The Way of the Nine
and the Way of the One
Dear sons of God in Christ Jesus,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus healed ten lepers and off they went eager to move on from the leper’s life of sickness, segregation, and death to a new life of health and restoration and communion (Luke 17:11-19). As quickly as possible they wanted to be back with their family and neighbours, no longer calling out to them from afar, but coming near to embrace and dwell with them. When they cried to Jesus to have mercy on them, as we do each and every Sunday in our liturgy, He told them to go and show themselves to the priest. Nine of them went off as quickly as they could. One of them did not. He delayed going and turned and went back to Jesus. He would not get back to his family as quickly as the other nine.
In today’s Old Testament reading we have the words of Solomon to his son, instructing him about wise ways. He speaks to us today about the way of wisdom and the path of the wicked; the path of righteousness and the way of wickedness. One way is steady and sure. The other is full of stumbling and delays. One way is full of light like the noonday sun. The other is dark and dangerous. Can we think of this instruction in terms of today’s Gospel reading as the way of the nine and the way of the one?
Is it fair to suggest that either the nine or the one were on a path of wickedness? Were the nine not doing what Jesus told them to do: “Go and show yourselves to the priest”? Off they went in a hurry to do just that. And the one who turned back we can hardly blame for pausing to praise and thank the Lord. In fact Jesus commended him for doing so and questioned why the others did not.
Was Jesus putting them in a situational test, like a trick question on the exam. Did He tell them to do one thing while really wanting them to do something else? Does He do that to us? Is He out to trap us?
The disturbing truth is that we are already trapped. We are trapped in our sinful nature. And it is not so simple as doing what you are told to do. If it were that simply, then our salvation would be dependent on our obedience and there would be no way to escape the disobedience that would damn us all. Rather, Jesus only noted the existing situation of the life of mankind infected with a fallen sinful nature.
The nine did not disobey, but even in their obedience their sinful nature was manifest. Off they went in a hurry in obedience to Jesus’ command to show themselves to the priest, in order that they might get back to the embrace of their family and the fellowship of their community as soon as possible. Off they went in a hurry without a thought of thanking the Lord for their healing, or of acknowledging Jesus as the One sent by God to give them restoration and new life.
That is very sobering because we often do the same kind of thing. We hear what the Lord says and off we go to obey. Our thoughts are on the good of what we have been called to do and we forget about the good that God has done for us. Our eyes are focused on ourselves and not upon Him. Consequently we don’t pause to give Him thanks. We don’t acknowledge our Saviour. We only rejoice that our desires are being fulfilled and we scurry away to live the blessed life as if we could live it without the one who blesses us. Look what we have done.
Isn’t it the norm for most Christians to go on a family-friendly vacation without going to church on the Lord’s Day? Is it not common to eat a fine meal without asking a blessing or to finish a meal without returning thanks? Is it not all too easy to slide into bed at night without thanking God for keeping you from evil throughout the day, and to rise and begin the new day without thanking Him for keeping you safe through the night?
How far is this supposed to go? Does every trip in the car require a prayer? What about every church meeting, every coffee fellowship time, before cleaning the churchyard or cleaning the house? What about all of our activities at school or work or at other times? We are not to become so fastidious that our pausing to pray and give thanks in itself becomes focused on our actions of praying and giving thanks. That is what our sinful, fallen nature does to us. How are we ever to take the focus from ourselves and direct it to the Lord who blesses while we live in this body of sin with its corrupted mind and tyrannical ego?
The path of righteousness is the path with Jesus. It is not the path that runs away from Him once He has given our heart’s desire. It is the path that keeps turning back to Him, and so it is the way of the one and not the way of the nine. It is the path of those who are righteous not by their obedience, but only as they are righteous in Christ. It is the path of those who recognize that when they are running to do what they are told, they ought not to be running away from Jesus.
Solomon wisely teaches us that in the way of the righteous your steps will not stumble. You will not fall into sins of self-centred egoism, or a sinful enrapture with the delights of your sinful heart. When you remain on the path with Jesus, you can continue to make strides while continually turning to Him as the source of your life and joy, your fulfillment and blessing, your forgiveness and salvation from your own ...obedient self. We are righteous only in Christ. He is the righteous One who shares His righteousness with us as we remain united to Him in our baptism.
This is the true path of life, a life that lepers and sinners desire. It is a life that is not one of calling out from afar, but one that draws near to Christ and to all others who are in Christ. As we draw near to Him we live where those who are in Christ live. As we draw near to Him we draw near to those who would otherwise be separated from us by distance, by age, by culture, even by death. We cannot get closer to our loved ones than when they and we are one in Christ Jesus.
In Him is our restoration to the community through the forgiveness of sins. When we seek a path of reconciliation it has to be the path where Christ Jesus is. Our belonging is found through our identity in Jesus. Our baptismal identity is the one that transcends male or female, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile. Only on the path with Jesus can the infection of our sinful disease not only be healed in ourselves, but also prevented from spreading to others.
This path of the upright is bathed in the light of Jesus who said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness but have the light of life” (John 8:12). He came to shine into the darkness of our world of disease and death. He came that we might have the light of His truth, His holiness, His majesty and glory. This was revealed to those who were with Him on the mountain when He was transfigured and His face shone like the sun and His garments were as white as the light (Luke 9:29pp). In the presence of Jesus He lights our path and keeps us from falling back down into the dark depths of sin. His light fills us and reflects off of those who are in His presence so that they also in their daily walk shine as lights in a dark world (Philippians 2:15).
The way of the nine is the way that is quick to do what is right without thought of remaining in Christ. It is focused not on Him but on the individual’s deeds. Jesus simply disappears in the rear-view mirror as they speed away to get back to the family, not concerned whether Christ will be there with them once they get there. It is a truly evil way, disguised under a veil of obedience and a cloak of desire and a false phosphorescence of fading fancy. Under all of those layers it is simply the way that disregards the Saviour.
It becomes a desperate race for what we think will set our hearts at ease. It becomes a downhill sprint such that our legs cannot keep up with our wants and we tumble headlong, not knowing what tripped us up. Was it a rock, a log, a stiff-stemmed weed, or our own shoelace, our own tangle of sinful and selfish motives?
In a blind and mad rush to obey so that we might obtain, we push others out of our way instead of finding our communion with them in Christ. We make them stumble by our prideful sins that trample over them and inspire them to sins of their own. There is no reconciliation on this path where everyone is focused on their own prize and have left Jesus back at the start.
The way of the nine is a way of darkness as they seek to leave the light of Christ behind and drive on further and further away from the light of His truth and holiness and majesty. And once at a sufficient distance we can no longer see the Light, not who He is nor what He has done; the light of His divine nature that can heal lepers, and the glory of His cross and resurrection promising His resurrecting of all flesh on the Last Day. Instead of standing in the dawn of Easter morn as the sun of righteousness rises higher and brighter upon those who stand in His rays, the pursuit of yesterday’s glory and tomorrow’s mirage have us racing away from the appearance of the day of grace.
There is no set up. There is no trick or trap in what Jesus tells us to do. “Go to the priest!” Go to the one who has sacrificed Himself for your healing and restoration and life. Go to Jesus and remain on the way with Him. In our Epistle reading St. Paul tells us to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 24). The Spirit directs us to Jesus. The Spirit points us to Jesus in the Word of God so that we might know where we live, where we have healing from the disease of our sin that even turns obedience to abomination, where we have instead a reconciled life with all those who are in Christ.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.