Luke 17:11-19 - Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, 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 made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Language is an amusingly and confusingly limited thing. When spoken, words are not just words. Their meaning is shaped and nuanced by context, tone and more. There’s a big difference between a joking ‘Shut up!’ and a furious ‘Shut up!’ and you can hear it in your head as I write this.
It’s obvious when you travel too. If you’re in Ireland, you’ll hear us greet each other by saying ‘Howarya?’ Technically, it means ‘How are you?’ but the way in which it’s spoken as one word and as a statement rather than a question lets you know that they are not expecting you to really tell them how you are.
It’s similar but different in the US. When you walk into every commercial establishment from Target to Taco Bell to Toys’R’Us, someone will ask ‘How are you today?’ but would be perplexed and uncomfortable if you answered with anything but ‘Great, thank you!'
But there’s another type of ‘How are you?’ The emphasis is on the ‘are’ as it is asked slowly and seriously by a friend, a lover or a loved one. The words are the same but the tone tells you that the person cares and that they honestly and sincerely want to know.
The same is true of ‘Thank you.’ There are times when it is used purely out of politeness and that’s a lovely, polite thing. But there are other times, often preceded by ‘Seriously’, when ‘thank you’ comes from the heart, from a place of deep and wholehearted gratitude. And gratitude is a million miles from politeness.
A polite ‘thank you’ is perfunctory. It acknowledges someone’s service. It’s the ‘done thing’ in cases when one had a right to expect the person to give, serve or help. We say ‘thank you’ for food we ordered, a product delivered or a service we paid for.
A grateful ‘thank you’, however, requires a certain amount of vulnerability. It acknowledges someone’s sacrifice. It acknowledges that whatever they gave to you or did for you truly mattered and that you really needed it. In our world of independence and self-sufficiency, true gratitude is a difficult thing.
It makes me admit that I needed help.
It forces me to confront my own limitations.
It feels like being in someone’s debt even if they are not responsible for me feeling that way.
For whatever reason, at a particular moment, I couldn’t do it on my own. And when you gave or helped or reached out, you saw me in a space of weakness and vulnerability. You did not ignore me, you did not judge me, you did not keep walking past me.
True gratitude means speaking the truth, not only of someone else’s kindness, but of my own weakness, inability or insufficiency, particularly if it is an act of grace I don’t feel that I have earned or deserve.
Ten lepers call out to Jesus from a distance. They are considered too unclean to come close. And Jesus sends them on a journey during which they are healed.
Nine of them are followers of God who, seeing their healing, do not return to give even the polite and perfunctory thanks. God has moved towards them and within them and they do as I so often do: they take it in their stride with a posture of entitlement and self-absorption as if God’s purpose is to improve their lives.
The tenth is a Samaritan, considered by most faithful Jews to be half-breeds and heretics who have wandered from the true faith. And yet, it is this outsider, this outcast, who returns to recognise the truth of what has happened; who knows the depth of his own need and the overflowing goodness of this Jesus who has made him whole.
Learning to be grateful means learning to be expectant without being entitled.
It means learning to be vulnerable enough to admit my weakness and allow his strength to be made visible and perfect within it.
At the end of the story, all ten former lepers continue on their journey but the Samaritan teaches us to pause and return before continuing. Because pausing and returning, being grateful and vulnerable, transforms the way we journey on.
Scott Evans is the Church of Ireland chaplain to University College Dublin, producer of The Graveyard Shift Podcast and co-founder of Paradoxology, a prayer space at Ireland’s Electric Picnic music festival. He grew up in Bangladesh and his life has been a series of crazy decisions, odd adventures and bad haircuts. He is also the author of 3 books, Closer Still, Beautiful Attitudes and Failing From The Front (& Other Lessons From The Lives of Losers.) He loves Vietnamese food, coffee, writing, Aston Villa and Jesus.