Summit Presbyterian Church
October 9, 2016
Luke 17: 11-19
Nine Out of Ten
“But the other nine, where are they?” So Jesus asked when the one returned. It’s a rhetorical question because Jesus knew very well where they were — on their way to see the priest. Just as he had told them! On the way to see the priest, who would see that they were healed, and prescribe an offering for them to make. On the way to see the priest so he could certify they were clean, ritually and physically. Able to join their family and neighbors in their homes, at the table, in the fields, in the synagogue. They would no longer have to keep their distance; they could touch and be touched. The other nine, where were they? On their way to a new life.
But as we said, this is a rhetorical question. Jesus isn’t asking where they are. He’s asking “why aren’t they here?” Why didn’t they turn back and praise God, like the Samaritan, the one. Now, if, like me, you’re one of the nine out of ten people who always did as the teacher said, listening carefully to directions; who was “sent to the bench” on the playground only once in kindergarten, when you went over to play on the jungle gym and the other kids said the teacher went inside and told us not to play on the jungle gym until she got back (this was 1965; I guess teachers sometimes left the playground) but she didn’t say we couldn’t sit on it; if you’re one of those people who sat on the jungle gym and still remembers sitting on the bench 51 years later; — if, like me, you’re a Martha; in the kitchen setting out the crudite and hummus, watching the quiche in the oven, putting the dishes to soak and wondering where the heck Mary is, even as Jesus is radiating holiness, wisdom and love in the living room; — if, like me, you’re an older brother, working like a slave day in and day out, never disobeying the command of your father, while younger brother runs off to midnight parties, cocaine binges and expensive sports cars; — if, like me, you’d never prostrate yourself before Jesus but would write a carefully worded thank-you note two weeks later on 80% cotton stationary; if - you - are - like - me you may be protesting, even hurt, on behalf of the nine out of ten. Jesus, why the harsh words? They were doing what they were supposed to do. We’re doing what we’re supposed to do! Listening to our teachers, parents and supervisors. Seeking to be obedient disciples. Following instructions. Isn’t that what you want?
Well, it seems that’s not what Jesus wants. Or, more precisely, that’s not only what Jesus wants. Jesus wants us to do as he says, to show ourselves to the priest, but Jesus also wants us to praise God with a loud voice, giving thanks. Not to make God feel good — although our praise may do that. Not because Jesus requires it— he didn’t withdraw his healing from the other nine. But because, as we say in our communion liturgy: “it is truly right and our greatest joy to give you thanks and praise, O Lord our God, creator and ruler of the universe.” Jesus wants us to praise God because it will make us well. It will make us joyful. It’s part of the healing. “Your faith has made you well,” says Jesus to the one who returned. Not only the faith that led him to call out to Jesus in the first place, but also the faith that turned to God in thanks and praise. The faith that no longer kept its distance, but came close and lay down before Jesus in adoration. The faith that recognized grace and healing and blessing and responded from the heart.
So the other nine, where were they? What kept them from turning back to do the right and the joyful thing?
- Perhaps it was a laser-like focus on getting the job done: going to the priest, finding the animal for the offering, getting to the temple. There were details that needed attention, deadlines to meet - no time to turn left or right or back. They could say thank you when it was all over. And to be fair, maybe they did!
- Or perhaps the other nine were frightened: what was is going to be like to re-enter? It had been so long since they were with family and friends. So long since they could come and go as they pleased. So long since they had seen their children or nieces and nephews. So long since they had had sex. So long since they had worked rather than begged . . . could they do it? Or had they been foolish to call out to Jesus, to leave behind the fleshpots of the leper colony?
- Or perhaps they were too excited. Making plans, dreaming about the future. In the excitement and bustle of their new found freedom, they may have forgotten the one that healed them, the God who sent this blessing. They may have forgotten that it was a gift, now that they were normal. And who gives thanks and praise for something that’s just the way it’s supposed to be?
- Or perhaps, now that they were back in the world, they couldn’t stop thinking about those they had left behind, and were haunted by guilt. What could they do to help? How could they change things? How could they give thanks when others were not yet healed?
Where were the nine? They could have been in many places, with many reasons that kept them from turning back and praising God.
What keeps us from turning back? Why are we so often absent from the praise choir? A sense of duty that keeps us looking down? An obsession with our to-do list? Fear? Entitlement? A pre-occupation with our life and all that’s happening in it — even, or perhaps especially, when things are going well and filled with promise. Or do we dare not give thanks, when there is so much wrong with the world, so much yet to do.
Jesus is calling us back. Calling us to let go of all those reasons not to. Calling us to praise God, to remember all God’s benefits. For it’s never either/or. We can be responsible, and thankful. We can work to right wrongs, and still praise God. We can be Martha and Mary, we can be the older brother and still join the party. The Samaritan, after giving thanks, was then sent on his way: to work and serve and love. But only after his faith, the faith that gave thanks and praise, had made him well. Such a faith will make us well, too. A faith that stops short to look up at a harvest moon and whisper “praise be to God.” A faith that says grace before a meal, and means it. A faith that sings a beloved hymn in church. A faith that says “thank you” when our children are home safe at night. Such a faith doesn’t mean that all our troubles, or the troubles of the world, are over. We may still be waiting and praying for physical and emotional healing. We may still be waiting and praying and working for justice, for the kingdom of God. But praise brings us closer to God. Thanksgiving brings joy. It makes us well. So, let’s pause and look at the beauty and grace that surrounds us, and count our blessings. For it is truly right and our greatest joy to give you thanks and praise, eternal God, creator and ruler of the universe . . . . as we join our voices with angel and archangels and with all the faithful of every time and place, forever singing to the glory of your name. Amen.