Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)
11 Now on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When He saw them, He said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then He said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Art Linkletter, a Canadian-American radio and TV personality, once interviewed a girl named Debbie, a science student, “What is salt?”
Debbie replied, “Salt is what spoils the potatoes when you leave it out.”
We might ask, “What is gratitude?” The answer, with Debbie, is that gratitude is what spoils life when you leave it out.”
Jesus was in the border country between Galilee and Samaria when He was met by a group of ten lepers. At least one of the ten lepers was a Samaritan - not a Jew. We know that the Jews normally had nothing to do with the Samaritans.
An interesting aspect of human nature is illustrated in this story. Each of the ten lepers had something in common - they were outcasts from their own communities and yet, in their affliction, the usual racial and national barriers were broken down.
The common tragedy of their leprosy allowed them to forget their Jewish and Samaritan roots and acknowledge that they were human beings with the common ailment - they all had a dreaded skin disease which made them outcasts from all “civilised” community.
William Barclay gives an example from nature of this banding together in adversity:
“If flood surges over a piece of country and the wild animals congregate for safety on some little bit of higher ground, you will find standing peacefully together animals who are natural enemies and who at any other time would do their best to kill each other. Surely one of the things which should draw all men together is their common need of God.”
The lepers, with their common need, stood at a distance as they hailed Jesus. They couldn’t come close to Jesus because the Old Testament law forbad them contact with healthy people. In the Old Testament book of Numbers chapter five, verse 2 we read:
“Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infectious skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body.
And Leviticus chapter 13 verses 45 to 46:
“The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.
Today we’d call this quarantine – recently people have been quarantined for having measles – kept apart so others would not be infected.
In Biblical times there wasn’t a set distance the lepers had to stand away from the healthy members of the community. We know that at least one ancient authority dictated that, when the leper was windward of a healthy person, the leper should stand at least fifty metres away. This illustrates the isolation the lepers must have felt.
The Lepers saw Jesus and called out from a distance. In acknowledging Him they desired His pity. This desire for Jesus’ pity is a statement of faith:
“Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
Or as the New King James translation says:
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
In our worship we too pray this same prayer:
“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”
This prayer of the lepers shows a reliance on Jesus. But Jesus didn’t heal them immediately. He gave the lepers the instruction:
“Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
This was the procedure for anyone who was healed. The Priest could give a clean bill of health - declaring one clean so that the previously diseased member of the community could return to society and community life.
Jesus command, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” held the promise of healing. All ten demonstrate faith in that they head off to the priest and in going they are healed. But only one turned back to say thank You. He had asked for Jesus pity in a loud voice and now he praised God in a loud voice.
All had accepted the gift of the Healer, but only one accepted the Healer. Jesus had not only healed the physical ailment of the leper, but because of faith, also forgives sin. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” says Jesus. Here is Jesus Word of forgiveness and acceptance.
This healing story is a prelude to Jesus’ healing and saving all people. Soon after this event Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to die for the sin of the world. Few people acknowledge and receive the forgiveness of sin and even fewer say thank you.
In New Zealand the ratio who say thank you to God is about the same as the lepers. Approximately ten per cent of New Zealand’s population will be in a worship service this morning giving thanks for God’s blessings over this past week.
The story of the lepers illustrates the ingratitude of the bulk of humanity towards God who offers healing to everyone.
All ten lepers came to Jesus with the desire to be made clean and free from the disease which isolated them. Jesus cured them and nine did not come back to say, “thank You”. So often, once people have what we want from God they forget to go back and say “thank You”.
Ingratitude is not uncommon. Many folk are ungrateful to their parents. When we were first born, a week of neglect would have killed us. In all of God’s creation we humans require the most time before we’re able to meet our own basic needs with what God has provided on the earth.
As children we were dependant on our parents for virtually all our needs - food, clothes, shelter, transport - literally everything. Yet for some there comes a time when a sick elderly parent or grandparent becomes a nuisance. There are many lonely people in nursing homes and pensioner flats.
I remember visiting a lady in a nursing home in Queensland when I was part time chaplain there. This lady had no visitors – her only social interaction was with staff. Staff informed me that a grand-daughter would call at the office each fortnight to pick up the balance of the lady’s pension form the officebut only visit her grandmother on Christmas day.
As King Lear, in Shakespeare’s play, said in the day of his own tragedy.
“How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child! "
We may be ungrateful to our neighbours. Not many of us have ever been free from owing a favour, large or small to some other member of society.
We may think we remember all of our debts and obligations. But most likely we will never remember all of our obligations and debt of gratitude we owe to someone.
It may have been a friend, a teacher, a doctor, a surgeon who does something for us which it is impossible to repay; but as Barclay says, “the tragedy is that we often do not even try to repay it.”
Or as Shakespeare says in the play, As You Like It:
“Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude.”
Many are ungrateful to God, yet when they have a great need they intensify and re-double their prayers, saying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” As we bask in the times of plenty and time passes it is all to easy to forget God’s provision. How often, for example, have we begun a meal without offering thanks for the God given gifts on our plates?
God gave us the life of His only Son and yet in the abundant life we have we can so easily forget to offer a word of thanks or forget to participate in the Divine Worship Service - we’re so easily distracted when listening to Jesus speak to us in His Word.
And in our selfishness, we pick out from what God says to us only what makes us feel comfortable and what suits our own purposes.
We don’t thank a person by turning our back on them when they’ve done us a good turn and neither should we turn our back on God when He has saved us, when He gets us out of a tight spot or brings us safely through surgery or ill health.
We who have received God’s good gifts, who have received healing from sin have the greatest cause to thank Jesus in sincere worship.
God is both, God of the gaps and God of all and everything.
We say in Luther’s Small Catechism:
“I believe that God has created me and everything that exists. God has given me my body and soul, my mind and senses, and all my abilities, and still takes care of them. God also gives me everything I need from day to day – things like food, clothes, home and family, work and money. God protects me from danger and keeps me safe when I am in trouble. God does all this only because He is my kind and loving Father; I certainly do not deserve it. All I can do is thank, praise, serve and obey God.”
The best thanks we can give God is to strive to live what He has made us to be in Baptism - His children. So we Christians should strive to live as saints, ever thankful for God’s mercy.”
When we prepare for worship we take seriously the answer we give to this question:
“Do you intend with the help of the Holy Spirit to live as in God’s presence and to strive daily to lead a holy life, even as Christ has made you holy?
We answer, “I do.”
I thank God you do, “intend with the help of the Holy Spirit to live as in God’s presence” because you are in His presence when you are sent out from the Divine Service with His blessing.
By the grace of God Jesus has brought you into God’s presence.
I thank God, too, that with His help you will lead a holy life because Jesus has made you holy – right before God – free from the eternal consequence of sin as He says, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
With the Psalmist we can say: Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits — (Psalm 103:2)