I wouldn’t have gone back either

I have a question: Did Jesus like people to follow the rules?

Jesus said that not one jot of the law would pass away, and he certainly followed the rules himself (see the bit about paying the Temple tax) but there were times he didn’t (picking heads of grain on the Sabbath). But what about breaking the rules he’d set out?

I’m a little flamboyant with the phrase ‘breaking the rules’ though, so I’ll just cut to the chase. Luke 16 shows us ten lepers who ask Jesus to heal them. Jesus doesn’t say he’s going to do it; he just tells them to go show themselves to the priests (which sounds a lot like “fill these stone jars with water” and “bring it to the steward” because at no point does he say “and then a miracle occurs.”) And they go.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, on the way there, they notice they’re healed, and one of them turns back to go tell Jesus thank you. Jesus says, “Weren’t all ten made whole?” and asks why only the foreigner (a Samaritan) came back to thank him.

All my life, when I’ve heard that story, I’ve resolved to be more thankful. And the last time, I realized, that’s not the point at all.

The point was, nine of them followed the rules and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. The one who didn’t was the one raised outside the Jewish system, the Samaritan, who probably didn’t care so much for the rules of Jewish society as much as he cared, “Sweet! I’m healthy again!”

We don’t know that the other nine weren’t going to track back and find Jesus to thank him after they did what he said to do. But I can tell you right now that if it were me that happened to, that I would go and do everything Jesus had told me to do. And yes, a large part of that would be for fear that he’d take away the good thing if I didn’t complete the task he’d set me. (And no, he didn’t. God doesn’t take the gifts away if you’re insufficiently thankful.) But also because, well, when God tells you to do something — you do it.

I’ve read about Lot’s wife, turned into a pillar of salt for turning back to look at a burning Sodom. Would I want to be turned back into a leper? No. Therefore, if Jesus said, “Go show yourself to the priests,” there I would have been, showing myself to the priests. And then I’d go over to Burdick Chocolates to pick up a little thank you gift for Jesus to show him just how happy I was.

So what did Jesus expect, I wonder? Didn’t he want people to do what he said?

Kind of a scratch-your-head moment for your friendly neighborhood rules-conscious Philangelus.



  1. Pat

    I’ve had exactly the same thought, Jane. They didn’t come back because they were doing what they were supposed to do. I’m glad someone else noticed!

    1. philangelus

      It really bugs me when the assumption is that the other nine weren’t thankful. We don’t *know* that. We only know they were going and doing what Jesus said to do.

  2. cricketB

    Maybe he went to the priests after thanking Jesus. If he was physically closer to Jesus than the priests, it would be more efficient to go back, say Thanks, then go to the priests. He didn’t say they had to run, just that they had to go.

    Maybe Jesus expected them to say Thanks to God at the temple (as well as showing the people there what Jesus did).

    If the Samaritan didn’t associate the miracle with God, Jesus would be the one to thank.

    Even if the Samaritan did associate the miracle with God, he wouldn’t associate the priests and temple with the true Law. God wouldn’t be there. Samaritans probably had a Law saying he should avoid the Jewish temple. Jesus, now, he worked miracles, so he must be a true representative. The Samaritan went to where he felt closest to God to say thanks.

    (Quick trip to Wikipedia. I thought the Samaritans were very different, but apparently they were part of the same group until at least Abraham and Isaac, possibly Joseph. They split some time after that, although the there is disagreement over exactly when and where and who rewrote what and when.)

    1. philangelus

      The Samaritans were the remnant of the Northern Kingdom, which split after the time of Solomon. They believed in the Torah but didn’t believe the prophetic books of the Old Testament had any validity. They moved their Temple to Mt. Gerazim and worshipped there instead of Jerusalem, but I believe they were remarkably similar in many respects.

      I agree that Leper #10 wouldn’t have felt the same compulsion to abide by Jewish law, but he still must have had at least some initial understanding of it, otherwise he wouldn’t have even started going with the others to show himself to the High Priest.

      See, I agree with your interpretation. But in the moment, I’d have done what Jesus said and tied off the loose ends later because I tend toward being orthopraxic and letter-of-the-law. If Jesus said, “Do this,” that’s what I’d be doing. 😀

  3. Eliza Tilton

    Tough call. Maybe, he understood why he was healed and that’s why he ran back. It wasn’t going to the priest that would heal him, but believing he would be healed.

    1. philangelus

      It wasn’t even believing he would be healed that healed him — it was Jesus’s healing action that healed him. They didn’t believe going to the priest would bring healing, but rather that going to the priest was only to provide the proof necessary that healing had taken place and be readmitted into society.

      But still, you’ve got Jesus saying “Go and do THIS” and then sounding taken aback that people did what he said to do. 😉

  4. Renee

    A thought-provoking post! I’m not sure what I would have done, but at least, you made me think about it. Thanks for sharing this with us at the Come to the Table blog link up at Doorkeeper. Blessings!