicit in the disease.

The early Israelites believed that illnesses, including leprosy, were punishment for sins. In biblical times, leprosy referred to a series of skin diseases, beyond our modern-day strain. Each of these diseases would render unclean the person who suffered from it. In Leviticus 13, we can find the laws concerning leprosy – whoever was diagnosed with it by the priest would be immediately placed in quarantine for the duration of the disease, and forced to live outside the community. They could not go to the marketplace, and were forbidden to take part in worship. If anyone approached them, by law, they had to cover their mouths and cry out, “Unclean, unclean!”

Thus, those afflicted with leprosy suffered more than just the physical effects of a dermatological condition; they were outcasts in all senses of the word.

These circumstances are something we are somewhat familiar with today. A year after the global spread of the pandemic, we continue to face a myriad of challenges that result from it. In addition to isolation, and the widespread use of facemasks, those diagnosed with COVID-19 must stay at home, distancing themselves from their own relatives. They are forbidden to go in public places, and must communicate from afar.

Life as we know it continues to be upside down, and, like those with leprosy, there is so much out of our control.

AND THEY LIFTED UP THEIR VOICES…

Knowing their place – and acknowledging the power of the One who was passing near them – the lepers called out to Jesus from a distance, in a desperate effort to be liberated from their circumstances. In their longing to be restored, they lifted up their voices and implored Jesus: Master, have mercy on us! (v. 13). This term, “Master” (from the Greek epistata), was used to designate someone who had total authority. This implies that the lepers had previous knowledge of Jesus, and that they recognized His great power and sovereignty. They did not necessarily have faith in a Christian sense, but confidence in Him as a miracle-worker, and were reaching out to Him, seeking aid. We could understand that they had a distance to cross both physically (because of their exile from other people), as well as spiritually (in recognizing who Jesus really was).

When Jesus sees them, He commands them to go and show themselves to the priests, who will determine, according to the Mosaic Law, whether they have been healed.

The lepers immediately make evident their confidence in Jesus’ power by following His instruction, even though nothing had changed and they are still afflicted with the disease when they depart from Him. All ten believed or trusted enough to begin a journey that could have ended in disappointment. Only as they were going on their way, were they made clean.

Jesus responded to their cries for mercy, resulting in their physical healing. Yet, the text tells us that one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and…glorified God (v. 15). Recognizing that he was healed, he responded by turning back to praise God. He not only recognized what Jesus had done, but he also recognized Him as God. The physical and spiritual distance that existed between Jesus and this leper, a Samaritan, disappeared. Upon returning to the Lord, he fell at His feet in thanksgiving and worship.

When faced with a life-changing situation – like the coronavirus pandemic – it is natural for us to seek God and the help that only He can give. The Lord always listens to those who cry out to Him wholeheartedly, and in His grace, provides help according to His will.

When the Lord responds, what is our reaction; disappointment because He did not immediately change the circumstance? Or, do we still trust in His plan? Do we continue, still afflicted, with the assurance that God will provide?

Furthermore, can we perceive that, even though the circumstance has not changed, He is working, and is cleansing us by bringing us to a new understanding, which we see is a far greater healing than what we first asked for? In this time, we begin to discover the true depth of our personal relationship with Jesus. Did we begin to extract deeper meaning from the divine word that is webcast to our home? Perhaps, our prayer life has changed as we remember those we have not seen in a long while. Has our longing to have fellowship with Christ and with one another in His communion become more and more intense? Could this be the “healing” that He intended in these days? And then, with this realization, do we, like the Samaritan, return and fall at His feet when we receive what He has decided?

BUT WHERE ARE THE NINE?

Ten lepers lament and cry out to Jesus. Ten are cleansed. Yet, only one truly “sees” that he has been cleansed, and returns to give Jesus praise. The point here is not that there is anything wrong with lamentation. In fact, it is a turning to God in and of itself. In addition, it’s worthwhile to note that the other nine did as they had been instructed; they went to show themselves to the priests. They were not disobedient and they believed.

However, as we typically see in Psalms, human dialogue with God should not end with lament. The fact that the nine do not come back to Jesus is confirmation that they do not realize what has actually happened in their encounter with Him. What happens to the nine is not of little concern, as Jesus does wonder where they are. The question, But where are the nine? points to His ongoing care. We could even see it as a parallel to what God asks of Adam in Genesis 3:9 after he has been tempted to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – Where are you? The problem with the nine lies not in the gift they have been given, in disbelief, or in any lack of divine interest, but rather in their lack of response – nothing more is heard from the nine.

The verses do not deny that the other nine also see that they are healed, but it is one of the subtleties of the story that their act of seeing remains superficial. Only the Samaritan sees and fully understands what has really happened; he has encountered God! This “seeing” surpasses external vision. It is only one individual who comprehends fully what has transpired, while the nine others have seemingly passed through the most dramatic moment of their lives, but have understood nothing, and continued in the same world from which they could have been set free.

As with the nine, it could be easy for us to fall into the trap of allowing earthly concerns and afflictions to take control of us and divert our attention from God and His offer of deliverance. This is why the Lord graciously moves us to meditate and ask ourselves, “Where am I? In which direction am I heading?” When we recognize that He is working, we finally see and come to the realization, “I have encountered Jesus, and must respond to and worship Him!”

AND ONE… RETURNED

The significance of the Samaritan’s turn is emphasized by the goal of his journey. Prior to turning back, the leper was on his way to the priests. It was the priests who could pronounce him clean, thus, readmitting him to social interaction and temple worship. After physical healing, the journey to the priests was the way to social and ritual health. Yet, the Samaritan does not continue on this path. Instead, he turns around and heads for Jesus. He recognized the presence of something greater: God in the person of Jesus.

For the Samaritan, his life had changed. Together with the nine others who were healed, he shared in the liberation from their previous circumstances (suffering from leprosy). For him, however, their deliverance meant recognizing that he was given a new life (Christ makes free!), to which he is called to respond from now on. He had encountered God through Jesus, and this would become the determining factor of his life.

The Samaritan had a fresh awareness of his new relationship with God, and his response to this realization was to urgently turn back to Jesus, in worship and praise. Martin Luther is said to have defined worship as the “tenth leper turning back.”

For us, what is the encounter to which the Lord has called us to respond? With His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus made us free from our past life (the oppression of sin), and called us to develop a new nature and grow in our relationship with Him. Part of living in this new nature is having faith that we can trust Him no matter what conditions we find ourselves in, and place Him at the forefront of our lives. It is this faith that the Lord refers to in His question, When I come, will I find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8). He speaks of the kind of faith that never doubts that God hears our supplication and the goodness of His response.

By understanding that our new life in Christ is the determining factor of our lives, what else could we do except turn back and cling to the Lord and our relationship with Him?

One place we can always cry out to God, receive His grace, and be transformed is in the community of believers, the church. It is where we gather to experience Him, offer our thanksgiving and praise to Him, and where, together, we receive nourishment and sustenance for our faith.

What will you do?

Will you return to Him?

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