Leaving Salem

A man went to his rabbi and complained, “There are ten of us living in one room. Life is unbearable! What can I do?” The rabbi answered, “Go home and take your goat into the room with you.”  The man was incredulous. But the rabbi was insistent. “Do as I say. Come back in a week.” A week later the man returned looking even more distraught than before. “Rabbi, please, we cannot stand it. The goat is filthy.” The rabbi then told him, “Go home and let the goat out. Come back in a week.”

A radiant man returned to the rabbi a week later. His perspective had been astonishingly altered. “Life is beautiful,” he cried, as he kissed his rabbi. “We enjoy every minute of living together without the goat – and there’s only the ten of us!”

Jesus encountered a group of ten, living together, with little to be thankful for. The account found in Luke 17 tells of ten men suffering from leprosy. From a distance they shout to Jesus to have mercy on them. They wanted to be healed, to be made well. This group was following standard social protocol. Leprosy was highly contagious and had to be controlled. Those who had the disease were quarantined into colonies. Those unfortunate enough to contract the disease were thus cut off from family and friends, typically, for the rest of their lives.

It’s hard for us to imagine the stigma attached to this malady when we have never seen anyone with the disease. It is a crippling, disfiguring condition. Today it can be treated and cured with drugs costing less than $200. In Jesus’ day, it was a death sentence. Devastating the skin, eyes, and lungs, it ate away at the nerve endings and flesh until deformation completely wrecked the sufferer.

Luke tells us that Jesus, mercifully, heals these poor souls. Maybe fingers began to grow back into place. The difficult breathing was replaced by fully inflatable lungs. White, splotchy skin became as pink and healthy as a baby’s bottom. For the first time in years they are physically healthy. This group of ten turns together from death’s door. But they do not turn together toward their healer.

Only one of the ten came back to Jesus. This one fell at the feet of Christ and worshiped. Outside of other lepers, this was the first person he had drawn close to in maybe a decade. He didn’t run home to a wife he had not held in years. He didn’t scoop up the children he had only seen play at a distance. He didn’t seek out his old friends who had long given him up for dead.

No, he went first and foremost to Jesus. He threw himself down on the ground in devotion. This was a thankful man. This was a grateful man. This was a man with perspective. The tragedy is that this was the only one who returned to say, “Thank you.” Even Jesus was surprised by this. “Were not all ten cleansed?” Jesus asked rhetorically. “Then, where are the other nine?”

Why didn’t the others come back? Maybe one waited to see if the cure was real. Maybe another intended to go back later. Maybe they ran at once to the families from which they had long been separated. I don’t know for sure. I do know that we can become so absorbed in our happiness – in our blessings – we fail to consider the Source of those blessings. My children fall into this category. Those boys enjoy immensely the pleasures of their life: Video games, DVDs, the Cartoon Network, sports, fruit chews, kids night at their favorite restaurant.

They love these things, but to my chagrin, don’t always express gratitude for them. To some degree, that’s alright. They are children. They are young and immature. They do not yet have perspective. For now I must be content to teach them to say, “Thank you.” Over time I face the challenge of teaching them to actually be thankful.

Eventually I hope to reach that same degree of maturity, to not just say I’m grateful, but to live that way. May the Source of every good and perfect gift give us the proper perspective. In return, may we fall at his feet in gratitude.

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