“On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.””(Luke 17:11–19, ESV)
It was a disturbing disease, to say the least. The classic case, caused by mycobacterium leprae, might also include related maladies like subcutaneous erysipelas which resulted in a red swelling of the extremities and face, boils, ringworm and sycosis of the scalp and beard which would result in inflammation of the hair follicles. Any form of dermatitis would be terrible enough, but leprosy was worse. Beyond all of the pain, there was the isolation demanded by the Levitical law of the Old Testament.
The passage of Scripture must have haunted each leper’s mind like a bad dream: “As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 “He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-46).
What a helpless and devastating situation. There was nothing else that could be done. There was no clinic with a newly discovered serum, and no witch doctor with a secret potion. The leper was left with no medicine and very little sympathy. Of course there were other lepers with which one could commiserate, but every glance at a fellow leper only served to remind him that he was grotesque, helpless, and isolated.
Think for a moment about such a man, and about the day this leper heard that Jesus was in town—the rumored Messiah. This was the one everybody had been talking about. They said he could heal. They said he could work miracles. These lepers knew they needed the healing that only God could provide.
The Bible says that one day as Jesus approached a town and ten lepers stood at a distance and began yelling, “Hey! Over here! Jesus! Have mercy on us!” Incredibly, the famous Rabbi actually walked over to them and said simply and calmly, “Go and show yourself to the priest.”
This must have been a shock. “Showing yourself to the priest” was reserved for those whose skin disorder was not permanent. It was for those whose skin had cleared up and showed no sign of the disease. The clean bill of health from the priest was only a nebulous dream for those in the leper colony. But, “who knows?” they may have thought, “maybe the Messiah will empower the priest to heal us?” So off they went, all ten (running I would imagine). Before they arrived, on the way, it happened! All ten social outcasts were instantaneously healed of their leprosy. Think of it! No more leper colony! No more disease! No more discomfort! No more agony!
It surely dawned on them all; it wasn’t the priest, it was the Rabbi. It was Jesus who healed them. Jesus had shown compassion. Jesus had stooped to help their helpless situation. There had to have been a million reasons why the Messiah could have walked right past them. But He didn’t. He noticed. He cared. He healed them.
They were finally clean, and now there was so much to do. There were so many family members to inform, so many friends to tell, so many things to catch up on! Jesus had given them an incredible gift and it seemed only right to begin to celebrate.
Unfortunately, their celebration was incomplete. The Bible says that when those ten leper were faced with the profound choice between enjoying the gift and thanking the giver, nine were so enamored with the benefits of their new life that they gave no attention to the source of their joy. The gift had completely overshadowed the giver. All ten knew who had given them a new life, but only one grateful former leper took the time to fall at the Giver’s feet to say thanks. Just one.
You might expect that the “understanding Messiah” might have been satisfied with 10%, but the chilling response of Jesus must have made the thankful man cringe. “Where are the other nine?” Christ asked. “Weren’t all ten cleansed? Are you the only one who returned to give thanks to God?” With an air of inflexibility Jesus revealed that he expected gratitude be expressed by all to whom his gifts are granted.
What could this man say? “They’re on their way.” “They should be here any second.” Or “They had more important things to do.” “I think they must have forgotten.” There was no way to cover for them. They were simply too busy enjoying the gift to expend any effort in thanking the Giver. Could it be that in reality they selfishly loved the gift more than the Giver?
It’s not right, but it happens. It happens every day. All year long, every month, every week and every day, God is giving good gifts. In our lives he has given and continues to give even more. When it comes to responding with our heartfelt thanks you should know that Jesus is inflexible in his expectation of worship! He expects full and regular participation. Let’s not allow Thanksgiving to just be a date on our calendars. For spiritual lepers made clean, let’s make it a sincere and joyful way of life. Make it a daily practice, not an annual ritual. Make it a discipline and not just a holiday.