There’s a nugget of wisdom that goes, “He had the experience, but missed the meaning.” Something important happened and even though he was present, he didn’t catch what was really going on.
A salesman in a high-priced furniture store related a memorable instance of this. Another employee who had been there for over 40 years passed away, and in the weeks after the staff got to worrying about how to break the news to his regular, long-time customers. But particularly, they thought of one older woman for whom he had been especially helpful over all those years. The day she walked off the elevator, two of them approached to tell her the bad news as delicately as they could. As they did, they could see her facial expression change and confusion come over her. But her words — “Well, who’s going to wait on me now?” They were shocked at the callous response. She was having the experience (the news of his death) but totally missing the meaning (someone very good to her had died). They walked away, shaking their heads.
While perhaps not as self-centered, the response of the nine lepers to Jesus after he cured them shows some similarities. As they followed his instruction and went to show themselves to the priests, their leprosy dropped away. You can imagine the thrill running through their souls and bodies at this miraculous cleansing.
For sure, they realized Jesus had healed them — but, did they catch the deeper meaning of who it was who was doing the healing? It seems not, at least by contrast with that 10th leper, the Samaritan. Because not only was he the only one to return and express his gratitude, but as the story goes, he was also the only one who “gave praise to God” for what had happened.
Like the others he had the experience, but unlike them he saw through to the deeper meaning in the miracle. It was The Father’s healing Self coming to him through the power and compassion of this man Jesus. Not just a generic cure, it was God’s own hand personally reaching out to him. Sensing this intimate love of God at the core of the miracle, he sees through to the heart of the matter. God heals me, God loves me, God takes a loving interest in his people. He has the experience and this former leper also realizes its meaning.
Among the challenges thrown out here is the one to recognize God’s presence in life’s events. Yes, things happen. People fall in love, addictions are faced and managed, depressions lift, spring comes again, music touches our spirits, someone listens and takes care of us. But are these only what they seem to be on the surface? Or is there something else (better someone else) underneath? Can our gratitude reach further and travel down through the gifts and all the way back to the Giver? Can we feel the deeper meaning – the God meaning — in the experiences of life?
What of the disappointments, the sufferings and betrayals and hardships — is there anything of the Divine presence to be found here? There’s no easy and simple answer. But as followers of the Lord Jesus, we know that His Father stayed close by him in both good times and in bad. That even while dying on the cross, His Abba, as one writer puts it, was hovering near, was at his side and even suffering along with him – as God suffers along with us in our hardships. It’s Jesus who reveals that God’s hand is always reaching out to strengthen us, to rest alongside us. Life throws up many experiences, both happy and sad. Can we as Jesus’ followers see past their surfaces into the grace at their depths?
This tenth leper alerts us that there’s more going on than first-bounce appearances. There’s God’s presence, the accompaniment of God’s Spirit in all circumstances. The extra step of thankfulness can unlock this secret, opening us to the profundity of The Lord’s touch in our everyday lives.
Vincent was forever counselling gratitude, all the time insistent that we remain consciously aware of Who it is we’re serving and Who undergirds our strength. He would have us notice the profundity in all our experiences, God’s hand as it moves through everything we do and see.