Wednesday, 11/15/17 — The Nine Other Lepers

We tend to have a good idea of what’s right and wrong, but we sometimes fall short in analyzing why certain things happen. Someone who snatches an old woman’s purse because he’s too lazy to work has committed a similar crime — and a similar sin — as a handicapped person who steals a loaf of bread to feed his family, but their motivations for doing so are vastly different. I think it’s helpful to understand this. We can reinforce our hearts and minds that a sin (say, theft) is bad, but if we fail to understand the reasons behind wrong-doing, we leave ourselves open to sin entering our own hearts because we deal with the situation incorrectly.

If you suddenly see ants in your kitchen, are you seeing them because there are cracks in your walls and windows, or because you’re leaving out sweets, or because your child is bringing in chunks of anthills from outside? The result — ants — is something you don’t want in any case, but the way to solve the problem is different in each situation!

This came to mind as I reflected on today’s readings. Of particular note to me was the Gospel selection from Luke, detailing Jesus healing 10 lepers. All were cured, but only one — a Samaritan! — returned, glorifying God and thanking Christ.

Now, we recognize that the other nine lepers weren’t exemplary in their failure to give proper thanks. But I couldn’t help but wonder: What were their stories? They were at least open to Jesus and his message; they all proclaimed in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” So they were willing to proclaim Jesus as their Master. But – after Jesus sent them to the priests – they didn’t return.

I strongly suspect that their stories and motivations were not 100% uniform; I’ve discovered differences in outlooks and actions even among people I have a lot in common with.

Wondering why these lepers didn’t return — though they saw Christ in action firsthand — might prove interesting.

Here, then, is a thought exercise. It’s definitely not part of Sacred Scripture, but my own creative writing that ponders what may have been going through the mind of the nine lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus. And, for each one, I hope to provide some kind of insight for what this might teach us.

The Ignorant Leper — Perhaps one leper didn’t realize he had been cured. If he’d lived most of his life in suffering, he may not have even been able to consider what his life would be like with God’s blessing. How often are we blind to the blessings we receive? How often do we continue to live in pain, when our suffering has already been taken by God, or our sins are waiting to be absolved through the Sacrament of Confession?

The Late-Thinking Leper — Perhaps, like the previous healed person, one leper didn’t recognize right away that he was healed; but when he did recognize it, it seemed too late. How many people live their lives without consideration, only realizing how Christ has touched them long after the fact? Perhaps they would do well to “live in the moment,” and try to open their minds and hearts to God and truly reflect on their blessings and gifts.

The Quiet Leper — Maybe one leper recognized right away she had been healed, but was too shy or meek to offer gratitude. Are there those among us who have a hard time expressing ourselves with words? God still loves them! The prayers in our hearts and minds are heard by our Heavenly Father, and we should never let the stillness of our tongues stop us from proclaiming our gratitude. Such people may also wish to work on their skills, since a word of praise or acclamation can make all the difference for a friend or fellow believer.

The Assuming Leper — Maybe one leper didn’t feel like he needed to return, because (he believes) healing people is what God is supposed to do! Are there believers who assume too strongly what God “should” do, setting themselves up for disappointment when their prayers seem not to be answered? If we view our blessings as something God is “supposed” to do, we set ourselves up for a shock when we inevitably suffer setbacks. The most faith-filled seem to make their wants and needs known to the Lord, then sit back and let Heaven’s plans unfold as the Lord desires.

The Proud Leper — Perhaps one leper doesn’t believe in gratitude, because he’s too proud to thank those who have given to him. It can be helpful to recognize that one of the strongest things a proud person can do is to be humble, and true humility is pleasing to God. It’s never too late to express gratitude to God, for blessings current, past, or future.

The Quick Leper — What if one leper was so eager to do Jesus’ bidding, he got to the priests too soon? Sometimes, in our eagerness to do God’s will, we leap without thinking. While an eager heart is a wonderful thing, sometimes it can be best to make sure you fully know and understand what call you’re answering. You feel a call to join a ministry; what changes do you need to make to your schedule to make that happen? Your heart longs to join a partner’s in the Sacrament of Matrimony; is that lifelong commitment something you both are really ready for?

