The role of the priest in the context of Jesus’ command to the ten lepers goes beyond the New Testament revelation that all Christians are priests (1 Pet 2:5, Heb 4:14-16). The text from Luke 17 made a complete sense when the cleansed leper went to the priest. The role of the priest is to establish the prophetic truth and the power of Jesus Christ to cleanse a leper. The priest, beyond an evangelical understanding of the church over against the clericalism, is not just a professional diagnoser of leprosy but a prophetic witness and testifier to the authenticity of Jesus’ miracle. The nine lepers sadly resonates with many delivered nations, churches, and people who settled down and get lost in the hype of modern Christianity. It is sad, hundreds of converts are now burned out, backslidden and shipwrecked, living on a past, one-time experience like the nine lepers. Many are in the same place the nine healed lepers ended up; lost in the nations, lost in churches – ‘swallowed up by religion!’ Using the words of Pope Francis, we need priests again but not ‘trendy’ priests.
Set apart by the Holy Spirit from God’s holy people, the word “priest” comes from the Latin presbyter and the Greek presbyterous. Professor Bolaji Idowu, the first Patriarch, Methodist Church Nigeria explained that, the Church has always ‘recognised persons who respond to the divine calling and election and are separated by ordination for service ….’ Globally, the number of priestly vocations ‘exploded in 1950 (partly through migration) and peaked out in 1970. After 1975, you see a slow but steady decrease in the number of priests until the decline becomes steep around 1990. More troubling is the fact that the tsunami of priests ordained from 1970-1980, will be reaching retirement age between the years 2015-2025.’ Today, there is sad decline and shortage in priestly vocations, and the reason is not because priests are poorly paid, but ‘for the poor spiritual life of the church, family, and nation like the nine lepers. For the renewal of the role of the priests, we need to pray for quality and quantity.
Besides the Priests, we have other places of honour, service, and ministry in God’s mission namely; the treasurer, the preacher, the missioner, the food distributor, and dozens of others in places. The role of a priest connects other places of ministry of God to God and to one another hence, Jesus’ directive to the ten lepers to shown themselves to the priest. Our being God’s priest is not the STATUS we possess, but our prophetic witness. The priest’s role in certain nations and churches of lepers goes beyond sequence of behaviour, structured activities expected of persons through feelings, words, and actions as a significant function in society. The objective of the priest is to save our own soul and help to save the souls of others – salus animarum suprema lex, (the salvation of souls is the supreme law).
In Luke 17, an account full of salvific meaning, we have a group of lepers and they hear that Jesus is going to be coming near to their leper colony. The ten lepers might likely have had different status in the community, some probably former priest, business men and women, and Pharisees. What is clearer is that one of them was a Samaritan leper (an outcast among outcasts). The lepers did not say to Jesus to save them from their situation which is beyond human control or for Jesus to heal them from their leprosy, the affliction of the body that is also beyond human solution. Their request for mercy suggests that the ten lepers found themselves wanting in a moral situation. The solution to their affliction based on many wonderful things they have heard about Jesus prompted them to shout to make themselves heard, “Jesus, Have Mercy on us!” Nations and churches of lepers across the globe are found wanting in moral situations.
Jesus’ command to the lepers to go and show themselves to the priest assured the lepers of cleansing; for only a cleansed leper was to show himself or herself to the priest. As they went, they were cleansed and healed on the way. The trial of the lepers’ faith and obedience resonates with Naaman’s narrative: Go and wash in Jordan (2Kg 5). The lepers did not doubt Jesus’ command to go to the priest. Jesus not only observed the spiritual law in relation to the reputation and honour due to priests in their spiritual function, Jesus points us to further role of the priest ‘which was to have the priest’s judgement of, and testimony to, the perfectness of the cure; and that the priest might be awakened, and others by him, to enquire after one that had such a commanding power over bodily diseases.’ Jesus Christ is the ONLY ONE with a commanding power over bodily and spiritual diseases.
Beloved, we are all lepers (in the spiritual sense) we all start out separated from God, an outcasts, not worthy to be near him.The reflection is that, our sense of spiritual and moral leprosy should make us very humble whenever we draw near to Jesus Christ. One of the things our spiritual and moral leprosy does is to render us incapable of understanding God’s truth. This aspect of our fallen condition is described in Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “But the natural man (a man born only once, i.e., unsaved) receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).
Daniel Burnett in his book, In the Shadow of Aldersgate: An Introduction to the Heritage and Faith of the Wesleyan Tradition, provides some reflection on Wesley’s pre-Aldersgate faith. According to Burnett, Wesley’s pre-Aldersgate faith ‘was not a faith that understood and accepted the evangelical concept of Christianity.’ Wesley in his letter to his brother, Samuel on October 30, 1738 gave definition of what it means to be a Christian and how that related to his Aldersgate experience. Wesley said “By a Christian, I mean one who so believe in Christ, as that sin hath no more dominion over him; And in this obvious sense of the word, I was not a Christian till May the 24th last past. For till then, sin had dominion over me, although I fought it continually….”
The most dangerous leprosy is the leprosy of the heart hence, the strangely warmed heart of John Wesley did not only heal his sinful heart. Wesley was able to understand and comprehend the Gospel and have the Spirit of God living in him. Wesley’s ‘transformation from works-oriented religion to grace-oriented faith was … a true conversion to biblical Christianity’ which formed the foundation of the 18th century awakening in Europe. Leprosy rendered someone unclean. The ten lepers were unable to engage with others, just as our spiritual and moral leprosy as nations and churches incapacitates us in engaging effectively in act of worship and evangelism. The person responsible for examining the patient in ancient Israel was the priest, today, a two-step role of the priest is to examine the spiritual health of our nations and churches so as to accomplish unity with God, or oneness and to improve the relationship by teaching and worship.
The truth is that, the failure of the priest is the failure of the nations and churches because priests are to examine the leper and called them to repentance. It is tragic even when the priest is a leper especially in spiritual sense – leprosy of the heart. John Wesley while in the voyage to preach the Gospel to Native American people in 1736 was with a group of German Moravians when a huge wave engulfed the ship. Wesley, with his unsuccessful time in America realised his state of spiritual leprosy and inadequacy in contrast to the Moravians absolute trust in God. The Moravians as great influence in the life of Wesley brought a radical change in Wesley’s life and ministry. Wesley as a priest, healed of his heart and spiritual sense was able to lead Methodism as a renewal movement with the world as his parish. Wesley’s sense of his spiritual leprosy humbled him when he encountered the Saviour of mankind and became interiorly and exteriorly right ordered. The reflection is that until the priests are healed of our leprosy, we cannot bring healing to certain nations and churches.
Like the one sole leper in Luke 17, Wesley returned to Britain to bring renewal to the churches and nations. The prayer is that, the Lord will open the eyes of the other nine lepers in our nations and churches and be thankful for God’s miracle. The nine lepers reveals a lot about our human nature. God’s vocabulary has not changed: Where are the other nine lepers? Where do you belong, One leper church or Nine leper church? God is saying to the churches and nations, enough of dead religion, dry ritualism and formalism.