Summary: True gratitude follows when we understand all that Christ has done.
Luke 17: 11 – 24
Thanksgiving Day, October 11, 1999
One day a woman was rushing home from a doctor’s appointment. The doctor had been somewhat delayed at the hospital, and the lab work took a little longer than usual so by the time she left the clinic she was running quite a bit behind schedule. She still had to pick up her prescription, pick up the children from the baby-sitter, and get home and make supper, all in time to make it to the prayer meeting at her church that evening. As she began to circle the busy Wal-Mart parking lot, looking for a space, the windows of heaven were opened, as it says in Genesis, and a downpour began. While she wasn’t usually the type to bother God with small problems, she began to pray as she turned down the row closest to the front door. "Lord, you know what kind of a day I’ve had, and there’s still an awful lot to do. Could you please grant me a parking space right away, oh, and close to the building so I don’t get soaked." The words weren’t even completely out of her mouth when she saw the backup lights of a car come on at the end of the row. It was the best space in the whole parking lot, right next to the handicap spots and straight out from the front door. She made straight for it and as she pulled in, she said, "never mind God, something just opened up."
It’s kind of an amusing anecdote, but how many times do we ask God for something, and then when we receive it, we behave as though it were quite an unusual coincidence, and we fail to give credit where credit is due. That’s exactly what happened in our Scripture reading this morning.
In the story that we read, we saw that Jesus was "on his way" to Jerusalem — and the cross. He was traveling the border between Samaria and Galilee, when he came to this village. Either there was a leper colony nearby, or perhaps the fact that this village was located on the border indicates that it was in kind of a no-mans-land, and the village itself was the leper colony. Any way, his reputation preceded him, for ten of the lepers came out to meet him.
Now this is one of those stories that loses some of its punch for us today, because we really don’t have a clue what it was like to be a leper. Probably the closest any of us has come is watching some of the Leprosy Mission of Canada infomercials, but as horrible as the disease can be today, it was far worse then. Now we have doctors and effective treatments for Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease. In those days they had only fear and isolation. Think for a moment what it must have been like to be pushed outside the community. Isolated. Humiliated. A charity case. Add to that the fact that the priests and teachers of the law commonly used lepers as object lessons about sin, where would you find your reason to go on? What would it be like to never be touched? Never. To see little children run away at the sight of you? No hugs, no kisses, no hand-shakes, no pat on the back. These lepers knew the laws and the traditions. They knew exactly how far they were required to stand from the public. And there they stand, some distance away trying to shout over the crowd of people that seemed to surround Jesus whenever he came to a public place. They called out to him "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" Maybe they wanted alms, or they needed food. It’s even possible they knew that Jesus was a healer and they were reaching out in faith, believing that Jesus would show mercy to them, as he had to so many others. In any case, they knew their place and though they cried for mercy, they didn’t dare draw near.
Jesus answer is a little surprising to us. He does not ask if they believe. He does not lay hands on them. He does not spit on the ground, make mud and rub it into their wounds. When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." Essentially, he tells them to do what the law required when a leper was cleansed, without really assuring them that they would be cleansed. It was possible for leprosy to go into remission, and the truth is that many who were called lepers probably had eczema, psoriasis and other problems that affect the skin but sometimes disappear. If a leper thought his leprosy had gone away, the law required that he present himself to a priest. After an elaborate examination involving a period of quarantine, the priest could declare him clean and return him to his home . When Jesus said to the ten "Go and show yourselves to the priests," he was telling them to act in faith as though they had been healed, even though the healing was not a reality at that point. As they left him, they were miraculously cleansed of their leprosy.