Luke 17:11-19

Returning Thankfully

By Richard Niell Donovan

Imagine what it must have been like to be a Samaritan leper. The Israelites treated Samaritans as outcasts:

• Samaritans worshiped God in Shechem rather than Jerusalem.
• Samaritans had their own version of the Bible.

It’s easier to tolerate someone who is very different from you than someone who sprang from the same roots. To the Israelites, the Samaritans were worse than the heathen, because the Samaritans had the precious heritage in their hands, and then they had defiled it.

And, of course, lepers were outcasts from society.

• They had to wear torn clothes.
• They had to let their hair hang loose.
• They had to cry, “Unclean, unclean!” to warn people of their infectious presence.
• They were not allowed to enter towns or to mix with people. If they came too close, people were allowed to throw stones at them.

Jesus met a group of ten lepers. That isn’t strange. People congregate. Lepers couldn’t mix with other people, so they formed their own groups.

These lepers called, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (17:13). Their situation was hopeless—leprosy was incurable—but they had heard about this man who went about healing the sick.

Jesus said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (17:14). Priests diagnosed leprosy—that was one of their jobs. When you were suspected of having leprosy, the Bible required you to go to the priest. If the priest said that you had leprosy, you had to leave town. If you thought that you were healed, you saw the priest again. If he said that you were healed, you could come back into the town. The priest’s word was law.

So Jesus said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And then the Bible says, “As they went, they were cleansed!” (17:14). Can you imagine!

It wouldn’t have taken them long to recognize the healing. Their skin would have been covered with sores and scabs. The sores were deep and ugly, eating away at the flesh. They would have recognized the healing instantly.

What rejoicing! They were well; they were no longer outcasts. Their death sentence was lifted; they could go home.

But first, they must get a priest to pronounce them healed. Where was the nearest priest?

Then they had to get home as quickly as possible. If Friday evening were approaching, they would have to get home before the Sabbath. Once the Sabbath started, they couldn’t travel for a whole day.

But one of the lepers stopped. He had something more important even than finding a priest. Jesus had healed him; he must thank Jesus. And so he did.

Jesus’ response seems puzzling. He sounds almost as if he is rebuking the one man who did the right thing:

“Weren’t the ten cleansed?
But where are the nine?”

But Luke says that Jesus had directed his comments to the healed leper “and to those around listening.” Jesus was talking to the crowd. Listen to him again:

“Weren’t the ten cleansed? But where are the nine?
Were there none found who returned to give glory to God,
except this stranger?”

Jesus made two points: First, only one man bothered to say thanks. Second, the good guy was a Samaritan. Jesus just loved to make a hero of the underdog. He wasn’t rebuking the Samaritan. Listen to his last words:

“Get up, and go your way.
Your faith has healed you”

But what does this scripture have to do with us? Obviously, if our flesh is rotting off our bones and Jesus heals us, we should give thanks. But that doesn’t happen everyday, does it? But this story is not just the story of a leper. It is our story as well.

This scripture is about thankfulness, and we need to remember to thank God for His gifts, great and small. That is no easy lesson, but it is an important one. Vance Havner says:

“Our biggest problem in the church today
is this vast majority of Sunday morning Christians
who claim to have known the Master’s cure,
and who return not … to thank Him
by presence, prayer, testimony
and support of His church.

The whole Christian life is one big “Thank You,”
the living expression of our gratitude to God for His goodness.
But we take Him for granted and
what we take for granted
we never take seriously.”

Richard Douglass puts it this way:

“The modern American seldom pauses to give thanks
for the simple blessings of life.
“One reason is that we are used to having so much.
We simply assume that we will have all the good things of life.
“Another reason is that it hurts our pride to be grateful.
We do not want to admit that God is the Provider of all good things….
Being thankful requires humility.”

You know how much it means to you when someone tells you thanks. Doesn’t it make you feel great! It means just as much to God when we tell him thanks. He appreciates being thanked, but He also knows that, when we give thanks, we become stronger and happier.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, went on a mission to Peru and Bolivia. He wrote a book about his experiences there, and entitled it Gracias! He said:

“The word that I kept hearing, wherever I went, was: Gracias! It sounded like the refrain from a long ballad of events. Gracias a usted, gracias a Dios, muchas gracias—thank you, thanks be to God, many thanks! I saw thousands of poor and hungry children, I met many young men and women without money, a job, or a decent place to live. I spent long hours with sick, elderly people, and I witnessed more misery and pain than ever before in my life. But, in the midst of it all, that word lifted me again and again to a new realm of seeing and hearing: ‘Gracias! Thanks!’

“In many of the families I visited nothing was certain, nothing predictable, nothing totally safe. Maybe there would be food tomorrow, maybe there would be work tomorrow, maybe there would be peace tomorrow. Maybe, maybe not. But whatever is given—money, food, work, a handshake, a smile, a good word, or an embrace—is a reason to rejoice and say gracias. What I claim as a right, my friends in Bolivia and Peru received as a gift….

“And slowly I learned. I learned what I must have forgotten somewhere in my busy, well-planned, and very “useful” life. I learned that everything that is, is freely given by the God of love. All is grace. Light and water, shelter and food, work and free time, children, parents and grandparents, birth and death—it is all given to us. Why? So that we can say gracias, thanks: thanks to God, thanks to each other, thanks to all and everyone.”

Perhaps the lesson for us is that, the richer we are, the more difficult it is to remember to be thankful. If that is the case, we need to make a special effort to be thankful people.

I read this comment about thanksgiving:

“It’s a good thing for us to get all caught up on our thanking
before we do any more asking.”

What if we had to get caught up on thanking before we could ask for anything else. What if that were the rule? Can you imagine trying to remember the blessings of your lifetime? For that matter, can you imagine trying to remember the blessings of this past week? For that matter, can you imagine trying to remember this morning’s blessings?

•Thanks for the warm bed in which I awoke.

•Thanks for the roof over my head.

•Thanks for the food I ate—and the water I drank.

•Thanks for the air I breathed.

•Thanks for my family.

•Thanks for my job.

•Thanks that I can see—and hear—and talk.

•Thanks for my health.

•Thanks for my computer.

•Thanks for the TV.

•Thanks for the newspaper.

•Thanks for the beauty of the day.

And that is just the beginning. If you had to list all your blessings, you would have to list all the bad things that didn’t happen to you today. How long would that take?

Thank God, He doesn’t require that. But this scripture does teach us about the disappointment God feels for the nine who fail to give thanks—and the joy for the one who did return. Let us resolve to follow the example of this one—and to give thanks for God’s gifts, great and small—in our lives.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2008 Richard Niell Donovan.