Have you ever given someone a gift and received no letter or word of gratitude in return? While I don’t believe in keeping score, I can indeed remember a few instances where I was a little taken back by the lack of thankfulness for a gift that I had given someone. In fact, if you are anything like me, you might have even wondered, did they get the gift and if they did, did they not like it? The reality is,” thank you” is so easy to say, yet often not expressed nearly enough.
There is a fascinating story in the Bible that leaves me with more questions than answers each time that I read it. This rather short passage is packed with so much value and so many lessons to be learned. I am referring to the story where in Luke where Jesus healed the ten lepers,
As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us! ”When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12-19)
There is truly a lot of information to unpack in these eight verses. But first, I would like to preface my initial question. Imagine with me, for a moment, that instead of giving a gift out of the goodness of your heart, the person who was celebrating the occasion actually asked you for something specific. For instance, a friend says, “I would love some nice china for my wedding.” Let’s pretend that you honored the couples’ wish and bought them that expensive china they had asked for. In fact, it wasn’t really necessarily your intention, you might have just as well gone with a different kitchen item, but the direct ask made you change your course of action. Now, would your level of frustration rise when weeks turned into months and no mention of a “thank you” had been uttered?
Jesus was a busy man and Scripture reminds us that he was going to yet another village while performing miracles on his way to the heart of Jerusalem. I imagine Jesus was preparing for His day by sharing stories with his disciples when all of a sudden a man starts to yell out (if this was translated it would be more of a cry of agony) for pity. Notice the man didn’t ask for healing, he asked for pity. Does this strike anyone else as a little bizarre? Clearly, there was an immediate need to address. Here’s what is important to understand about leprosy in order to get the full impact of the story. Leprosy was a permanent and external condition of shame because it was seen all over someone’s skin. Lepers could not hide their illness from the community, so they were shunned and forced to live apart because many people would have been afraid that they could catch this awful disease. Though leprosy was not fatal, studies show that it could affect a person’s voice and vision, as well as the skin, nose, toes, and fingers. Additionally, the leper’s physical condition would continue to deteriorate during his or her lifetime. Because lepers could not participate in worship, most people believed that the disease was due to sins that individual had committed. Why? The Jewish people couldn’t imagine a worse torment than not being able to worship God – for it was the most holy act. In short, leprosy was considered a type of sin. It was considered by the Jews to be a direct judgment of God. Some examples in the scriptures include Miriam (Numbers 12), Gehazi (2 Kings 5:20-27), and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:19-21). Can you imagine waking up one morning with an irritated itch that rapidly multiplied throughout your entire body? Next thing you know, you are forever shamed with the title of ‘leper’ and are an outcast, removed from all of your family and friends. You are in tremendous emotional and physical pain, while being told that God is angry at you. Your situation is completely hopeless. In fact, you must call out “unclean, unclean,” every time you walk on opposite sides of the pathway. As you do this as a warning to others, you watch all the people stare and scurry.
The leper who cried out to Jesus wanted pity because he probably felt that this was the best case scenario for him – remember the disease was incurable. However, Jesus knew exactly what was needed: faith. This is why Jesus tells the men to go to the priest. In this time, this would have been forbidden because unholy beings could not enter or be next to what was considered holy. The man who yelled in agony could have argued back, “how can I go where I am not permitted?” Yet, we don’t see evidence of this. Instead we see obedience and a heart of surrender as the entire pack of misfits takes just a few steps in the direction Jesus commanded. As they are obeying, they physically watch their dead and diseased skin heal before their very eyes. This immediate miracle radically transforms the broken ten men into new, whole beings.
This story is a phenomenal account of God’s grace. Jesus, the ultimate Father of love, gives no condescending sermon or speech; he simply tests their faith and responds with the mercy they requested. I wish what happened next was what we would have expected – all ten men fall at the feet of Jesus. However, there is only one man who returns. Only 1/10th responded with a “thank you.” As for the other nine, it is the ultimate slap in the face. Surely these men were excited, but where were they in such a hurry to get to? Wasn’t every bit of grace they would have ever needed in the exact spot where Jesus healed them? The story tells us that it was the Samaritan, the foreigner and the least likely to return, who actually did. Samaritans were enemies of the Jews, and this man was previously not a worshipper of the one true God. Ironically, he was the one who responded in the most naturally unnatural way. You see, in this circumstance, it is a natural response to worship and thank God for all He has done even if you grew up knowing very little about worship. In short, encountering God produces a desire to worship. However, there were nine others and I am just as amazed as Jesus when He asked where the others had gone? The story concludes with the one who came back made well. Is anyone else as little confused, weren’t they all healed?
We will never know the story of the other nine. We will never know how their lives changed or what they said about their healing. We will never know if they lived in regret for never returning with thanks. We will never know so much of what occurred before and after this small passage. Yet, we can be left impacted by what we do know. We know that God honors the cries of our hearts when we respond in faith. In this instance, He responded immediately with healing, but this is not always the case. However, obedience is not optional regardless of the circumstance. Jesus always asks for our hearts before He can get to the physical or emotional need. Yet, even with our hearts turned towards Him and a miracle granted, not everyone worships. In this truth lies the greatest tragedy because we were made to worship. We must remember that our thanks are not nearly as costly as what God has done for us. We must, in all things, give praise to the rightful owner.
All ten lepers were physically healed but only one was made well. Jesus always gives more to the worshipper. The reality is, when we worship we receive the full outpouring of what God is doing in our lives. We can be granted our requests but often times, there is so much more Jesus wants to give. Yet, we leave shorthanded because we forget the simple words of “thank you” which are directly linked to lips of praise. My desire, as I pray it is yours, is to remember the lepers when our lives look hopeless. I chose to aim to remember the nine who forgot the most important thing they would have ever done and the one who knew the value of a true “thank you.” May we always be the foreigner who remembers what God did when we needed His mercy the most.