Luke 17:11-19 (New International Version)
Ten Healed of Leprosy
11Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
There was a man who really wasn’t well thought of by the people in his community. He was a bad husband, he was a bad employee, he was even a bad neighbor. But on this day he wasn’t about to be a bad father. No, he remembered that it was his little girl’s birthday and he was making a last minute trip to the mall to buy her something special. The problem was that the little girl’s birthday fell on the day after Thanksgiving, also known as “Black Friday.” There wasn’t a parking spot to be found.
So as this man was driving around and around the parking lot, he began to get nervous because he didn’t want to be late for his little girl’s birthday party. So the man decided to do something that he hadn’t done in a long time. He decided to pray. He prayed, “God, I know that I’m not a good husband, or a good employee, or a good neighbor. But if only you will help me find a parking spot, I promise that I will change my ways forever.”
Just then a car pulled out in front of him, leaving him with a prime spot, right in front of the entrance. The man prayed again and he said, “Never mind. There’s one.”
We take God for granted don’t we? We miss the opportunity to give thanks to the giver of all things that are good. Sometimes we are just too busy and sometimes we just overlook the giver and all we see is the gift. Regardless of why we fail to give thanks, we all know that we do. What I don’t think that we realize is just how important it is to give thanks to God.
Our text tells us that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and he is traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. Galilee would have been a Jewish territory and Samaria would be, well, where the Samaritans tended to live. Both races tended to stay on their own side of the border because you didn’t interact with “those people”. These were the 1st Century version of the Hatfields and McCoys.
As Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem he comes across a village. Just before he enters the village he is met by a group of ten men that are yelling at him from a distance. They aren’t yelling because they are mad and they aren’t at a distance because they are too lazy to come and talk to him directly. They are yelling from a distance because they have leprosy and the Law prevents them from interacting directly with people who do not have leprosy. They are quarantined.
So these ten lepers stand at a distance and they yell out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” It is clear that they were looking for Jesus to heal them. Evidently word had spread to them that Jesus had the ability to heal people of leprosy and they saw this as their opportunity to be restored.
Rather than heal them right on the spot, Jesus gave them a bit of a test first. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests. And it was only after they began that journey, after they stepped out in faith that they were healed. These 10 lepers were told to go and show themselves to the priests. And because they did this, because they were faithful to what Jesus had told them to do, because they put their trust in him, they were healed.
But this isn’t just another miracle healing from the life of Jesus. No, Luke tells this story because there is another important lesson to be learned. Luke continues by saying that one of the freshly cleansed lepers came back to thank Jesus. He praised God all of the way back and he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and he thanked him. And I love that Luke makes sure that everyone knows that the one person that did return was not Jewish like all of the other lepers. The one that returned was a Samaritan. A low-down, good-for-nothing Samaritan is the only one that came back to say “Thanks.”
Now I know that most of us would like to think that we would be the one leper that came back to say thanks to Jesus. We were raised to say “Please” and “Thank you” so it would come naturally to us to go back and make our appreciation known. But just how many times in any given day do we miss the opportunity to say thanks to God?
James 1:17 says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” Are you in good health? That seems like a good thing to me, so it must be a gift from above. Did you enjoy the beautiful weather this weekend? Again, this is a gift from God. Do you have a roof over your head, food on your table, clothes on your back? Maybe we should give God thanks.
I once heard a story about a shop keeper that had come to the United States by himself as a teenager and started his business from nothing. And this shop keeper had been running his store the same way for 60 years. One day the shop keeper’s son came to him and said, “Dad, I don’t understand how you can even manage to run this store. You keep records like you are still in the Stone Age. You keep your accounts payable in a shoe box and your accounts receivable in a coffee can. All of your cash is left uncounted in the register. You never even know what your profits are.”
The old man thought a minute and he said, “Son, when I came to this country I had nothing but the shirt on my back. Today your sister is a teacher, your brother is a doctor, and you are an accountant. Your mother and I own our home, a car, and this little store. If you add all that up and subtract the shirt, there is your profit.”
That is a man that recognizes how much he has and how blessed he is. We are no less blessed than he is, so let’s give thanks to the giver of all good things.
Alright, I don’t think that I have said anything that we haven’t all heard before so far. Yeah, yeah, be thankful. We all know that saying thank you is the polite thing to do. But I believe that it is more than just being polite when you thank God. I believe that we can see just how important that it is to give thanks to God if we really dig into our scripture for this morning and try to understand the context a little better.
I try to put myself in the sandals of the lepers as they were cleansed that day almost 2,000 years ago. They were all afflicted with this terrible disease and were therefore considered outcasts. They were written off by society and they could not touch their closest and dearest friends. If they were married and their spouse was not a leper, they could not embrace their spouse. If their children were not lepers they could never hold their own child again. So this is why they all call out to Jesus for healing. They all listen to him and they all head to the local synagogue to show themselves to the priest. And they are all healed. This was a close group of men, they would have done everything together because there was nobody else that they could come in contact with. They were each other’s support group, they were community for one another. So why is it that when the one man turned back to say thanks to Jesus, everyone else didn’t follow him? Surely they would have noticed that one of their group members was going off on his own and leaving them behind.
I believe that the other nine lepers did just what they thought they were supposed to do. I bet that they continued to go to the priest at the local synagogue. They would have had to go to the local synagogue to have the local priest pronounce them as being clean before they could go back to their families and friends. If they didn’t then their entire household and everyone that they came in contact with would have been considered unclean as well.
