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Where Are The Nine?

Have you ever made a judgement about someone or something only to find out you were wrong?  What you thought you saw or heard turned out not to be what you thought you saw or heard. You read into somebody’s actions and thought you knew their motivation or what they were thinking. Be honest, we have all done it.  There often is a story behind the story and we learn that not everything is what we think it to be.  That is why we teach that mind reading and making false assumptions is really a violation of the 9th commandment…”Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  Bearing false witness is telling lies about people that, even if not spoken, murders their character. In the words of that great theologian Felix Unger…”When you ass-u-me, you make an ass out of you and me.”

Martin Bell was a former detective, Episcopalian Priest, musician and author.  The first book I read of his was a book of short stories, poems songs and thoughts on the parables of Jesus called “The Way Of The Wolf.”  One of my favorite stories in it is entitled “Where Are The Nine?”  It is the story in Luke 17 of the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus in which only one came back to give thanks.  Jesus asks the lone leper who returned: “Where are the nine?” The traditional interpretation…and perhaps the correct one… is to cast a harsh criticism on those nine for being ungrateful and under appreciative.  We condemn them for their selfishness and ingratitude, praising the one who came back and judging the nine as being representative of a culture that is unaware of the presence of the Messiah among them.  How could they be so ignorant and thankless?  But Martin Bell gives an alternate interpretation and imagines that the nine had some fairly valid reasons for not returning to give thanks:

  1. One was frightened.  He didn’t know what happened and he was afraid of what might happen next.  Jesus scared him.
  2. A second was offended.  He thought he should have to “earn” his healing…do something great…pray and fast for a few years more.  The concept of grace was very foreign to him and Jesus offended his value of work and sacrifice.
  3. The third realized that she never really wanted to be healed.  She didn’t know how to live without leprosy.  Her leprosy defined and identified her. Jesus took away her identity.  Now how is she supposed to live?
  4. The fourth leper simply forgot.  He was so happy, so overjoyed…all he could think about was this new life he had. He forgot to say thank you.
  5. The leper’s life had hardened the fifth leper.  He was always saying “thank you” for every morsel of food or crumb thrown his way.  He was tired of begging, tired of saying thank you, tired of feeling less than.  He didn’t say thank you anymore to anyone…not even Jesus.
  6. The sixth leper was a wife and mother.  She had not seen her family for many years and as soon as she was healed she headed straight home to kiss her husband and hug her kids.  She had to get home as soon as possbile…she knew Jesus would understand.
  7. The seventh leper was convinced that the miracle could not be explained.  It was chance..or luck..or just his time.  For him, Jesus had nothing to do with it and he wasn’t ready to change his philosophy or religion.  Or lack of it.
  8. The eighth leper was the opposite of the seventh.  He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus had healed him and he had no time to waste going back to say thank you.  He would bump into Jesus some time later down the road.  Now, he had to go tell everyone he could about this Jesus.  There is no time like the present.
  9. “So” and “Ah, yes” was the reaction to the priest when the ninth leper received her healing.  Nobody knows exactly what she was thinking but there was a contentment and a peace that enveloped her entire being.  “So” and “Ah, yes” were the only two words they heard…but they saw a changed life.
Martin Bell’s intent was not to do an exegesis and theological analysis of the Scripture.  He was simply looking at the story in another way…a way we may not be accustomed to doing.  But I find it instructive…that things are not always what they first appear to be.
Maybe I need to do more listening and be more understanding.  Maybe I need to see a bigger picture.  In fact, I am thinking that if I was one of the nine I may not have gone back to give thanks either…and, at least in my mind, would have a good reason not to.
What do you think?
How does it make you feel?