On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and they called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, Jesus 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 17:11-19
Good morning, Friends!
This is a pretty simple story. It doesn’t need a lot of explanation.
Ten people with leprosy – a terrible disease they had no cure for at the time – met Jesus along the road as he came into town. They cried out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
It was a heart-wrenching prayer. No one could help them. They were cast out from society. By law, they weren’t allowed to go near anybody. They had to leave their homes. Their families were forbidden to have physical contact with them. Their friends couldn’t talk with them. They couldn’t buy or sell anything. They had to beg for food. It was a kind of a living death.
No one knew back then how it spread. The only thing people knew that worked was to isolate the victims of this terrible disease.
Fortunately, we understand leprosy a lot better today. It’s caused by a bacteria, and it can be cured with antibiotics. There’s still a lot of fear and stigma attached to it, which is cruel, because anyone who has any kind of disease wouldn’t choose to have it.
Most illnesses, whether they’re physical or mental, can be treated or helped in some way. The Christian response should be compassion, not casting people out. That’s an important point and one we should always remember, but it isn’t the point of this morning’s story.
These ten people called out to Jesus, “Master, have pity on us!”
Jesus had compassion on them. He stopped, and looked at them, where most people would have turned and hurried in the other direction.
The story reminds us that God is compassionate. God cares about us. Never doubt that – God cares for us. God cares for our pain. God cares for all the problems we have. No matter what the problem is, God doesn’t turn away. There is nothing so terrible that Jesus can’t look at it. There’s nothing so awful that Jesus won’t stop and help deal with it.
Always remember that. Always believe it. Always tell people, every day, that God cares, that we can take anything to Jesus. There is no such thing as a problem that’s so awful, or so shameful, or any condition that too disgusting for Jesus to see. He’s seen it all before. You’re never alone. And Jesus cares. From the bottom of his heart, Jesus cares.
Even these people with a terrible disease, understood that. Even though they were desperate, even though they were cast out, they prayed.
“Master, have pity on us!” That’s the deepest prayer there is. If you ever don’t know what words to pray, those are good words. If you’re hurt and you’re desperate and you don’t know what to say, those words are OK to use. “Lord, have pity on us! Be merciful to us! Show us your kindness! We know you care!”
But you know, that’s still not the point that this story wants us to take home. It’s a good point. You can always pray to Jesus. Jesus always has compassion. But it’s not what this story is really about.
Jesus healed them. It doesn’t say how. It doesn’t tell us what words he used. It would be nice to know, but the story doesn’t tell us. All Jesus said was, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” See, in the Old Testament, in the book of Leviticus, there are two whole chapters about how to deal with leprosy. If you had it, you were an outcast, and it goes into great detail about how people with leprosy had to be isolated from society.
If you were healed, you had to go to the priest, since there weren’t any doctors in ancient times. The priest examined the person, and there was an elaborate ritual to go through, to be sure that the disease was gone. It involved sacrificing some strange things, and sprinkling the sacrifice on the body of the person who was ill.
They had to shave off all their hair, and wash their clothes, and take a special bath, and continue to live outside the community for a while to be sure the disease was gone. It was a big deal.
But here’s where the story gets interesting. The place where this happened was a border town, between the territory of the Jews and the territory of the Samaritans. The Jews and the Samaritans were deadly enemies. They had fought a civil war, and the Jews had done their best to wipe out the Samaritans a couple of hundred years earlier.
Their kids couldn’t marry each other – if they did, both families would hold a funeral. They were forbidden to do business with each other. They certainly didn’t worship together, even though they both spoke the same language and both worshiped God and both sides claimed to be descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jews and the Samaritans treated each other as if the other group had leprosy.
Here in this story, it seems like the group of people with leprosy included both Jews and Samaritans. They were all outcasts together. Seems as though they lost their differences in the misery of their common illness.
I think that’s got to be one of the real points of the story. A lot of the time we think we’re so much better than other people. We’ve always got something we’re proud of that gives us that sense of superiority.
