(11) On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.
(12) And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance
(13) and lifted up their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."
(14) When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed.
(15) Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice;
(16) and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.
(17) Then Jesus answered, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?
(18) Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
(19) And he said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."
Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they ran for the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent to the men that they were not going to make it. Terrified, one shouted to the other, "Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!" John answered, "I can’t. I’ve never prayed. That is not something I do." "But you must!" implored his companion. "The bull is going to catch us." "All right," panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know: O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.”
If there is one sin that most prevalent today, it is the sin of ingratitude. God does so much for us. Our indebtedness to the Lord is enormous and yet we rarely offer thanks. We are much like the little boy who was given an orange by a man. The boy’s mother asked him, “What do you say to the nice man?” The little boy thought and handed the orange back and said, “Peel it.”
Or we are like the woman who was circling around the parking lot in the pouring rain looking for a parking space. She had an unusually hard day. So she offered up a prayer. "Lord, you know what kind of day I’ve had. Could you please grant me a parking space right away, and close to the building so I don’t get soaked." The words were barely 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 parking lot, right next to the handicap spots and a few feet from the front door. She made straight for it and as she pulled in, she said, "never mind God, something just opened up."
Now that is an amusing anecdote, but surely we say we would not be so ungrateful, but sometimes we are. We ask God for something, and then when we receive it, we behave as though it were an unusual coincidence, and we fail to give credit where credit is due. That is exactly what happened in the story of the ten lepers.
The first thing we should say about the lepers is that they were in an awful position. Luke tells us in v12 that they “stood at a distance.” Leprosy is a cruel disease that often causes disfigurement. In ancient times, people were terrified of it and lepers were outcasts. No one would come near them. If they approached a village, they were stoned. So these lepers had lost all human contact; They lost family, community, everything.
We imagine their desperate longing to be cured. In v13, they cry out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." we wonder if they had been to other rabbis, other doctors. Probably they had, without success. They knew they needed help and there was none to be found except maybe in this one called Jesus. They sense something special about Jesus, something of God. He is their last hope. “Have mercy on us,” they shout. “Cure us.”
Now we are somewhat taken aback by what Jesus does next. He did not do anything. He ordered them to go show themselves to the priest. The priest had the job in that time of examining a person's body to determine whether they were diseased, or not, whether they should be allowed in the community or not. But the lepers were not cleansed yet. They were not healed yet. The verses tell us that as they went on their way, in obedience to the command of Jesus, then they were healed. In other words, they had to act like they were healed before they could be healed. There is a lesson there. The lesson is faith. They had to have faith that Jesus would do a miracle in their lives and they had to act on that faith and act like the miracle had already happened and then they would be healed. They had to believe that they were healed before they were healed.
And all ten lepers had that kind of faith. They believed that Jesus could heal and all ten were healed. But one of them we are told in v15, when he realized he had been healed, turned back. We do not know how far he had gone down the road when he realized what had happened, no far I suppose, but in any case he came back to Jesus and thanked him.
And Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” Here is the key to the issue. All the lepers were in the same awful position; all called out to Jesus; all had faith; all were healed. Yet only one of the ten returned to say thank you.
As Jesus said, where were the other nine? We do not really know. We can imagine the excuses they offered for not returning.
1. Maybe one waited to see if the cure was real.
2. Maybe one waited to see if it would last.
3. Maybe one said he would go see Jesus later.
4. Maybe one decided that he had better see the priest first.
5. Maybe one said he would have gotten well anyway, so there was no miracle.
6. Maybe one gave the credit to the priests. They healed him not Jesus.
7. Maybe one said, “Jesus didn’t really do anything. All He did was tell me to go…”
8. Maybe one said, “Any rabbi could have done that.”
9. Maybe one said, “I was already getting better anyway.”
Excuses, just excuses.
The tenth leper prefered praise to excuses. He saw a reason to praise. He saw the difference Jesus made. He saw the opportunity to praise God. Many see their need to pray but do not see their need to praise. We are not told exactly how the healing of the lepers occurred. Maybe as they walked toward the priest’s house, they began to notice their skin loosing that scaling white appearance. Or maybe they passed by some people and those people did not back away with distaste shouting, Unclean, Unclean. In any case, the lepers slowly realized they were healed, and one of them stopped going in one direction and turned back to thank Jesus. He had reason to praise God. They all had reason to praise God, but only one saw it.
