Is that a trick question? Giving thanks and being obedient hardly seem mutually exclusive. But as I re-examined a New Testament vignette that’s oft-cited this time of year, that message stuck out like a sore thumb—though I had never noticed it before.
The story of the ten lepers starts with:
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 they lifted up their voices, and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Jesus gives them a very specific commandment:
“And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests.”
The cleansing miracle occurs on their way to the priests:
“And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.”
The rest of the story is more familiar. The one leper turns back, falls at Jesus’ feet, and gives thanks. He is heralded as the exemplar of the story, and the remaining 9 are berated as slothful and loathsome ingrates.
But what is usually overlooked is this: Given Jesus’ command to “Go shew yourselves unto the priests,” the unthankful nine were obedient with exactness, and the thankful one was not. He, for better or for worse, got distracted from his goal of fulfilling the Lord’s commandments to completion.
Now, this is perhaps an unfair characterization of the lepers, but it does illustrate an interesting situation. The answer to Jesus’ rhetorical question, “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” is in fact “The nine are showing themselves unto the priests, as commanded.”
At the other end, when the nine arrive at the priests, couldn’t the priests rightfully say, “Were there not ten commanded to come show themselves? But where is the one?”
The implications of this paradox could provide fuel for some healthy discussions. When we break down the story symbolically, we infer that Christ is the healer, men are the afflicted, and Christ’s healing power is inextricably connected to his role as law-giver.
From there, we could come up with a number of varied interpretations of the other elements and actions. Is going to the priests a “work”? Is being cleansed “salvation”? Is gratitude “grace”? Is obedience “faith”?
And what do gospel laws point to? We learn elsewhere that the laws point to Christ. And the priesthood is the means by which men represent God on earth—meaning the priests point to Christ. Perhaps the one leper was after-all in compliance with the command to “show [him]self unto the priests” when he fell at Jesus’ feet. And what of the obedient nine? Were they not healed/”saved” just as much as the one? Is this a lower-law/higher-law issue? I am I looking way too deep into all of this?
What do you think?