By Dr. Mark Scott
Gratitude should be our default setting (Psalm 107:1; 118:1). Gratitude is God’s will (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We were made to be grateful, and it should be as natural as breathing. Not to give thanks is duplicitous. Ingratitude is high treason against God and a mark of unrepentant humanity (Romans 1:21).
People with an ever-increasing faith (last week’s lesson) should be grateful (this week’s lesson). We assume the teaching from last week’s lesson took place somewhere on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem—it had no geographical markers. Our text today reminds us that we are still in the travel narrative of Luke’s Gospel (17:11; see also 9:51; 13:22; 19:11, 28, 41). Jesus was making his final journey to Jerusalem.
A Merciful Healing
Somewhere close to a village along the border between Samaria and Galilee Jesus encountered 10 men who had leprosy. Given the geography it is likely that this group of men was composed of Jews and Samaritans. Something larger than ethnicity bound these men together, namely their common disease. In the Bible leprosy was the label for all kinds of skin diseases (Leviticus 13, 14). It ranged from eczema to what is known today as Hansen’s disease. Bad blood existed between Jews and Samaritans (Luke 9:51-56; John 4:9). In this case a common disease bound them together in solidarity. It took 10 men to constitute a synagogue—this was a synagogue of lepers.
Jesus had cleansed lepers before (Matthew 8:1-4), and news of such traveled quickly. No doubt family members had told their leprous loved ones that Jesus of Nazareth could cleanse lepers. When this synagogue of lepers heard that Jesus was near, they kept their distance as required by the law. They called out in a loud voice to be heard—“Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Two things are significant about their request. First they address Jesus as Master. This is not the typical word, Lord. It is a word that means something like “commander” (Luke 5:5). This showed respect but also a belief in Jesus’ authority. Second they pleaded for pity. This is the word usually translated “mercy.” It is a salvation word and associated with God’s loving kindness to Israel. In the miracles of Jesus, God’s mercies are released as a preview of what Heaven will look like someday (Revelation 21:4).
Jesus commanded the lepers to do what was required by the law. “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Several good things would result when the lepers obeyed this command. They would be pronounced clean and would be restored to their families and community. But mostly they would experience God’s healing. “And as they went, they were cleansed”—the verb tense indicates that the cleansing took place as they were en route to the priests. Would they have been cleansed if they had not obeyed Jesus’ command to go? However there is something that takes us beyond cleansing. It is gratitude.
A Surprising Thanksgiving
The text draws our attention to numbers—1, 10, and 9—1 of the 10 noticed his cleansing. His conscience goaded him into returning to say thank you before heading to the priest. With the same loud voice he had used to make his earlier request for mercy, he praised God. The word for praising is where we get the English word “doxology” and appears as a noun in verse 18. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet (“fell down before him”) and thanked him. The verb thanked is where we get the word Eucharist (the giving of thanks or good grace).
Luke heightens the story by telling us that more than just a former leper was cleansed and remembered to say thank you. Luke and Jesus drew attention to the man’s ethnicity: “And he was a Samaritan.” Jesus asked three interrogating questions as if he were teaching someone beyond just the cleansed leper. Jesus called the man a foreigner. The real rebuke of this text is that the most unlikely person to give thanks did so. Sometimes God gets greater gratitude from outsiders than his covenant people. Maybe that is Luke’s point.
Jesus commended the cleansed leper. “Rise and go; your faith (a grateful faith) has made you well (saved).” The man was cleansed, like the others, as he went. Healing comes to those who obey. And God is so gracious. Jesus didn’t reverse the cleansing for the other nine when they failed to give thanks. But gratitude takes a person beyond obedience.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.