Rudyard Kipling was in his time a famous author who made a lot of money from his writing. A newspaper reporter came to him once and said, "Mr. Kipling, I just read that somebody calculated that the money you make from your writings amounts to over one hundred dollars a word.” The reporter reached into his pocket and pulled out a one hundred-dollar bill and gave it to Kipling and said, “Here’s a one hundred dollar bill, Mr. Kipling. Give me one of your hundred dollar words.” Kipling looked at the money, put it in his pocket, and said, "Thanks!"
The word "thanks" is certainly a one hundred-dollar word. In fact, I would say it is more like a million-dollar word. It is a small word but it has a powerful meaning. It might only have 6 letters, but it gets across a message that few other words are capable of achieving. When that little word is missing, we feel it deeply. You know what it’s like when someone does not say "thanks." You feel hurt, used, ignored, and taken for granted and you wonder why you bothered to do anything for the person in the first place.
Unfortunately, ingratitude has become a way of life for many people. I am reminded of a story about an old man suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The disease made writing difficult for him, so one day he asked a young man at the post office counter to write a postcard for him. The man said sure and wrote what the old man dictated to him, and he even signed the man’s name to the postcard. When he finished he asked the old man, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The old man looked at the card, and answered, “Yes. At the end, could you just put ‘P.S. Please excuse the bad handwriting!” You wonder what does it take for some folks to just say, Thank you.
It does not cost anything to show our gratitude. We have received so much. Christ meets our need no matter how wretched our condition, no matter how unworthy we are, and no matter how hopeless our situation. Christ helps us. The least we can do is to say thank you. Have you thanked Jesus for forgiving you, for being with you? Have you thanked Jesus for strengthening and supporting you?
Nine lepers just could not find the time to do that. After they found the priest and were declared clean, they went on their way to be with family and friends. They hugged and kissed their wives and children, they visited relatives and friends. They began a new life, a far better life, and so they had no time for gratitude. The tenth leper loved his family and friends just as much as the others. He wanted to enjoy the blessings of this new life just as much as the others, but he also wanted something more. He did not get so wrapped up in the blessing that he forgot the source of the blessing. He did not forget the one who made this new life possible.
Notice that the verses say he praised God “with a loud voice.” He had received great healing, he returned great praising. When we are in dire need, we pray desperately, but when we receive answeres to prayer, we praise modestly. We are loud in prayer and soft in praise. We need some balance. Our praises should match our blessings.
There was a father and mother of a young man killed in the military. They attended a small church and one day they gave a large amount of money in memory of their son who died in battle. The pastor asked if it was all right to make this known to the congregation and they said that it was; so the next Sunday he told the congregation of the gift given in memory of the dead son. On the way home from church, another couple were driving down the highway when the father said to his wife, “Why don’t we give a gift because of our son?” His wife was astonished. She said, "But our son did not die in any conflict. Our son is alive." Her husband replied, “That is the point.”
As we examine our lives, we have more than enough reason to be thankful. We should have an attitude of thankfulness, an attitude of gratitude.
We have seen those who have received much but are not thankful. They have an attitude of ingratitude. They are like the nine lepers who received a great gift but did not even take time to praise the giver. The sad part of the story of the lepers is not just that the nine failed to say the right words to Jesus, but that they went through life without realizing how blessed they really were.
In Mexico there is a story about a village with hot springs and cold springs side by side. It was a great natural washing machine. The village women bring their clothes, boil them in the hot springs, rinse them in cold springs. A stranger passing through saw all this and said to one of the locals, “This is great. Your women must be very grateful to God for these springs." the local man replied, “No señor, there is much grumbling because God provides no soap.”
That reminds me of a story I heard about a company that gave an annual bonus. The first year they gave the bonus everyone was very thankful. Whether they got $500 or $10,000, the employees voiced enthusiastic appreciation. The next year the bonuses were again given, and they were appreciated but not as much as the year before. The third year was not profitable for the company. So there were no bonuses. Some employees were unhappy. They had counted on the bonus. It was not fair. They had worked just as hard as the year before. So we see that the bonuses had started as a gift, but they quickly became something the employees expected and felt they deserved.
When it comes to dealing with God we need to cultivate a different attitude, a gratitude attitude. God has blessed us with a wonderful world to live in. God has forgiven our sins and promised us eternal life. And it is all a gift. God does not owe us anything, but God gives us everything. Thus the people of God must be a people with an attitude of gratitude. Make this personal. God has blessed you with his love and mercy. You should be the tenth leper.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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