RCL C Proper 23 Complementary
2 Kings 5:1-3 and 7-15c, Psalm 111, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Saint Luke 17:11-19

An odd coincidence strikes me about the Gospel today. Ten lepers approach Jesus, and they call upon him to heal them. He heals them all telling them to show themselves to the priests. One of the ten turns back “praising God with a loud voice.”[1] The single, thankful leper prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet. And Jesus says to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”[2]

The coincidence that I find so striking is the percentage of thankful lepers. Ten are cleansed, and one returns to give thanks to God. Ten percent; it is the same percentage as the Biblical tithe.

You remember that Abraham gives a tithe to the priest Melchizedek as a thank offering after defeating the armies of four kings.[3] Jacob vows to give God a tithe in exchange for God’s care and protection.[4] Moses establishes the tithe as a law.[5] The first ten percent is called “holy,” or set apart as belonging to God. The Israelites were to return to God what was already his, and in doing so, they recognize and acknowledge the Almighty’s provision and care for them.

And so it is with the lepers. They are God’s, and God cares for them. God preserves them all, and ten percent are God’s tithe of thankfulness and acknowledgement.

It is hard to imagine that God receives thankfulness from but ten percent of his creation. Maybe it is so. I have thought over the years that God’s rate of return must surely be higher than that. But maybe ten percent is a good figure. Maybe it is accurate. Perhaps a ninety percent loss is the cost of our God-given free will. God may suffer the loss in order to preserve the blessing of our freedom to choose to be fully his or to go our own way.

I think we often fail to recognize the blessing we have in our freedom to choose to respond to God or to choose not to respond. That blessing itself is invaluable. And it has in me the effect of wanting to give God more.

God is willing to suffer the ninety percent loss so that some of his people may learn about God’s sovereign ownership of everything. Once we recognize that what we have, we have only in trust and that it all belongs to God, we then are fully free; free to make every choice for God and thus to be more fully his in every aspect of our lives.

Within all the percentages, all the sorting through of our freedom and what it means, lies an important message from God: do something simple, and I will meet you there. Give God your thanks, and give God your offerings and your tithes, and God is with you, and you are with God. And it all came about freely, without force, without obligation, without anything whatsoever to undermine it. Imagine what God has done in all this: God has given us all an obligation that we are free to ignore, just like the nine cleansed lepers who didn’t think once about returning to Jesus to give thanks.

[1] Saint Luke 17:15.

[2] Saint Luke 17:19.

[3] Genesis 14:19-20.

[4] Genesis 28:20-22.

[5] Leviticus 27:30-34.