Where are the Other Nine?
“Where are the
other nine?,” Jesus asked.
I would like to
begin the sermon today with three grandparent stories. On Thursdays,
I have the privilege of taking my grandson Ben down to
Redondo by Puget Sound to the Redondo Community Store where Cliff
and Gail work. When we
come into the store, with its old wood planked floors and ancient
cash register, Cliff
slyly sneaks behind the counter and creates a paper bag filled with
seagull food, writes Ben’s name on that paper bag along with a
couple of drawings of happy faces.
While we aren’t looking, he hides the bag in the store,
after which Ben begins searching the store, looking for the seagull
food. Eventually, he finds it, smiles with glee, and shows off what
he has found. And what
do I do? Of course, I
say, “Ben, make sure that you say thank you to Cliff. Tell him to thank the seagull man for coming again.”
And so Ben gives Cliff a high five and thanks him for the
That’s the way we
all are: we want our
children and grandchildren to learn have a sense of thanksgiving in
their hearts, for all the little gifts that life offers, and we
begin to teach them young. As
soon as they are able to verbalize, we are teaching them the
feelings that are found behind the words
Grandpa and grandma arrive from the Holy Land, from
Minnesota, for Christmas. Everyone
has been waiting for the arrival of Grandma and Grandpa and they
finally arrive, bringing in a huge carload of Christmas presents for
everyone. And the biggest one under the tree this year is for the
Christmas eve; he rips
into that package; and he discovers a trainset which is immediately
set up and he begins playing with it, racing the train around the
tracks as fast as he can. Meanwhile,
the parents are persistently coaching their boy, “make sure you
say thank you to
Grandma and Grandpa.”.....which the grandchild does with a cursory
hug and shout, as he is happily focused on playing with his new
train. The parents and
grandparents would like more signs of appreciation, but, “oh
It’s birthday time and Grandpa and Grandma send their
annual birthday card to their granddaughter from their faraway city,
and granddaughter tears the envelope open, barely reading the front
page of the card and merely glancing at the poem inside and grabs at
the money, the one dollar or five dollar or ten dollar bill, or
maybe a check. Granddaughter
needs and wants that money. She
is so very happy that Grandpa and Grandma remembered her birthday in
this way. Mother says,
“Make sure you write a thank you note to Grandma and Grandpa.”
A week later, the mother again asks
her daughter to write the note, with the same lack of
response from her daughter. It
is now two weeks later and their is a conflict brewing, Mom is mad,
because that note has not been written.
Is that the way it occurs at your house?
Or is ours the only one like that.
We all want our
children and grandchildren and our selves to have this deep feeling
of appreciation inside, not out of duty,
not out of politeness or being proper. Rather,
we want them to know the deep felt appreciation for the
little and big things of life;
that this is a highly desirable quality. We want that miracle
to occur in our children and grandchildren, the miracle of deep and
“Where are the
other nine,” Jesus asked.
Did I not heal ten lepers?
Where are the other nine?
Did only one come back to say “thank you?”
Before we focus on
the Gospel story for today, we first need to talk about leprosy.
Leprosy was the dreaded disease of Jesus’ day, just as
cancer and coronaries are the dreaded diseases of our day.
Today, none of us want to hear the “C” word from our
doctor about our medical condition.
And that’s the way it was in Jesus’ day about leprosy.
Nobody wanted to hear the “L” word.
Leprosy was highly contagious.
It could come in a mild or serious form.
It was mild when it involved red or white blotches on the
skin; it was serious
when it involved the disintegration of toes, ankles and feet, or
fingers, wrists and hands. But
both were feared. And
the way they treated leprosy was to quarantine you.
You were separated from your mother, father, brother, sister,
cousins, friends, and you lived in a leper colony.
You would cover your body with rags, let your hair grow, and
no one could come within twelve feet of you.
You were untouchable; no
one could touch you in that condition for you were highly
contagious. Leprosy was
THE dreaded disease of Jesus’ time.
