Luke 17:11-19 “Thanks Decimated”
If I were a good observant Jew in the time of Jesus Christ, my religious obligation would have been to thank God in prayer at least three times a day. This tradition comes from the command of Deuteronomy 6 to say the Shema twice a day and then from the time of Ezra at the reestablishment of worship in the Temple upon return from the exile in Babylon that makes a third mid-day prayer.
The first prayer of the day in the morning is supposed to be a prayer specifically of thanksgiving. I find this interesting because you would think it would be required to give thanks at the end of the day, but here we have the exact opposite. The thinking is to express gratitude to God that the world did not end overnight. God, thank you for another day. Thank you for letting me get up in the morning. Thank you for the sunrise, crashing surf, and for the opportunity to live in Your grace just one more day!
I bring this up just to point out how incredible this story would have been to Luke’s original Jewish audience listening to this true actual event. They were praying prayers of thanksgiving to God already morning, noon, and night. Consequently the notion that nine out of ten people who had just experienced the extreme healing power of God, are invited to walk with Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, instead turn away without even giving a word of thanks to God. This is an extremely strange story for the time.
The story does fit our time very well. In fact, we hear these words and nod in agreement that that is indeed the case today that nine out of ten would not even recognize that God has done miraculous things in their lives. In fact I will exegete our current modern culture to say that the opposite is true for us. When even minor problems come to nine out of ten today, these folks will curse God, using God’s name in vain. God is reserved apparently for cursing rather than for thanking.
When I was a boy in my home church, one of our pastors, an associate one, once drove some of us youth out to Pilgrim Pines out by Yucaipa in California. He was a great pastor. He had a real sincere love of God that was so visible. Anyway on the way up to the camp, we stopped the van in the little town of Oak Glen. It was a tourist stop where we all could buy things made from apples. It was the apple stop, if you will. When we were all done looking around, we got in the van. The pastor turned the key. Nothing happened. He got out and looked under the hood. All of the sudden we all heard the Lord’s name being taken in vain in a loud voice the echoed down the street. Someone had stolen the battery out of the van.
You have to know that as kids we all just started laughing at the pastor. “Oh pastor, you said bad words! “
Thank God, the place to get a new battery was downhill from where we had parked. It was like fifteen miles downhill, but down the hill. We were able to coast that van all the way there. Praise God. It all worked out, and it was miraculous that we made it there!
Instead of cursing God, we all need to look out for how God is going to be working miracles in our lives when bad things happen. “Okay God, now send to us your miracle.” I thank you in advance for what you are going to do in my life right now.
As an aside, we learned later from the camp director that a local tow truck company was doing this scam—taking people’s battery and then charging them back to have the exact same battery reinstalled. I think it is one of the reasons we now have locking front hoods on our cars. Thank God for locking hoods.
Getting back to our scripture for today, the ten lepers approach Jesus, yet keep their distance. The cry out to Jesus “Lord, have mercy.” To be sure, they do not come up asking that the leprosy be taken from them. They ask for Jesus’ mercy. In this way, it is up to Jesus to respond to their needs.
The words they use, by the way, are very famous: “Kyrie Eleison.” Christians and Jews have uttered these words for millennia in times of worship and prayer. We can see these words asking for mercy, for instance, in Psalm 25:11, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. . . .” This is one of the oldest Hebrew texts we have today.
Jesus hears their “kyrie Eleison” but does not immediately heal them. In stead we see that Jesus tells the lepers to go show themselves to the priests in Jerusalem. This is very interesting because Samaritans did not worship in Jerusalem but rather at an altar on Mount Gerazim. Where is Jesus going? Jerusalem. Jesus is in essence asking them to join him in his way. Then, in that moment when they turn to leave and head away, they are healed.
I can only imagine what is going on inside their heads when Jesus tells them to go present themselves to the priests. They did not know that they were going to be made whole just a few seconds later. They must have thought that Jesus was simply sending them away. They might have been frustrated with Jesus for his response. They experience a great miracle—and yet they keep walking away from Jesus.
I have seen this in my own life. I have seen folks being blessed by God again and again. I am talking about real miracles such as cancers being cured, surviving tremendous disasters, and profound blessings suddenly appearing just at the right time and yet not one thought of thanking God for the miracles.
I have a friend in Germany who never believed in God. She always wanted to have a child. Through a true miracle she became pregnant. Yet, she was a doctor and merely stated that statistically she was lucky. So, the child had to be born by C-section. While the doctor and nurse were attending the newborn, they did not notice that she was bleeding internally. She died. She was literally dead. Finally someone noticed her condition and she was revived. Thank God, right? Wrong. Again, she stated that she was merely lucky. Then, one day she was crossing the street with her son who was now four years old, just as she and the boy stepped off the curb into the street, she felt a strong hand pull her back onto the sidewalk. Just then a large truck came swiftly down the street. She and her boy would have been killed. She looked around to see that no one was there. Did she thank God? Nope.
Shortly thereafter, she began to see angels all around her. Did she thank God? No, she thought she was going crazy. In fact, she has finally accepted that she can see angels and now finally attributes all of this to the miraculous power of God. It took her an entire lifetime almost to finally see the miracles as miracles from God.
In the story of the ten lepers, only one turns back to Jesus and thanks him. The scripture is clear that this one man praises Jesus in a loud voice. This means that the others must have surely heard him returning to Jesus and praising Him. Yet, they seem to keep walking away. Even when overtly prompted to do so, they do not thank God for their healing.
At the Waimea swimming pool after finishing my laps, I always thank the lifeguard loud enough that other people in the pool might be inspired to do the same. “Thank you for guarding my life!” The truth of the matter is that to this day despite my loud voice of thanks, I have never heard anyone else ever thank the people there for guarding their lives.
Let us now focus on the last line of the scripture for today. The man who has been healed who has returned to thank Jesus is down on his hands and knees prostrate before the Lord. Jesus tells him to “Arise.” Now this is a very interesting moment for words that Jesus uses here. The word to “arise” in the Greek is the same as the word for “resurrection.” You will recall on Easter morning that we say to one another in Greek “Christos Anesti.” Jesus is risen! Jesus is using that same word as a command to this man: “Anasta!”
The last sentence then says, “Your faith has saved you.” I do not like the translation “faith has made you well.” The Greek word here is “sosimai.” Everywhere else we run into this word, we see it translated as “saved” or “salvation.” Jesus is not just saying that the leprosy is gone, but that this man is now saved to the eternal resurrection! Big difference from the other nine who were bodily healed!
To be perfectly clear, it seems that all ten lepers were healed, but only one out of the ten received the whole burrito of healing in body, mind, and spirit. What precipitates this total healing is the act of giving sincere thanks to God; that is, getting down on bended knee before Jesus.
Consider, therefore, the original cry to Jesus from these ten lepers: “Kyrie eleison.” Lord, grant us mercy! Only the one in turning back to Jesus is actually granted the mercy that was called for. Yes, the others were healed, because Jesus is God and can do no other, but only the one is actually told that he will be saved unto the eternal resurrection with God. Only one has the real disease of human sin lifted from him as he bows down before Jesus. He has not just been cured of leprosy; he has been saved by his faith.
In our world today, that kind of faith has been decimated—which literally means to be made one out of ten. In turning back and being grateful to God for the miracles of life we experience, the greater blessing is given.