One of the many things that impressed Judith and me on moving to the United States was the Thanksgiving holiday. In November 2001, we were invited to a Thanksgiving meal by a family in the city. Towards the end of the meal our hosts invited everyone around the table to name one thing that had happened during the year for which they were thankful. Everyone had a story to tell, especially as we had all experienced 9/11 in New York City. What special encouragement it was to look back together and thank the Lord for the good things he does in our lives.
Every year just before Thanksgiving, the local news includes a segment with a reporter asking children what they are thankful for.
In Luke chapter 17, verse 11 we red that Jesus was in the border area between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered an unnamed village ten lepers began shouting out.
Outcasts. We can imagine the scene. Outcasts of society because of their infectious disease, they were compelled by law to live beyond the fringes of the town. Coming as near as they dared, they tried to attract Jesus’ attention, calling out, not specifically for healing, but for mercy – charis (17:12-13).
The words, when he saw them, suggest that there was a time delay before Jesus noticed them. This is another detail indicating the authenticity of Luke’s report. The simplicity of Jesus’ response is remarkable: he didn’t lay his hands on them, he didn’t pray a loud, lengthy prayer, or tell them they were healed. Rather, he simply told them to do what was required of anyone who had been cured of leprosy – namely, go and show themselves to the priests who were charged with the task of health inspection (so, Leviticus 14:2ff).
Jesus put their faith to the test by telling them to act as though they had been cured. So it was, as they went, they were made clean (17:14). Their act in going was a response of faith and obedience. If they had not believed in the power of Jesus’ words, they would not have gone.
Healing. But the narrative doesn’t end there. Verse 15 tells us that one of the nine, seeing that he had been healed, turned back to Jesus, praising God with a loud voice. He would not keep quiet. Having seen God at work that day he wanted to let everyone else know about it. And 17:16 tells us he understood Jesus’ extraordinary power and compassion. In an act of humility and gratitude he prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.
Almost as an afterthought Luke adds: And he was a Samaritan. It is a telling comment. In the parable of the Good Samaritan there is an underlying theme: the Jewish disdain, even hatred for the Samaritans. But such were the horrors of leprosy that in this instance Jewish people and Samaritans had been brought together. It says a great deal that Jesus did not isolate the nine Jewish sufferers for special blessing; both the Jewish and the Samaritan were equal beneficiaries of his compassionate word of power.
Only one. Further, it says a great deal that the Samaritan was the first and only one who turned back to thank Jesus, even though Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. It almost seems as though the Jewish lepers expected God’s compassion and action as a matter of right: they had no need to thank him.
With three deft questions Jesus exposes the failure of the nine to express their gratitude to God for their healing. Apparently caught up with their new found happiness they forgot the source (God) and instrument (Jesus) of their cure. It was clearly too much bother for them to make the effort to return to Jesus and thank him.
Understandably Jesus was saddened by this: “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” he asked (17:18). How easily we forget to thank God for all the good things he does for us.
For the man who turned back to Jesus there seems to have been an added blessing: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well,” Jesus said (17:19).
While the nine were certainly healed of their leprosy, the words translated here, has made you well are literally, has saved you. For this man there was a healing of his soul as well as his body.
Is thanksgiving a regular part of your prayer? Paul the Apostle writes in Philippians chapter 4, verse 4: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. … Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
A Prayer. Almighty God, creator of all things and giver of every good and perfect gift, hear with favor the prayers of your people, so that we who are justly punished for our offences may mercifully be delivered by your goodness, for the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
You may like to listen to the hymn, May the Peoples Praise You from Keith and Kristyn Getty.
© John G. Mason
Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.
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