Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio


Luke 17: 11-19

Psalm 95: 1-7a

     I’d like to open this morning’s message with two very short stories.  The first comes from a legend

about two angels who were sent to earth to gather up the prayers of the people.  One was to fill a

basket with prayers of petition – those prayers requesting help, healing, provision, blessing.  The

second was to fill a basket with prayers of thanksgiving.  When they returned to heaven after completing their

respective assignments, one angel had a basket overflowing with innumerable prayers.  The other angel returned with a

heavy heart and an almost empty basket.  Might we venture a guess as to which basket was which?

      Then there was the post office clerk whose job it was to open and read the mail which came to

the Dead Letter Office in Washington, D.C. addressed to Santa Claus.  In the three months before

Christmas, there were thousands of letters asking for a favorite gift.  In the months after Christmas,

there were only a few dozen cards addressed to Santa thanking him.

      How quick we are to ask and receive.  Yet how slow we sometimes are to speak that magic word. 

When I was a youngster, my mother used to lay on me the same burden I laid upon my kids as they

were growing up.  “Now don’t forget to send your grandmother, or your uncle, or your friend a nice

thank-you card.”  “Aw mom, they know I appreciate their gift.  Can’t I just tell them the next time I

see them?”  I’ll never forget the time – I think I was a preteen – when I came back to my mother

with a smart Alec answer that got me grounded for a week.  I received a card with money from my  

Aunt Eleanor.  While stuffing the bill into my pocket, my reply to her thank-you card speech was: 

“Why should I send a thank-you?  I didn’t ask for it.”  Wrong thing to say.  Along with the grounding,

that bill came out of my pocket and into that ghastly savings account I wasn’t allowed to touch until

I went to college.  And my mother stood over my shoulder as I wrote that nice thank-you card.

      Is it a lack of appreciation which is behind hesitancy or resistance in giving thanks?  Is it a lapse

of thoughtfulness; a case of laziness; simply taking another’s generosity for granted?  Maybe all of

the above?  Maybe none?  Let’s read of one specific case study of Jesus and ten lepers.

          (Read Luke 17:11-19)

      We join up with Jesus and His disciples as they are described as traveling “On the way to Jerusalem;” this being

what would end up for Jesus His last journey to the holy city where He would be arrested, tried, and crucified by the will of His own people. 

More specifically, they were on a route which bordered Galilee to the north and Samaria to the south.  As they came to an unnamed village

along that border route, Luke tells us that they were “approached” by ten lepers, who at the same

time “kept their distance.” 

      To review what we’ve discussed at other times, lepers tended to separate themselves into colonies as they were

stigmatized and rejected by society at large.  They are described here simply as

“lepers.”  Yet leprosy was a word used in Jesus’ day in reference to any number of degenerating

diseases; ranging perhaps from cancers, to dysentery, to HIV-like viruses.  Unlike society at large,

within the colony, there seemed to be no distinction between rich and poor; between Jew and Gen-

tile; between Galilean and Samaritan.  While kept at a distance, the leper colonies were strategically

positioned near enough major traffic arteries so as to be able to make appeals for charity; the same

thinking which motivates those poor and homeless who position themselves along freeway off

ramps near a traffic light.

      They recognized the Galilean rabbi, and maybe from thirty feet away shouted to Jesus their petition: 

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Jesus heard their appeal, and acted immediately.  But He asked them to do something

which seems odd.  Not knowing whether these were Gentiles or Jews

 living in this border colony, He instructed them all to show themselves to the priests, certainly for the

rite of purification according to Jewish Law. We can’t help but be impressed by their obedience, for

not yet being healed of their affliction, we are told that “…they went…. And as they went, they

were made clean.”   

