Luke 17:11-19 Common English Bible
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, 13 they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”
14 When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” 19 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
It is Thanksgiving week! It is one of my favorite times of the year. We each have many traditions, which include family, friends, eating, (football, more than likely), and hopefully giving thanks.
As we begin this morning, I want to start with the word “grateful”. It is to be aware of our blessings. To go back a ways, there is a passage in Deuteronomy, verses 7-18 of chapter 8, specifically. It is a restatement of the story of the ten commandments (here it takes chapters 5-10 for the commandments and cautions; in Exodus, where it originally appears, it runs from chapters 19 – 31, and it is all regulations! This restatement was written long after the actual events.
Deuteronomy 8:7-18 CEB
because the Lord your God is bringing you to a wonderful land, a land with streams of water, springs, and wells that gush up in the valleys and on the hills; 8 a land of wheat and barley, vines, fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; 9 a land where you will eat food without any shortage—you won’t lack a thing there—a land where stone is hard as iron and where you will mine copper from the hills. 10 You will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless the Lord your God in the wonderful land that he’s given you.
11 But watch yourself! Don’t forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commands or his case laws or his regulations that I am commanding you right now. 12 When you eat, get full, build nice houses, and settle down, 13 and when your herds and your flocks are growing large, your silver and gold are multiplying, and everything you have is thriving, 14 don’t become arrogant, forgetting the Lord your God:
the one who rescued you from Egypt, from the house of slavery;
15 the one who led you through this vast and terrifying desert of poisonous snakes and scorpions, of cracked ground with no water;
the one who made water flow for you out of a hard rock;
16 the one who fed you manna in the wilderness, which your ancestors had never experienced, in order to humble and test you, but in order to do good to you in the end.
17 Don’t think to yourself, My own strength and abilities have produced all this prosperity for me. 18 Remember the Lord your God! He’s the one who gives you the strength to be prosperous in order to establish the covenant he made with your ancestors—and that’s how things stand right now.
Three times in these verses reminds us “not to forget” (11, 14, 18). Why the repetition? Simple, they were forgetting!
It is both easy and hard to be thankful (and acknowledge that thankfulness) in good times. Times of goodness are easy to be thankful for. Yet good times are a hazard. We forget to be thankful. Conversely, it is hard to be thankful in hard times, yet essential. When things are going badly our heart rarely thinks first of gratitude. Deuteronomy is a call to remember God’s provisions and blessings, and be thankful. In hard times, it all comes down to remembering that God has in the past walked with us in difficult times – and gotten us through them. Therefore, God will in the present and into the future be faithful to do the same.
Our story this morning of the ten lepers first opens with “On the way to Jerusalem… .” This is an important piece of the setting of this passage. In Luke 9:51, Luke states that Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem.” This is the moment when Jesus pushes into the most difficult chapter of his life and ministry. He is aware of the cross on the horizon. Here in 17:11, the reference of “on the way” is a reference to that chapter unfolding. This section or movement in Luke’s Gospel closes with 18:31 and following where Jesus makes his third prediction of his death in great detail.
Our story is a story of the powers of gratitude. The story needs to be taken in two parts: first, it is the cleansing or healing of the ten lepers. Second, it is a salvation story. Jesus meets the lepers on the road. He tells all ten to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” This was the prescribed step to take when a leper was cleansed. The priests needed to certify that they were indeed cleansed and could again rejoin society. Ten lepers were cleansed that day, but only one returned, “One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice.” The story begins with obedience – obedience cleansed the lepers. They were told to go show themselves to the priests – which presumes they were cleansed already. “On the way” they were actually cleansed. Gratitude, however, saved the foreigner (the Samaritan). Here is what I mean. The word translated here as “healed” is also the same word used for saved or salvation. In the Zacchaeus story (Luke 19:1-10) it is stated, “Today salvation has come to this household.” The same word translated “salvation” in this passage, is used in 17:19. Zacchaeus then declares, in his words and actions, his thankfulness.
My title? I’ll bet you thought I was going to preach on stewardship!? LOL (laugh out loud). Nope, As a mathematician I immediately noted that only 10% of the lepers acknowledged their healing with faith and thankfulness. You can breathe a sigh of relief now.
This last Friday, while I was subbing in the middle school, Josh Varner spoke to a school assembly. His topic was “Tools for completing the stress cycle.” The way to remain sane in times of stress is to “complete the cycle.” In other words, we need to resolve the stress. It may not disappear, but it can become manageable. One of the tools he lifted up was gratitude! If you look for what is wrong in life you will be sure to find it! But if you look for the good in life you will likewise find it. We need to develop a lifestyle of gratitude. He reminded all who were listening that it only takes 6 weeks to establish a habit. Then it becomes a lifestyle. This is not to say that we just stick our heads in the sand and pretend that there is nothing wrong in the world. It is to say, however, that seeing the world with gratitude better equips us to handle and be productive when we are confronted with difficult things.
Gratitude is most powerful when acted upon. The feeling of gratitude is different than expressing it. I’m sure that all ten were grateful. But only one expressed it. That leper first expressed it to God – Jesus in this case, the one who had cleansed him. But then, gratitude grows when you express it to others.
Randy Wahler is one of the most grateful people I know. Even in the midst of his battle with cancer, he sees the positive in life. Does that mean he glosses over his battle? No! He never forgets that he is in the midst of a battle. But, because of his gratefulness, he can face the battle with confidence.
My challenge to you this Thanksgiving is to be vigilant in your awareness of your blessings, big and small. Then express them to God and to other people. Do not forget the Lord your God. Amen
Pastor Paul Grossman