A Lesson from the Samaritan Leper

I was reading from Luke 17 this morning, and a story struck me in a way that it never has before (Scripture has an amazing way of doing that…). In this particular text, ten lepers approach Jesus and say to him, “Master, have mercy on us!” He tells them to go to the temple show and themselves, that they are healed, and on the way there, all ten of them are healed. Then, something peculiar happens: one of the ten turns around, runs back, falls at the feet of Jesus and gives thanks and worships him. “Weren’t there ten of you?” Jesus asks. “Where’d the other nine go?”

A few observations…

1) All ten lepers called Jesus “Master.” At first, it would seem as if all these people were followers of Jesus. As the story goes on, however, we realize that is not, in fact, the case. Ten people were healed, but only one had gratitude, and Jesus tells that one, a Samaritan no less, that his faith has healed him.

But all ten of them were healed right? How could it be that the one with the faith was made well by his faith, but that the other nine who didn’t have the same kind of faith, nor did they have any gratitude, were also made well? This is the second point…

2) While all ten lepers were healed physically, only the one who came back was healed spiritually. He was the only one who really had any interest in following Jesus. He was the only one who had any love, any respect, any appreciation for Jesus and what he had done. The other nine had just had a profound spiritual experience that changed everything about their outward appearance, but they remained unchanged in their hearts. They basically exploited the healing powers of Jesus without any desire to actually treat him as their “master,” though they flippantly called him that. And this brings me to the third point…

3) Exploiting Jesus and his Church for healing, excitement, religious experiences, goose-bumps, passionate “worship” services, etc. does not actually equate to following Jesus, and therefore, does not lead to the type of spiritual healing that the one leper received. This is where I want to camp out for a bit. Unfortunately, I see this a ton in people in my generation, and I’ve done my fair share of participating in it. So many young Christians are obsessed with religious experiences. They can go to worship services with a loud, talented band and sing at the top of their lungs for hours on end. They can go to conferences and concerts and church services and be brought to violent weeping. They can spend a week in a third-world country on a mission trip and have an amazing time. None of these things are inherently bad, and can, in fact, be good. But so often, they leave and live the rest of their lives unchanged. There is no real desire to follow Jesus; there is only a desire to jump from one religious experience to another.[1]

One area where I find this to be particularly prevalent and disturbing is in the modern charismatic movement. While I would certainly not defend the legalism and dogmatism that can so often define the conservative evangelical church, the lack of genuine discipleship on the opposite end frightens me just as much. Any real efforts to follow Jesus get swallowed up so often by an intense desire to see healing, to have a profound experience of tongues-speaking, to worship and pray ecstatically and emotionally for hours, to be “prophesied” over. In turn, there is so much pressure on the leaders of this movement to keep the hits coming, if you will, that I would argue they, at times, resort to faking experiences of the Spirit and thereby taking the Lord’s name in vain. In addition, despite the hours spent singing worship songs and witnessing healings and the like, I find there to be a startling lack of moral growth, of spiritual maturity, and of Christlikeness in the individuals in these movements. (For an example of this, see the link posted below, a link which I shared a couple months back.)[2]

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian church, sums all this up very well. The Corinthian church is, if nothing else, extremely immature by Paul’s standards. They have a fundamental misunderstanding of what spirituality really is. Encapsulated in that misunderstanding is their obsession for the charismatic gifts of the Spirit (tongues and prophecy, namely). In other words, the Corinthian Christians are enamored by religious experiences, but they have no real desire to follow Jesus in the moral and ethical realms of Christianity. He constantly corrects these misunderstandings throughout the entire letter, including his specific instructions regarding speaking in tongues and prophecy.

The fact of the matter is this: Christian discipleship is not sexy. It’s probably the least sexy thing one could ask for. It involves constantly denying yourself and dying to yourself. It does, at times, involve profound religious experiences that leave you with tears and goose-bumps; but more often than not, Christian discipleship happens in the nitty-gritty. It happens in mentoring relationships. It happens in small groups. It happens in quiet times. It happens in denying yourself. It happens, above all, in submitting to the Holy Spirit through church membership and the sanctifying work of Christ’s church. And while it may not leave you on an emotional high all the time, it is the most fulfilling, most truly gratifying lifestyle in the universe. And Christian discipleship does, in fact, leave us with an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude, just as we saw with the Samaritan leper who “fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks.”

Let’s fall on our face at the feet of Jesus and give him thanks today.

 

 

[1] As a side note, I would argue that this is why so many millenials are unsure about God and unsure about their salvation. When their faith is built on religious experiences, a dry season can be absolutely devastating, causing them to question everything.

[2] http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/love-and-death-in-the-house-of-prayer-20140121

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