The one and the nine
In today’s account of the healing of the ten lepers we see a paradox: the sickness leads to God, while the healing leads away from Him. Let us look at the Gospel story more closely.
Ten lepers. Ten human beings suffer from a terrible sickness, without cure in those days. As if the physical suffering were not enough, they also suffered psychologically, which is a worse kind of suffering: Outcast, abandoned from kin, friends, society.
But there, in the midst of their agony and despair, shines a ray of hope. The Messiah is passing by, the man in whose word even the evil spirits obey, the prophet of God who cures everyone just by placing His hands of them or by a voice command. They had to see Him.
“Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!” they cried out from a distance. “We don’t ask for riches and honors. Just free us from this terrible affliction that eats our body away. Nobody else can cure us. Only You can.”
Jesus heard their cry “from the depths.” The Benefactor, who came to “heal every sickness and every malady” of His stray creation, heard their plea, and came to their rescue. “Show yourselves to the priests,” to certify your cure, He ordered.
The Ten immediately began their journey, somewhat disbelieving, but motivated by a glimpse of hope. As they walked, they felt the strength coming back to their sick body; their wounds began to heal. O what a feeling! What a joy! Healed!
There, at the peak of their exultation, at the highest moment of their happiness, they sinned most grievously against God. In their great joy they forgot their Benefactor. Ingratitude, forgetfulness sank in. They forgot to return and express their thanks.
Except for the one, the half-breed, the hated Samaritan. He remembered. He felt the need to thank the Benefactor. Seeing that he was cured, before he even showed himself to the priests he offered his doxology and thanksgiving to God, recognizing Him as the author of everything good.
Alas, my brothers and sisters, in the nine we view ourselves, our corrupt nature, our human ingratitude, our forgetfulness of God. In time of need, of pain and sorrow, we cry to God. As soon as things improve, the veil of forgetfulness falls in.
We see this in the history of the people of God narrated in the pages of the Bible. When God rescued the Israelites from the hands of their oppressors, after they had crossed safely the Red Sea, while the Egyptian army had drowned, Moses raised a Hymn of praise to the Lord:
“I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider He has thrown into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my might,
and He has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise Him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” (Ex. 15:1-2)
But the people forgot who led them out of Egypt. So they built for themselves a golden calf to lead them, they erected an idol. Around it they danced ceremoniously and sang. “The people sat down to a feast, which turned into an orgy of drinking and sex” (Ex. 32:6). That was their thank you.
God knows the frailty of human nature. But that does not mean that He condones it. That’s why He gave solemn warnings against forgetting Him:
Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, so that He may confirm His covenant that He swore to your ancestors, as He is doing today. (Deut. 8:11-18)
Unfortunately the people forgot their God, they abandoned Him and rejected Him. They lived in comfort, with possessions and earthly blessings, with pleasures that do not come from God, but from the senses and from matter:
The Lord’s people grew rich, but rebellious;
they were fat and stuffed with food.
They abandoned God their Creator
and rejected their mighty Savior. [...]
They forgot their God, their mighty Savior,
the One who had given them life (Deut. 32:15.18).
Wonder why we occupy ourselves with Israel and their history of so long ago? Not only because we should learn from their experience, but also because the Lord speaks directly to us, in our situation.
Our contemporary life, with its comforts, earthly pleasures and enjoyments of the good things in life, makes us particularly vulnerable to the grievous sin of forgetfulness of God, of our dependence on Him, on expressing our thanks and appreciation to Him for everything we receive in life.
Oblivious to God’s existence, we plan and organize our life, our assets, our retirement as if we were in total control. Like the foolish rich man we think we have figured out everything for a life of ease and relaxation, of feasting and enjoyment.
Today more than ever, on a global scale, man has forgotten God, ignoring His very existence. Contemporary man was driven away from God not so much by industry, science, technology and their accomplishments and promises, as by their by-products of super-abundance, overfill, good-time, fatness.
Even religious people, people of prayer and piety, drift along an existence that pays lip service to God, barely recognizing His omnipotent presence, benevolence and kindness.
Until the tests come. Then the pain wakes us up to the stark reality of our frailty and weakness, our total dependency on God. Disaster strikes and then all of a sudden we remember that God exists, that He is our Father, and we run to Him for protection.
Thus we vacillate between turning to God – to His mercy, loving kindness and care – and relying on ourselves. We are turned on and off to God depending upon our state, the difficulties we encounter.
When we encounter sickness, set backs, suffering, adversities, misfortunes, death in the family, we find ourselves on our knees, imploring God’s mercy. Then, when the storms have passed, when life has once more turned to “normal,” we forget God, and we no longer seek Him.
When we are filled with material possessions, wealth, riches, money and the comfort they bring, oblivion of God settles in. The earthly goods pull us as another spiritual gravity towards the earth.
A strange and paradoxical situation indeed: When we enjoy the blessings then we forget the Benefactor. We remember the Giver when the gifts are taken away.
Of course there are the few, one out of ten, who do not forget God. There are those who recognize Him as a loving Father, who takes care of His children in the best way possible, and they gratefully raise their hymn of thanksgiving, praise and glorification to Him.
Yes, there are a few. But the many go on their merry way, lost in dangerous pastures, away from the protection of the Sheepfold and of the Good Shepherd.
The one and the nine. With whom are we?