The story of the 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-19 taught me some interesting things regarding God’s take on our obedience. Let me say at the outset that I am a big proponent of obedience. Not only is it emphasized repeatedly (and then re-emphasized to the point of redundancy) throughout God’s word, but it also syncs up with the way I’m wired – I like executing things, following the rules, and getting stuff done. By and large, if I know God is telling me to do something, I do it – immediately, unquestioningly, and zealously. Which is why this story had some very interesting truths for me to meditate upon.
So, to paraphrase the event, Jesus is walking around and 10 lepers meet him on the outskirts of town and they cry out to him and ask him to “have mercy on them” (that’s “leper” for “heal us, please!”). Jesus doesn’t heal them then and there; he only tells them to go show themselves to the priests. Which is interesting because most the time Jesus does a healing miracle, he tells the person healed to be quiet and not tell anyone. Any case, as the lepers ran off to do what Jesus said, they were healed! (Can you imagine?!) Well, one of the dudes turns around and goes back to Jesus, and the other 9 ran ahead and obeyed Jesus to the letter.
The one dude who turned around was a Samaritan. Quick aside – in the caste system of the day, Samaritans were enemies of the Jews, despised by them, and treated like “dogs.” So it’s interesting that the one who turned around is the one who had least reason in this world to do so. And why did he do it? To glorify God and give thanks to Him. He fell at Jesus’ feet and poured out a declaration of faith and worship. This made Jesus very happy, but he was dismayed at the other 9 who did not return to give glory to God.
OK, WAIT A MINUTE. STOP THE PRESSES. What?!?!
It seems that god is not always pleased with our unquestioned obedience. He is more interested in us truly understanding what He’s done for us and why (because He loves us). He wands to be loved in return. He wants to restore the relationship with mankind that was broken in Eden. We’re not robots – He won’t compel our love. Obedience is an aspect of our relationship with Him and our love for Him (see John 14). But when obedience is separated from relationship and love, it seems that it is offensive to the Lord.
I can easily get caught up in the “tasks” of my faith – doing my religion rather than being with Jesus (or in relationship with Jesus). There’s a balance — my obedience cannot be separated from my love for Him, thankfulness to Him, faith in Him, or glorification of Him.
Jesus had mercy on the lepers and healed them as asked. It wasn’t conditioned on their robotic execution of orders — it was by His grace. I also can take for granted God’s answers to my prayers and lose sight of why, exactly, He is answering them. His desire is for a relationship with me (for my love, thankfulness, faith, and glorification), not for robotic execution of His orders.