It isn’t a big story. Luke 17:11-19 is one of those stories, if your not careful, you can sort of gloss right over. But, there are some important details I haven’t always paid attention too.
As the text opens, Jesus is on his way, as is often the case in the gospels, Jesus is heading somewhere. And this time the text reveals he is on his way to Jerusalem. He is set out for his final showdown in Jerusalem, so this story sets up the happenings of the last week of his life and functions to continue to reveal one of Luke’s overarching themes in the book (I will come back to that in a moment).
As Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem, he is on the border of Jewish and Samaritan territory. This is an important description and helpful clue in the text. Jews and Samaritans were at odds with one another. Jews hated their Samaritan neighbors because at the time of the Babylonian captivity those Jews who weren’t carted off into captivity intermarried with the influx of new Babylonian residents. Over the course of time they lost their distinctive Jewishness. Samaritans were the equivalent of “mudbloods.”
As Jesus is entering a village he is greeted by ten lepers, standing at a distance and pleading with Jesus for him to have pity of them. Leprosy was and is a terrible disease. In Jesus’ day, people with leprosy were excluded from community. They would have been forced to live in relative isolation outside of their hometown, and when passerbys were nearing, they were to yell, “unclean, unclean.” Instead of yelling out their uncleanness, they shout for pity! Whatever their lonely existence had entailed, they must have heard about the carpenter from Nazareth working wonders all over Israel. You can almost hear their hope wither once they were labeled as leprous. But the stories emanating out of the towns all over Israel, about demons being driven out, about the lame walking, about the blind seeing, about the sick healed continued to spread. Once these stories reached leprous ears, that tiny flame of squashed hope must of have been reignited because these ten lepers run to the edge of town and greet the coming Savior! As they greet Jesus they call him master. Master is a word that denotes authority and power. Remember the gospels paint a picture of Jesus having power over all things.
These lepers plead for pity. Jesus sends them to the priests. The law demanded that in order to be declared clean, or in order to have community restored to you, one had to go show themselves to the priests. Luke 17:14 says, “And as they went, they were cleansed.” Jesus doesn’t touch these men. He could have. In Mark 1 he reaches down and touches the leper in the text. There is power in a touch, and for one who hadn’t been touched by another, that meant even more. Jesus could have touched these men. I think he did, only his tough wasn’t physical it was emotional/spiritual. The Jesus touch in this text in Luke 17 restores community, vitality, life, family, and worship back to these men withered by leprosy’s ugly contamination. That Jesus even responds at all to lepers is a marked contrast from the norm in his day. The religious leaders in Jesus day tried to protect the holiness of God. Jesus contaminates the world with God’s holiness.
Of the ten healed of leprosy, only one returns. We aren’t told why the other nine didn’t, or the why the one returns. We are told that the one who returns is a Samaritan. The one’s hated by the Jews, the one’s thought to be lost and without God in the world, comes back praising God and throws himself at Jesus’ feet (Luke 17:15-16). What is so remarkable about the story of the one Samaritan leper coming back to thank the Lord, is that Luke touches on one his major themes in the book, that this story of Jesus, is “goodnews of great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10) In other words, what God is doing in and through Jesus is available to all races, nations, tongues and tribes.
The lack of thanksgiving from the other nine got me thinking about ingratitude. Do we take for granted our blessings? Do we take for granted our health? Do we miss the beauty of God;s work in us and around us because we are to busy doing our duties or blinded by religious observance? If we are honest with ourselves, the answers to the above questions are “yes.” From this text, I am reminded of the following few things about ingratitude:
- Ingratitude isn’t always noticeable. Remember the nine lepers were on their way to see the priest.
- Ingratitude gets in the way of praise!
- Ingratitude is no respecter of persons.
- The only way out of ingratitude is to praise God and practice giving thanks for what the Lord has done and is continuing to do in our world today and in us!