      Here’s where the story takes a curious turn.  The nine – presumably Jews as they readily responded to Jesus’ instruction

to go see the priests – didn’t turn back.  Yet the one whom Luke identifies as a Samaritan, not only turns back, but “prostrated”

or laid full out on his belly, “and thanked him.”  Jesus then asks a question which sounds more rhetorical than literal: 

“Were not ten made clean?  But the other nine, where are they?”  I doubt Jesus was expecting an answer from the man,

or from His disciples who may have been looking at each other and shrugging their shoulders, thinking to themselves:  “Yes Lord,

there were nine others.  Why they didn’t return, we can’t say.  But then again Jesus, you did tell them to go show

themselves to the priests.”  Jesus continued His line of inquiry with what is clearly the end stress of the story: 

“Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then He said to the Samaritan, still face down on the ground

before Him:  “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  It is important to note that

the Greek verb sesoke here translated “made…well” is the same verb often translated “to be saved;”

such as in the story of Zacchaeus, at the end of which Jesus declares of Himself that He came to seek

and sosai (save) the lost.

      Fred Craddock and other New Testament scholars have observed that we have here a two-part

story.  The first part is a healing story with the usual elements:  a cry for help; Jesus’ response; a

   healing which occurs in an act of obedience rather than prior to obedience.  That is, Jesus treated

the lepers as already healed; and in their act of obedient faith, their healing took place.  The second

part is a story of salvation of a foreigner.  It is the Samaritan – the odd man out – who returned; who

praised God; who expressed thanks to Jesus.  That it was a foreigner with two counts against him –

being a social outcast and a religious heretic – who received salvation by faith is not surprising in

Luke’s Gospel, where the marginalized are treated most favorably.  Only the outsider received the

full blessing of Jesus’ ministry.  What we essentially have here is a story of ten being healed; one

being saved.

      Again the question:  Why did only one of the ten bother to sit down and write a nice thank-you

note?  Was it a lapse of thoughtfulness on the part of the nine?  Was it a case of laziness?  Did the

nine take their healing for granted?  Were the nine only doing what Jesus instructed them to do?

Was it all of the above?  Was it none?  I believe the sesoke element of this story gives the answer. 

The heart most likely to respond to the Lord with genuine thanksgiving – gratitude which prostrates itself before

the blessing’s source – is the heart which has truly experienced salvation; not merely

experienced healing. 

      In my work as pastor, I have encountered many people who have been healed of many different

afflictions.  There is no doubt in this pastor’s mind, as I suspect there is no doubt in the minds of

those healed, that it was Almighty God who had effected the healing.  Yet I find relatively few who

return to the Source of their healing with a genuine posture of gratitude, and with a heart which has

been – if you’ll excuse the evangelical language – born anew.  Don’t get me wrong.  They’re all

thankful that they’ve been healed.  But their life may not necessarily have been transformed by the

healing.  In my experience, it is often the one who was previously a stranger to the Lord – self-alienated from God, or

alienated by circumstances – who is most often open to the fullness of the Lord’s grace and call to a transformed and redeemed life. 

That grace on one level provides healing; on another level, confers salvation.  Maybe hesitancy in giving thanks is tied to a resistance in giving our

very lives over to the Lord.  And ultimately, that is what God wants; our entire selves.  Might healing –

physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – be one of many means the Lord uses to draw us into a richer,

deeper, more profound and more committed relationship with Almighty God; or into a first-time relationship with the Lord? 

I think so.  That to me is the essence of the story of the thankful Samaritan.  Regarding the other nine, I expect they showed

themselves to the priests, offered whatever thanksgiving sacrifice the Law of Moses required, [and God honored it], were granted

their ritual purification, and went on with their lives; as so many do after the Lord has provided a mighty act in their lives. 

   What have we to be deeply grateful for during this season of thanksgiving?  How has the Lord

brought a mighty blessing to us?  Have we had a healing, even a miraculous one?  Have we returned

to give thanks to the One who is the Source of every blessing, and every healing?  Have we figurative-

ly written a nice thank-you note to the Lord?  Perhaps our every prayer should begin with prostrating

ourselves in spirit before God and expressing our deepest gratitude.  Perhaps we should assume the

posture of the Psalmist when he or she writes:  “Let us come into (God’s) presence with thanks-

giving…… O come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”  Through

such thanksgiving, may we be drawn into a deeper, richer, fuller relationship with the Lord.  May our

lives be transformed – and our hearts born anew – as we prostrate ourselves before the Source of our

healing, the Source of our salvation, and hear the words: “Your faith has made you well.”  Amen.