In the story for
today, a group of ten lepers were in a small leper colony in a small
village outside of Jerusalem. Three
days before, Jesus had healed a leper and the news had spread and
these lepers too were hoping that Jesus would come by and perhaps
one of them would be healed. Jesus
did come by, and the lepers began shouting to him:
“Have mercy upon us. Have
mercy upon us. We need your help.
We need you.” And Jesus did something unheard of: he crossed the invisible twelve foot boundary and came before
each leper and touched each leper.
Everyone was surprised,
stunned, shocked; for
Jesus was now contaminated. He
then told them to go into Jerusalem to the priests and get a
certificate of health that they had been cured. ....
On the way, the
lepers noticed their white blotches began to leave them and they
knew they were being healed. They
were elated. Ecstatic. Free.
Off they ran as fast as they could go.
To see a husband, a wife, that they hadn’t seen for weeks.
To see a son or daughter, a father or mother, a grandfather a
grandmother they hadn’t seen for months.
Off they ran to see their field, their fishing boat, their
store, their garden, their oxen that they hadn’t seen for who
knows, how long. As fast as they could go, they were so happy to be
well after all this time. But...one remembered, only one, returned,
fell at his feet,
worshipped him, and thanked him.
And Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?
Were not ten healed? Where
are the other nine? And
only you, a Samaritan, a
foreigner, are you the only one to have returned to say thank you.
Go in peace. Your faith has made you well.”
Where are the other
nine? Is true that
healing the human heart of ingratitude is a greater miracle than
healing the skin of leprosy?
Is that true? Healing
the human heart of ingratitude is a greater miracle than healing the
skin of leprosy? Where
were the other nine? Why
didn’t they come back? How
do you heal ingratitude? Let’s
first look at the nine lepers and then the one leper?
They were very religious as long as they needed God.
That is, the lepers were shouting, “heal us, Lord;
heal us, Lord; we need you; we
need you.” But after
they were healed, they felt they no longer needed God anymore.
I see that all the time in my work:
people crying out in pain of a divorce, cancer, heart attack,
bankruptcy, “I need you Lord.
my life is all messed up.
I need your help, God.”
But shortly thereafter, when the crisis has passed,
life gets back to normal and they are not calling out to God
anymore. People cry out to God in crisis, when their need is
As one scholar
said, “the result and irony of the miracle was to drive these
lepers away from God.” When
they needed God, they were close to God; but when they didn’t need
God, they were off busy being well.
The strange irony of the healing was to drive them away from
The nine lepers
were so busy being well. I
can understand that. They
had been separated from their family and friends and work due to the
quarantine, and now they were free to return to those relationships.
And they became so busy being well.....gotta rush to see mom
and dad, brother and sister, aunt and uncle
and the garden and the farm and the shop and the fishing
boat, all those people and places we haven’t seen for so long.
Whew, they were so busy being well, that they no longer had
time to feel thanksgiving or express thanksgiving to Jesus.
We all personally understand this one clearly:
being too busy to have a life of inner gratitude towards God.
We hit the floor in the morning running and fall asleep
exhausted at night with nary a prayer except for a quickie prayer at
perhaps one meal per day. Words
of gratitude? Feelings
of gratitude? Busy,
Lord. Very busy being
And the ultimate
tragedy is that the nine lepers got the healing, but not the healer;
they experienced a miracle but not the miracle worker; they received
the gift but didn’t know and love the giver.
It reminds me of the grandson I mentioned at Christmas time,
so busy playing with his new train, that he is not really aware of
Grandma and Grandpa who came to see him and spend time with him and
love him. Likewise, we,
as human beings, can become so busy playing with our little trains
of life that we forget the God who has come to visit us, be with us,
love us, see us, and watch us.
That’s the real tragedy of the nine:
they missed the true blessing.
That is, they got the miracle but didn’t discover the
miracle worker who so enormously blessed them.
But let’s focus
on the one, the one who came back to say “Thank you.”
The Samaritan, the foreigner, the outsider.
