During my first tour of duty in Vietnam, I spent four days going through tests at First Field Forces Regional Hospital in Quy Nhon on the central coast of Binh Dinh Province. What I experienced in the waiting room has left an indelible visual mark on me.
For a good half-hour or longer on two occasions, I observed a leper firsthand. His hands and feet were covered, but it was obvious he was missing all his fingers and toes.
What caught my attention the most was his face. His nose was no more than a cavity. Leprosy is still with us, yet not nearly that prevalent as it was 50 years ago.
I’ve often wondered about an account found in Luke 17:11-19 that seems somewhat puzzling. Just imagine Jesus and His disciples traveling to Jerusalem when they come across 10 lepers. From a distance the lepers call out to Jesus in loud voices “Jesus, Master have pity on us.”
Here’s how Jesus responds: He says, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” That’s all He says. The account continues, “And as they went, they were cleansed.”
But that’s not the end of the story. In verses 15 and 16 we’re told, “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan.” Jesus’ response to His disciples was “Where are the other nine?”
We have no way of knowing the nationality of the other nine, but I’ve always assumed they were all Jewish and I suspect Jesus’ question was rhetorical, knowing exactly where the other nine had gone. They were being obedient in observing Jewish law and needed to be under the auspices of the priests for seven days before they could be released and return as part of their community.
You see, leprosy was extremely prevalent in those days and it did not discriminate by nationality. Nor does any disease of our present times. And what hasn’t changed as well is the general attitude toward the Son of God.
These days are no different for most who claim to be religious. Many will show up in their church or synagogue weekly to worship with others as is their custom.
Religion has turned me off most of my life. It still leaves a bitter taste, but I’ve come to grips with the fact that many are quite comfortable in performing their rituals and have no real desire for a genuine relationship with the Son of God. They have no desire to praise God in person and are satisfied with praising Him in front of others who follow the same ritualistic beliefs.
Many biblical scholars consider leprosy to be a significant image of the devastating power of sin. Leprosy causes damage to sensory nerves, creating a numbness of the extremities.
Sin likewise numbs our spiritual condition and causes us to distance ourselves from God and what we know is right in His eyes. Unfortunately, many find themselves doing what is right in their own eyes.
Many who claim to know God are fooling themselves, but they are not fooling God.
In James 4:7-10, we’re instructed to “Submit ourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
That’s some sobering advice from our Lord’s half-brother. Come to Him in humility knowing that none of us deserve His saving grace.
Passages to Ponder
— Jim Langley has been writing for more than 30 years while working as a life and health insurance agent in Santa Barbara. In recent years, his passion has turned to writing about his personal relationship with God, and his goal is to encourage others to draw near to Him as well. As a longtime member of CBMC of Santa Barbara (Christian Business Men’s Connection), he started writing Fourth Quarter Strategies columns in 2014, and he now reaches an international audience through the CBMC International devotional Monday Manna. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.