When you have some free time and you are looking for something fun to do, take out your Bible and turn to Leviticus 14. The first 32 verses of this chapter contain the process by which a leper was to be pronounced clean. It is a very involved process taking eight days to complete after a person has been healed of leprosy before they can be considered clean. The process includes slaughtering birds and lambs. It involves an offering of grain and oil. It involves ritual bathing. And there is a ritual process where some of the oil is placed on the right thumb and the right big toe of the leper who has been cleansed. And all of these processes begin with the leper coming and showing himself to the priest. That is what these nine lepers were doing. They were beginning to process of ritual cleansing so that they could go back to their families, loved ones, and lives.
What does Luke tell us about the one leper that came back to Jesus? The one leper that came back was not Jewish. He was a Samaritan. He wouldn’t have been welcome in the village, and definitely not in the synagogue. So maybe we shouldn’t be too tough on the nine that didn’t come back to thank Jesus, because they might have been doing just as Moses had told them to do through the Law. They were starting the process laid out in Leviticus 14. The 10th leper might have gone with them as well if he had been Jewish. But he wasn’t bound by the purity laws, so he went back to thank Jesus.
And here is the thing that the early Jews would have struggled with. Jesus doesn’t tell the Samaritan that he needs to go through all of these rituals before he can go back to his family and friends. Jesus doesn’t tell him to back away and to not touch him because he doesn’t want to become ceremonially unclean. No, Jesus praises the one leper that does return to thank him. And in doing so Jesus seems to be saying that we need to put gratitude before even our religious rituals.
This isn’t the first time that the Bible tells us about this reordering of our priorities. If we look at Hosea 6:6, we read, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Now be sure, it is God that gave the Law to Moses. It was God that required sacrifices and it was God that required the lepers to go through the ritual cleansings. But these rituals in and of themselves mean nothing to God if our hearts are not in the right place. God doesn’t need lambs and doves, oil and grain. What does God benefit from people putting oil on their big toe and thumb? Nothing! The maker of all things, the all-powerful God isn’t going to benefit from oily toes. What really matters is that we keep the focus on God.
This teaching from Hosea was so important that Jesus quotes the first part of this passage twice in the book of Matthew (9:13, 12:7). Both times Jesus is being criticized by the Pharisees for doing something that the Pharisees thought was not what a good religious person would do and both times he tells them that they don’t get the point; that God requires mercy and not sacrifice. Both times he is telling them they are missing the point by focusing on all of the details that aren’t really that important. The details are meant to draw your attention to the point, and the Pharisees were making the details the point. No, God seems more interested in our heart than he is in our oily toes. And in our hearts there needs to be gratitude, always.
Some of you know that I play basketball on Monday afternoons at Bessie Weller Elementary with another pastor and a couple teachers from BW. It is a lot of fun and a good workout. One of the fine athlete/teachers from BW is our own Mr. Dwight Huyard. Dwight is a good ball player, even though he has been known to cheat every now and thenJ.
Last Monday when we were just gathering and warming up, taking a few practice shots and talking about our day, Dwight said something that really caught me off guard. He said something along the lines of, “You know, I really look forward to Mondays. As soon as Tuesday comes around, I start looking forward to Monday.”
I think that I was so caught off guard that I dribbled the ball off my foot and just looked at him. I had never heard anyone ever say that they look forward to Monday.
We all know how much people look forward to Fridays. One of my favorite radio stations has a DJ that is not my favorite DJ that seems to live for the weekend. Once Wednesday rolls around that is all she wants to talk about. “It’s hump day!” And then on Thursday she proclaims, “One more day!” And finally when Friday rolls around she lets everyone know, “It’s my favorite day of the week!” To be honest, it is more than a little annoying.
I understand why she likes Friday so much: It is the last work day of the week. No more getting up early, no more punching that clock, no more commuting, no more office politics. I think it is understandable to look forward to the weekends, but she does it to such an extent that she seems to just want to skip over the first few days of the week and move right to Friday night. That is a little different than Dwight, who looks forward to Monday.
As we sat there shooting and chatting, Dwight talked about making the most out of every day. And I couldn’t agree more. Every day is a gift from God and we need to be thankful for every day. When Monday comes around and we have to go back to work, be thankful that you have a job. There are a lot of people right now that don’t have jobs. There are a lot of people around the world that would love to go to work or school on Monday, but they can’t.
I am not without guilt in this area. It is hard for me sometimes when I have to get up in the middle of the night because I have a crying baby that needs my attention. It is probably my favorite thing to complain about right now. But there are people all over the world that would love to have a baby, even if he does occasionally cry in the middle of the night. I need to remember to be thankful for that little guy, even at 3:00 am. We have so much to be thankful for, and we end up complaining about the very things that other people would consider blessings. We have so much, yet we rarely take the time to give thanks to God.
As Jesus seems to make abundantly clear throughout the scriptures, God wants to be acknowledged for what he has done and for who he is. This seems to be one of the main points of the rituals that were so abundant in the Old Testament. These rituals were always meant to draw our attention to the giver of all things that are good. The rituals themselves were never the point, the point was to bring our focus back to God, to give him thanks for the many blessings that he has so abundantly poured out upon us. God doesn’t care so much about an oily toe and God cares about a thankful heart. Let’s thank God for everything that we have been given. Let’s thank God for Mondays.