The story for today
makes an important point that the one who came back with a heart of
gratitude was not a Jew; he was not part of their religious
establishment; he was an outsider to the faith.
We find several stories in the Gospels where it is the
foreigner, the outsider, the Samaritan as being the one who has
great faith or great thanksgiving.
I think I understand this one.
Let me try to explain it by means of an analogy.
Many of you are
blessed by living within a very good marriage.
I personally am so blessed.
And when you live within a good marriage, over time, you can
begin to take the goodness of your marriage for granted.
So your wife or your husband does all these nice little
things for you, over and over again, does that mean you are
appreciative? No. You
become used to these
things. You start to expect these favors from your spouse. There is no longer the fresh and genuine appreciation for the
other’s goodness, for life has become routine, a habit, an
expectation of favors.
Likewise with kids
who live in a good home with loving mom and/or dad.
The kids can easily begin to take the blessings and pleasures
of their family life for granted.
It becomes no big deal that their parents do all of these
wonderful things for them. It
is expected. It is part
So also, within the
household of faith, we can become used
to God blessing and caring for us; we can begin to take God for
granted; we begin
to expect his blessings as our
God-given rights. Whereas
someone who hasn’t been part of the Faith, they may be deeply
grateful to God for the smallest of gifts, for the littlest of his
blessings. When you become very familiar with someone, you often
start to take that someone for granted, and that is what we often do
with God. We take
God’s blessings for granted.
So it is no surprise to me that it was a foreigner, a
Samaritan, an outsider of the religious establishment was the only
one who paused....remembered.....and came back to Jesus to say thank
you. The other nine
expected God’s blessings.
Here is another
quality about the one who came back to say, “Thank you.”
It is my sense about him that he had a heart of thanksgiving
even while he had leprosy. Let
me explain. I don’t think he was bitterly whining to himself:
“O God, why did you make my life so miserable with this
leprosy? Why did you
take my family away from me, my job away from me, my health away
from me? What kind of a
god are you, anyway, to give me leprosy.”
Rather than such attitudes, I would guess that he may have
been thankful to God even in the midst of his suffering.
His thoughts may have been:
“O God, life is miserable.
This leprosy is awful. How
I wish I didn’t have it. But
thank you for being with me, thank you for giving me strength to
handle this awful situation, thank you for taking care of my family
during this terrible time in my life.” People can have such
grateful attitudes in the middle of suffering.
Let me tell you a
story that illustrates what I am saying.
It is the story of a man by the name of Pastor Rinkhart.
He was pastor of one congregation for thirty years, just as I
have been a pastor to you for nearly thirty years.
He was pastor of a church in Prussia from 1619 to 1649,
during the Thirty Years War in Europe.
From the year the war began until the year the war ended, he
was the pastor in the same walled city.
His was a walled town, so all the refugees from the thirty
years war flocked into his city to find safety inside the city walls
as the battles raged around them.
His town was overrun with poverty, the plague, and all the
perils of war. It was
awful. It was hell on earth. It
wasn’t like being a pastor in suburban Seattle for thirty years at
all. By the end of the
thirty years war, he was the only pastor left in town alive; all the
other pastors had died, so he alone was to bury the plagued
villagers and refugees from war. Somewhere in the middle of all of
that suffering, he wrote a hymn, which is perhaps the second
greatest hymn of the Reformation. You know it well and you sing it
at least once a year in the fall.
“Now, thank we all
our God; with hearts and hands and voices; who wondrous
things hath done; in whom this world rejoices.
Who from our mother’s arms, has blessed
us on our way, with
countless gifts of love and still
is ours today.” Incredible.
What an incredible sense of thanksgiving in the human heart.
How beautiful are hearts filled with genuine thanksgiving.
You see, the
greatest miracle is not to be healed of leprosy or cancer or
coronaries; the greatest miracle in when my human heart is healed of
ingratitude, so my human heart is then filled with daily
thanksgiving .....to God and others..... for God’s countless gifts
of love. Please, God; heal my heart of ingratitude.
(The pulpit hymn is
“Now Thank We All Our God”)