But really, we’re all pretty much the same. The Bible reminds us that all of us are broken. We all fall short of the glory of God. Maybe don’t all have leprosy, or AIDS, or some other terrible disease like that. But it doesn’t matter what color we are, what nation we’re from, what language we speak, what money we have.
We all have the same basic human illness. We’re all broken at times. We’re all different, but our differences don’t matter when we’re hurting.
I think that’s one of the real points of this story. Jews or Samaritans, whatever you are, it doesn’t matter when you’re really sick, when you’re really hurt.
We already talked about the first real point, which is that Jesus cares. Jesus cares about everyone. There’s no condition so terrible, that Jesus will look away. Jesus hears every prayer, no matter who we are or what we’ve done or what our need is.
The second point is that we’re all the same. We’re all human beings. We’re all broken. We all sin. We all fall short of the glory that God intends for us. None of us is better, really.
But then, there’s a final big point, which is what this story is really about. Ten people with leprosy were healed. All ten. But out of those ten, only one came back to thank Jesus. Ten were made clean. One said thank you.
And that one who turned back, the one out of ten, was a Samaritan. He had been outcast as a leper, but he was outcast because of his nationality as well. He was unacceptable even when he was clean and healthy. As a leper, he had been doubly unclean.
So, the Samaritan turned back. The rest, presumably, were Jews who thought they were only unclean because of their leprosy. We never hear from them again.
Ten were made whole; one returned to give thanks, praising God and shouting at the top of his voice.
What a proportion that is. What a significant ratio. This isn’t just a healing story. This is a parable of humanity. This is a story about people, about the way we are.
The ten lepers, in a way, stand for the whole human race. Our human condition is such that at one time or another, all of us have to say, “Have pity, on me, O God!” or “Have mercy!” or just plain, “Help!”
This is a story that tells us something about ourselves. It forces us to look at ourselves, at what we do and who we are.
Ten were healed; one returned to give thanks. I think that says something to all of us about our thanks/giving ratio. God scatters blessings on every one of us, not just in answer to our prayers, but in the blessings we receive every day – of ordinary good health, daily bread, our homes, our families, our work, our environment.
We’re blessed by the people around us – by people who do their jobs well and honestly and cheerfully. We’re blessed by our friends – by the people who help us and are there for us when we need them.
Today’s gospel talks about an extraordinary healing, but ordinary blessings surround us every day. Both the special, extraordinary blessings and the everyday ones are part of God’s mercy and care.
Taking our society as a whole, I’d say that we return thanks for our blessings in about the same ratio as today’s story – one out of ten. For every ten good gifts of health and life and fellowship we receive, for every ten good gifts we get from God, we maybe give thanks for one.
Now, this coming Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, and I’m kind of hitching onto the Thanksgiving bandwagon. But I’m not interested in Pilgrims and pumpkins and turkey and stuff – or stuffing! I’m asking you all to think about how often we give thanks.
Imagine, just for a moment, about making a big change in our lives. What would it be like if we gave thanks more often? What if we were so aware of all the blessings we receive, that we thanked God for all of them?
- What would it be like?
- Would our lives be richer?
- Would we be closer to God?
- Would our experience of worship be deeper and more powerful and mean more to us?
What would it be like?
Saying “thank you” is one of the simplest and most natural of prayers. Giving thanks is a true prayer. It’s a true conversation with God.
We stop and notice things around us. We recognize things as the gift of God. We recognize the love and care and mercy of God, in what happens to us every day. And we say, “Lord, thank you!”
It’s the simplest of prayers. With practice, the habit of giving thanks becomes part of our way of life. It becomes a way to fill our lives with grace.
I’d like us to take a little more time this morning and encourage us to share some recent experience of God’s blessing or care or love, some cause for giving thanks. It doesn’t need to be long – just saying that we’re grateful.
No one has to speak; nobody gets points or stars or check marks. But in the light of today’s gospel, it seems to me that we all need to increase our thanks/giving ratio.
Ten people were made whole again; only one came back to Jesus to say thank you. Surely, surely, we all need to give thanks to God.