This Thanksgiving season, we can learn much from the remarkable drama found in Luke 17:11-19: “As he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,’” (Luke 17:11-12).
Here is a colony of lepers joined by their common misfortune and misery. Their only uniting characteristic is the foul disease that had cast them out of society. Every detail is true.
As Jesus enters the village, these men stand afar off crying out to him for mercy. How did they know who he was?
No doubt they had heard the rumors floating across the barren countryside—”This man can heal lepers.”
No doubt they discussed it and then discounted it.
Even if he could do such a thing, what were the chances that he would ever come to their village?
There they stand, the most ragged choir in Israel, 10 lepers crying out to Jesus for mercy.
No more pitiful sound ever came to our Lord’s ears.
“Have mercy! Have mercy!” came the shouted cry from lips that had seen too little mercy and too much condemnation.
What will Jesus do?
Will he heal them right then and there?
That was certainly within his power and no doubt that was what the lepers hoped for.
Instead, Jesus said something that sounds surprising to us.
When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” (verse 14).
At first glance, you might think that Jesus is simply putting them off. You might even conclude that he didn’t intend to heal them at all.
And if you came to that conclusion, you might infer that Jesus meant to impress upon them the hopelessness of their condition.
But all those inferences are incorrect.
As a matter of fact, Jesus fully intended to heal them and (this is critical) he intended to do it in keeping with the demands of the Law of Moses.
Leviticus 14 clearly states that the priest must authenticate any “cure” from leprosy.
If Jesus hadn’t sent the lepers to the priest, no one would have believed the miracle had really taken place.
But that’s not the whole story. The last part of verse 14 says that “as they went, they were cleansed.”
They were healed as they went. Not before. Not after. That means that when they left to go to the priest, they still had leprosy.
How do you suppose they felt when Jesus said, “Go show yourselves to the priest?”
Go show what to the priest? They were still lepers.
They didn’t have anything to show that the priest would want to see.
In fact, the last thing the priest wanted to see was ten smelly, disheveled, deformed, wretched lepers.
I wonder if someone said, “Why bother?”
After all, “Once a leper, always a leper.”
There were sores everywhere, deformed arms and fingers bitten off by rodents.
You could smell the disease a quarter-mile away.
Off they go, doubting all the way, this shuffling band of sufferers marching off to see the priest.
They take one step, and they are still lepers. They take two steps, and nothing happens. They take a third step, and the leprosy clings to their limbs.
But on that fourth step, something wonderful, something unbelievable, something they never dreamed possible, happened. With that fourth step, they were healed. Instantly. Miraculously. All 10 at once.
So, the 10 lepers were healed.
It is a marvelous miracle, but it is not the end of the story.
In fact, that’s not even the heart of the story.
Another miracle is about to happen.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.
Now, he was a Samaritan (verses 15-16).
Ten were healed and only one came back to give thanks.
Luke says he fell on his face before the Lord, shouting his praise of the Lord.
He’s been healed of leprosy.
For 20 years he was a leper living in this remote corner, separated from his family, forgotten by his friends, cut off from his own people.
Suddenly, the disease vanishes and with it the twisted limp, the crooked fingers, the atrophied muscles.
In less time than it takes to tell the story, the disease and all its ugly tentacles are pulled from his body, leaving not a trace behind them.
He stretches his arms high above his head and then picks up a stone to see how far he can throw it.
He begins to walk and then runs and finally leaps into the air. He is whole again. Healthy again. Clean again. No longer an outcast.
No wonder he shouted. I would too.
When Luke adds, “He was a Samaritan,” the shock is such that we ought to read it this way: “Think of it. A Samaritan.”
Remember, Jesus was a Jew and the Jews thought Samaritans were half-breed traitors.
To make matters worse, he is a Samaritan leper.
To a Jew, a more repulsive combination could not be found.
He was from the wrong race, he had the wrong religion and he had the worst-possible disease.
In religious matters, this Samaritan knew almost nothing and what he knew was mostly wrong.
But he knew Jesus had healed him and he knew enough to be grateful to God.
That statement is why this story is in the Bible.
Let me go one step further.
Luke doesn’t say so directly, but I think he implies that the other nine were Jews.
If that’s so, then what this story really means is that those who should have been most grateful weren’t.
And the one man who shouldn’t have come back did.
This whole story pictures life as it really is.
First, it is a picture of the abundant grace of God. This is a cure by wholesale –a whole hospital healed with only a word. Ten at a time. It is a vast miracle.
Second, it is a picture of prevalent ingratitude. Nine out 10 people will probably forget every blessing they ever receive.
Third, it is a picture of unexpected grace. Grateful hearts often pop up where you least expect them.
Now we discover what Jesus has to say about all of this: “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well,’ (verses 17-19).
Jesus asks three questions.
Were there not 10 healed? Yes. Where are the other nine? Gone. Is there no one here but this foreigner? No one.
If you listen carefully, you can hear surprise, shock and most of all sadness.
Jesus wanted to know about the others. Where are they? Weren’t they healed? Why didn’t they come back and say, “Thank You?”
Here is an amazing fact. You look at these 10 lepers and they appear to be alike.
All had leprosy.
All were outcasts from society.
All were determined to do something about it.
All had heard about Jesus and believed he could help them.
All appealed to him.
All obeyed his word.
All were healed.
On the outside, they appear identical. Yet what a difference.
One returned. Nine went on.
One was grateful. Nine were not.
One man found forgiveness. Nine did not.
One man got two miracles. Nine got one.
All 10 were healed. That’s one miracle. But the Samaritan was healed and forgiven. That’s two miracles.
And that’s what Jesus means when he says, “Your faith has made you well.”
The question remains: Where are the nine?
The answer is, they got what they wanted and left.
Jesus performed a mighty miracle for them, and they said, “Thanks, Lord, I can take it from here.”
They’re like children who eat their fill and then run away from dinner table without a word of thanks.
“We’re full now. Let’s go out and play.”
I think this is a particular sin of those raised in the church.
We have so little sense of what God has done for us.
Often, we don’t love the Lord very much or feel grateful for his blessings.
We mumble our thanks.
We might say it in two different ways: Gratitude is the highest duty of the believer and the supreme virtue, the fountain from which all other blessings flow. Ingratitude is the leprosy of the soul. It eats away on the inside, destroys our happiness, cripples our joy, withers our compassion, paralyzes our praise and renders us numb to all the blessings of God.
Far too often we shout our needs to God and are mute about or mumble our thanks and praise for his blessings.
We often have it backwards, don’t we?
How would our lives be different if every day we were more like the one than the nine?