Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
Have you ever thanked God for his goodness during times of adversity or stress? Why did you say your prayer of thanks?
Thanksgiving. A national holiday to give God thanks. Especially in times of adversity. While thanksgiving festivals have been celebrated to mark the harvest throughout history, we can trace this notion back to the Civil War when President Lincoln dedicated such a national day in 1863. In those dark days of America, Lincoln must have realized that, in the midst of that horrible struggle, the nation had much to be thankful for.
Why is it the dark times that bring the best out of people? Why is it that, in the times that demand despair, people express the most gratitude? And faith?
Imagine the dark times of the Samaritan leper in this narrative. Despite the curse of a contagious disease and public disdain as an outsider, he took the time to thank Jesus for his gift.
11 When Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, he walked on the border between the Galilee and Samaria. 12-13 As he was about to enter a village, ten men who had leprosy met Jesus. (Leprosy was contagious skin condition. People with leprosy had to live away from anyone else so they wouldn’t infect them.) So, the ten stood far away and shouted, “Jesus! Great Teacher! Have mercy on us!”
14 When Jesus saw them, he replied, “Go! Show yourselves to the priests!”
As they left, they were cured. 15 But one of them, seeing he was cured, returned. “Praise God!” the man shouted. 16 Then the man fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan.
17 “Weren’t ten people cured?” Jesus said. “Where are the other nine? 18 Didn’t any of them return to praise God except this foreigner?” 19 Then, Jesus said to the man, “Stand up. Your faith has saved you.”
For Luke, Jesus was the Messiah for the lowest of the low. In his gospel, Luke would pile up excuse after excuse to keep the lowest at arms’ length. These were the people who would show faith and follow the Lord. The Samaritan with leprosy was as low as one could go. In this story, Luke mixed prejudice and fear from a dreaded disease as the excuse to exclude the man. This is the one who returned to show gratitude. And who returned to prove faith in Jesus.
11 It happened in (his) journey to Jerusalem, HE went along (the border) of Galilee and Samaria. 12 As HE entered a village, ten leper men who stood far off met [HIM] 13 and they shouted out, saying, “Jesus, (great) Teacher, have mercy on us!” 14 Having observed (their plight), HE said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” It happened, in their departure, they were cleansed (of the leprosy). 15 But one of them, having seen that he was cured, returned giving glory to God in a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at HIS feet, thanking HIM. He was a Samaritan. 17 Having answered, JESUS said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where (are) the other nine? 18 Were (there) none found, having returned to give God glory, except this foreigner?” 19 HE said to him, “Stand up, go! Your faith has saved you.”
17:11 “along (the border)” is literally “in the midst of.” The middle between Galilee and Samaria is either along the border of the two areas or directly through Galilee first, then Samaria. Luke did not know the geography of the area. But that was not his intent. He touched on both areas as arenas for the preaching of the Good News. He would return to each area in the Acts of the Apostles.
17:12 “”shouted out” is literally “lifted up their voices.”
17:13 “(great) Teacher” can also be translated “Master.” This was the only time a non-disciple used this phrase (“epistates” in Greek). In the Leviticus, 13:45-46, the lepers should have warned strangers away because of their affliction. Here, they approached (even at a distance) and used the phrase as they asked for mercy. The combination of the title and the request implied an expectation for the coming kingdom. In his reign, God would grant mercy to the weak and the outcast.
17:19 “Go” is literally “Having gone.” “Stand up” is “Having stood.” In these sentences, the participle has the force of a command.
17:16 “He was a Samaritan.” Like the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Luke used the hated Samaritan as the model for the disciple. This time, the Samaritan showed faith. Notice the man was an outcast for two reasons, ethnic impurity (i.e., heresy) and leprosy. For Luke, it seemed the more outcast the person, the clearer he or she could see the power and will of God.
17:19 “Stand up” can also be translated “Rise up,” another way to express resurrection. At the point the man returned to Jesus, he became a disciple and a subject of God’s Kingdom.
As the scene opened, ten lepers boldly approached Jesus for a cure. As the note above indicated, this was exactly opposite what the Law prescribed. In other words, these ten were willing to break the Law in order to be healed. This was an act of faith (even desperation) on their part. For a cure meant they could go to the priests, be inspected by them, and return to their place in society. Luke certainly had an eye for irony. The ten broke the Law, so they could be part of the community of the Law keepers. Sin led to respectability.
Jesus readily agreed, but at a distance. The wall of quarantine that the Law required would not be broken. But this heightened the drama of the cure all the more. His word had the power to heal. He did not need to touch or to tend to the disease. His command was enough!
After that point, the community of lepers split nine and one. The Jewish lepers had a place to go: to the priests. But where could the last one go? Historically, the Samaritans did have their own priests. But Luke may not have known this fact, or thematically ignored it. The last one, the Samaritan, could not go with the Jews, for he would have been put at arm’s length, ignored, or even cast out by the community who hated men like him. With the wall of disease gone, the wall of prejudice rose up. So, for Luke, the question became rhetorical. Where could the last man go? To Jesus, of course!
The man returned in loud praise for God and in gratitude for Jesus. He fell at the feet of Jesus in a position of worship and deference, as if he were before the great King. At this point, Jesus responded with the questions:
“Were not ten cleansed? Where (are) the other nine? Were (there) none found, having returned to give God glory, except this foreigner?”
Of course these questions were rhetorical. But they led to the moment of salvation. Jesus raised the healed man up and recognized the man’s faith. This healed man could return to his place in society.
How have you thanked God for healing? How has he raised you up and affirmed your faith?
Many times in life, we might feel like the Samaritan leper: hated for what we are and the “diseases” we carry. These are the times to shake off the indulgence of self-pity and seek the Lord. He will care for us. And in that care, we should give thanks. For even in times of adversity, regional disasters, or personal tragedies, there is always ample evidence of God’s loving providence. There is always ample room for gratitude.
The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” It is the attitude we should take in worship. We should thank God for the great gift of his Son. How have you worshiped God in gratitude? How can you take the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday and infuse it into your prayer and worship?