Summary: do we show ingratitude as the nine cleansed lepers or gratitude as the Samaritan?


LUKE 17:11-19

In today's scripture, we again see an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan. – Believed to be a remnant of a lost tribe of Israel, the Jewish people considered the Samaritans beneath them, even pagan, shunned. But nine times in the Bible, Jesus has intimate encounters with people from Samaria (just think of the Good Samaritan or the woman at the well).

Lepers were the lowest of the low. Throughout the Bible we see Jesus interacting with the 'least of these' – tax collectors, prostitutes, beggars – Samaritans absolutely fit into that social category. This time he encounters a group of ten lepers along the road.

Leprosy is a disease caused by bacteria, affecting the nerves of the extremities, skin, lining of the nose, and the upper respiratory system, producing skin ulcers, nerve damage, and muscle weakness. Also known as Hansen's Disease, its first known reference was in 600 BC.

A person could carry the disease for years before the symptoms appear; nodules on the skin grow larger until they force deep wrinkles all over the body. Then the lips, nose, and ear lobes grow thicker until the face begins to resemble an animal. Ulcerations appear everywhere, causing mutilation of arms and legs. Fingers and toes would fall off as the disease progressed; eventually, the person was left blinded.

Since there was no understanding of diseases caused by germs, these people were segregated from society, left to their own survival, and generally lived short lives. Because people knew nothing about germs, most people felt the disease represented a curse imposed on them by God.

And as if the disease wasn't cruel enough, social rules demanded ostracism. Leviticus 13:45 defines interaction with lepers:

A diseased person must wear torn clothes and let his hair hang loose, and he must cover his mouth and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean!'.

A leper was to be avoided at all costs and treated less than a cur dog on the street. You could say they were really 'the least of the least.'

The story of the healing of the ten lepers only appears in the gospel of Luke and is often considered one of Jesus' miracle stories. But this scripture is NOT about the miracle of the healing, but about gratitude. Luke's story is not the miracle of 10 lepers cleansed but rather the contrast between gratitude and ingratitude. Luke notes that the man returning to give thanks was a Samaritan, a "foreigner."

When Jesus heard the pleas of the lepers, he told them:

"Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. (Luke 7:14)

And nine of them headed back to the village to receive a blessing from the priests so that they could resume their lives within the community. In those days, the religious authorities controlled who was acceptable and who was not.

But one of the cleaned lepers returned to Jesus

praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. (Luke 17:15-16)

While the other nine ran to the village to resume their lives, this Samaritan returned to thank Jesus.

Why did only one man cleansed from leprosy return to thank Jesus?

The other nine went to the priests to be proclaimed 'clean.' They possibly wanted to return to their families, celebrate their cleansing, go to the temple to worship, and do things they couldn't do before.

Why did only one return to Jesus?

The Samaritan, by going back and thanking Jesus, was made whole again. . . in other words healed, not just cleansed of the disease. He had faith in Jesus, and his faith made him whole. Not only did the Samaritan receive the blessing of a cleansing of his leprosy, but also healing through his faith in Jesus.

Only one returning to thank Jesus is not surprising, is it?

Most of us are experts in asking God for favors, but we're not very good at thanking God when the requests are granted. I doubt that more than ten percent of us are genuinely grateful to God. It often seems that the more we have, the less gratitude we feel.

We take for granted every blessing we receive, and never think of where it came from and that we should be grateful – we are full of ingratitude. It was Shakespeare who said:

Blow, blow thou winter wind. Thou art not so unkind as man's ingratitude.

Gratitude draws us out of ourselves into something more significant, bigger, and grander than we could imagine; it frees us from fear, releases us from anxiety, and encourages us to do more and dare more than we'd ever imagined possible.

This world is full of blessings and challenges. Which will we focus on?

There is a time for lament and cries for justice and activism. But given that we live in a culture filled with blame and accusation and almost devoid of gratitude, remembering the tenth leper, we need to be heralds of blessing and bearers of powerful words of gratitude, sharing it with the world.

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