Luke 17:11-19         “Leaping Lepers”


            Knock-knock! Who is there? “Tank” Tank who? Oh, you are welcome! See? It is not so hard to say thank you! Why did these nine out of ten gentlemen in the small town in Samaria have such a hard time thanking Jesus for their healing? Would that not just be being polite with a stranger if nothing else?      

Actually in those days there was religious obligation to be thankful, to show thanks to God. 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!  With the way things are going around the world right now, I really have become thankful that the world has not ended overnight!

            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. Although it may not seem strange for our time.

            Honestly, my ear has grown so accustomed to not hearing any gratitude from others that when someone does say thank-you I am not even sure how to respond. When we re-opened the Education Center gym for the kids to come in after school this year, after the long closure because of COVID, Jared and I were so thankful that the kids wanted to come back and be there again. So, we were especially surprised when some of the youth even thanked us for being there! One particular young lady still to this day always says “thank-you” as she heads off after playing volleyball with her friends. "Love having you here. Come again tomorrow!" It is so nice. This makes us feel like it is worthwhile to be there! Most of the other youth just slink off when they leave. It so wonderful to get that nice bright thanks at least from one! That ratio is one thanks out of forty or more!

            Almost as an aside, Jesus tells the ten to go present themselves to the priests. We really do not have a biblical confirmation that that ever even happened. You see, we hold out this hope that the others will come around to be thankful to God. Nope. That might be too much to hope for.         


            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. As David H. rightfully pointed out in Bible Study on Tuesday, “Mercy is asking for a punishment that is deserved to be lifted from you.” If you know you have been found guilty of a crime in court, and you want a lesser punishment, you “throw yourself on the mercy of the court." It was a normal understanding for the time that if one were stricken with leprosy that it was some kind of punishment for sins in life. We do not believe that anymore. 

            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 am thinking about our sister Jo Douglass right now because she has lived just shy of one hundred years. She is in hospice now. She is not even asking for a healing in her life. She is just so thankful for the life she has had. All of the elders of the faith that I have been with at the end of life have been the same. There is just an utter thankfulness to God. Why is it that we all should wait until the end to discover all the grace and mercy that God has for us? We are we not just thanking God right now today? Is that not our faith?

            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. This last week I happened to see a stick bug on the concrete around the pool. One of the lifeguards came and carefully took it over to the grassy area. Again I thanked them: “Thank you for saving the stick bug's life!"


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.