The Shame-Filled Leper — Perhaps one of the lepers ran off with the others, but wasn’t actually going to the priests, and was too ashamed to go back and thank Jesus. Even in lives of spiritual dryness or sin, God’s love and blessings can touch us. These moments can serve as beacons to bring us back to the fold, like Christ’s parable of the lost sheep. If you feel touched by goodness but don’t feel worthy or ready, perhaps talk about it with a priest. No matter what’s happened in your life, the Church is always waiting to welcome you home.

The Leper of Another Faith — Maybe one leper belonged to a different faith, and didn’t think it was appropriate to thank Jesus. While we recognize Jesus as the Light and the Way, we also recognize there are other faiths and traditions out there. God calls us to love strangers in all our midsts, regardless of their origins; many faithful Catholics were once members of other faiths, and it seems likely a majority of them were drawn to the Church by the love and compassion of its believers. Perhaps we can pray for such people, so they may one day recognize the truth of the blessings they have received.

The Leper in the Crowd — Finally, maybe the ninth leper looked at the crowd and assumed, “Hey, one of us is going to thank Jesus, so I don’t have to!” How many times in Church have we thought, “Oh, someone else will do it?” Whether donating money, or time, or a useful skill, many people — even those who view themselves as faithful — think that they don’t need to help, because there are so many other people and they won’t be missed. For those, it’s useful to prayerfully reflect that there are always opportunities to serve, and – in many cases – if you don’t participate, no one else will. Or the donations won’t feed as many, or reach as far, or sing with as loud a joyful voice. In all cases, if you’re tempted to think that someone else will do something, listen for the voice that may be the Spirit’s, asking: Why not you?

I can’t say for certain what motivated (or didn’t motivate) the nine lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus. But some aspect of their possible stories might be our own. We have all, in our own way, failed at some point to return to the Lord as quickly and eagerly as we might . . . or perhaps not at all. Knowing that we did wrong is a vital first step, but understanding what happened can help us more effectively keep it from happening again. There are nine lepers who failed to return to Jesus, and they may each have a story. We all have our own stories . . . and our own opportunities, ultimately, to be as insightful and appreciative as that tenth leper.

Today’s readings: Wis 6:1-11; Ps 82:3-4,6-7; Lk 17:11-19

About the Author

Despite being a professional writer and editor for over 15 years, Steven Marsh is more-or-less winging it when it comes to writing about matters of faith. Steven entered the church in 2005, and since then he's been involved with various ministries, including Pre-Cana marriage prep for engaged couples, religious education for kindergarteners, and Stephen Ministry's one-on-one caregiving. Steven lives in Indiana with his wife and son. Despite having read the entirety of the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he's still surprised at elements he rediscovers or reflects upon in new ways. The more Steven learns about the faith, the less he feels he knows; he's keen to emphasize that any mistakes are his own.

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  1. I could relate to your reflection. I am one of the nine lepers. Thank God for your wisdom for opening my eyes.

  2. Many a time, the Lord answers our call for help but we just take it for granted. I see myself amongst the nine ! My eyes have seen God’s work in today’s reflection. God bless you Steve.

  3. Thanks for the lovely reflection. Gives me reason for looking at myself. I have never given thought to the nine lepers who never came back to give thanks. Only concentrate on the one that came back. Each had their own reason for not coming back and for sure most of us are in this category.
    I know where i fall – the 9th ”leper in the crowd”, now i can do something about it! God bless.

  4. Steve, this reflection is very Spirit filled. At every stage of our life in faith the Spirit reveals to us the hidden secrets of the kingdom of God. Thank you so much for putting yourself at the disposal of Christ. Wonderful reflection. God bless you and use you more and more.

  5. I have never reflected upon this particular reading this way. This is worth reading several times. Thank you so much Steven. God bless.

