And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. (Luke 17:12-16a)
How would you react if suddenly Jesus were standing before you?
Several months ago while at dinner with a couple of friends one of them posed this question to both of us. The beauty and vulnerability of my other friend’s response still haunts me to this day. Without even hesitation he said, “I think I would fall at his feet and just weep.”
You see, my friend had just become a Christian a few months prior, and the experience of the mercy and forgiveness he had received from the Lord were fresh on his mind and heart. Like the one leper who returned in the story above, there were no words that could express his gratitude for the complete transformation of his life—just an entirely impulsive gesture of humility and powerlessness before such an immense gift of love and new life.
On my best days, I too feel this way. I look at where I’ve been and how much I’ve done to run away from God’s plan for my life and can so clearly see that I do not deserve the immense blessings that he has bestowed upon me. I don’t deserve the life that I have. The sinfulness and selfishness in my heart has been far more hideous than even the most rampant case of leprosy, and yet He has not only unfailingly forgiven me, but has continually brought healing to my wounds and redeemed my life. When I allow myself to really meditate on these realities I, like my friend, am overwhelmed with love and gratitude.
Unfortunately, my “best days” are not nearly common enough. In fact, there are periods in which they are few and far between because I am so caught up in my current hardships (or even just daily life) that I lose perspective of the hope that I have, which is rooted in the Lord’s constant demonstrations of faithfulness in my life. Like the other nine lepers, I simply go on my merry way and get about my life without much more than a perfunctory acknowledgement of the abundant grace and mercy that have been shown to me.
This may seem like a simple case of ingratitude, but in fact this story suggests otherwise. When the man returns to express his gratitude, Jesus says to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’ The question we must ask ourselves is to what faith is he referring? No doubt to the faith that led him in obedience to go to the priests with the other lepers in the first place, but also the faith that compelled him to turn around, go back and acknowledge the hand of God in the healing and new life he had just received. This faith is not so much an instance of cognitive certitude about God’s ability to work or act in a specific way, but rather an entire orientation of trust, obedience and gratitude that reaches its pinnacle in his impulsive act of worship at the feet of Jesus.
Jesus says that it is this faith which made him well. The word used here comes from the word sozo, which can also mean ‘to save’. There can be no doubt that this is what is implied here, for he had already been healed. The physical healing he received from Jesus was an immense grace and a foretaste of the complete wholeness and salvation Jesus came to bring him and the other lepers. But it was only a foretaste. Only through faith—a constant living into that healing through obedience, trust and gratitude expressed in worship—could he be made completely well, could he be saved.
Likewise for us. Our salvation is not separate from our works and our worship; but rather they are the means by which its effects can be born in our lives and brought into completion, through the unfailing love and faithfulness of God.
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author, editor and speaker.