  6. Thanks Steven for your very wonderful reflection. Like Mary Anne I have also never thought about the other nine lepers who never turned up to give thanks to the Lord for their healing but concentrated on the one who went to give thanks to the Lord. On my part I find myself among the nine with various excuses as to why I have to wait before going to give thanks after prayers have been answered.

    Thanks for helping me find my position among the lepers. May God bless you

  7. An insightful reflection,I find myself amongst some of the nine lepers which I’ve never considered until now.Thanks Steven for such an insight!

  8. Thank you for the spirit provoking reflection. I’ve printed it and will refer back to it, as I strive to become the grateful leper and “in all circumstances, give thanks for the will of God.” I Thess. 5:18.

  9. Thanks Steven. I’m among one (or some!) of the nine. It is wonderful and humbling at the same time to reflect on this.

  10. Hey Steven,

    Talk about an examination of the conscience.

    Anyways, I think you missed a few of important points.

    First and foremost, the nine lepers were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do, go to the priest! They were following God’s command. As you have pointed out before, disobeying a command by God usually brings dire consequences. So, listen to God.

    Second, since Jesus was traveling, we don’t know if any of the nine lepers returned after they had seen the priest only to find Jesus had already left. (Which bring up an interesting point that you touched on today, have you ever wondered what happened to all the people Jesus healed or saved? They all seem to disappear into the crowd never to be heard from again.)

    Lastly, the Samaritan. As you know, the Samaritans and Jews did not get along at all. This particular Samaritan was with the other Jews only because of a disease that didn’t discriminate, they had to put up with each other whether they liked it or not. That being said, why did he return? Well, the obvious answer is he didn’t have a priest to go to to tell that he was cured! Where else was he to go? Or, maybe he was another example of a “Good” Samaritan? Or maybe just a good person? We’ll never know his answer. In the end, Jesus tell us that his faith has saved him. I’m guessing the reason the Samaritan is saved is because he recognized who cured him and to give thanks. Maybe the other nine just didn’t give thanks.

    What’s more important?


  11. Steven, that’s a wonderful piece of work. Like many others have commented, I never gave the other nine lepers that much thought and I too, am one of those nine.
    My morning prayer goes Loke this: Lord thank you for all you have blessed me with – this food, shelter, this day, all you have given me freely and nothing on my own to deserve. Forgive me Lord for those blessings I do not recognize but more so those blessings I do recognize but fail thank, appreciate, abuse, and those blessings that I do not know how to use.Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

  12. Good morning Steven, Thank you for your reflection! I have been bruiting in thought since Sunday thinking about the 10 maidens and their oil lamps in a similar way…did five of the maidens not have enough money to buy more oil? How much more oil should they have brought with them? Why were the men out so long? or Why didn’t the five in their wisdom not figure out a kind soulution? Such as turning off 9 lamps to save on oil and then turn them all on when they heard the men coming? Both lessons I thinking …after relflecting on your reflection….are met to stress “the basic but strong simple message…be prepared and be thankful for our blessings … but … just look at how both these readings through reflection have opened our heart to everyone’s individual mental and physical struggles, hardship, shortcoming as we all in our own unique way journey in faith to be in pure joyous awe of Jesus. Could this be what Jesus had planned in these readings all along as you have challenged us to think? Thank you again for your reflection …. I will stop bruiting for the moment

  13. Thank you for this beautiful reflection. Taking the story ‘one step further’ into the possible reasons the nine did not return. At one time or another i have been one of those.
    Peace and gratitude.

  14. Thank you, Steven. Your reflection certainly has been thought provoking. I just always thought how ungrateful the other 9 were to have not returned. Your reflection has made me think more about it. I wonder if some may have been so excited to see the priest and be declared clean so they may return to their loved ones that they didn’t think to go back and thank Jesus. I am so busy looking forward, that I sometimes fail to be thankful or am late in giving thanks.

  15. Hello Steven.

    As you said so yourself, this is your own interpretation of the gospel reading. Though we can never know if that was actually the case, it does seem plausible.

    Either way it is very thought-provoking.

    Thanks for sharing

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