Luke 17:11-19 introduces us to ten men who have a disease which bars them from participation in the covenant community. They suffer from an ailment that essentially excommunicates them from the Old Testament church.
Ten Lepers Cry for Mercy
The disease they suffer from is not necessarily Hansen’s disease. Even Psoriasis would qualify as “leprosy” under the Law. We aren’t so much to sympathize with their physical suffering as with their emotional distress. They are “unclean” by virtue of their condition. And, since God, who is holy, dwells in the midst of his people, they must be banished to the outskirts of covenant society. It is a theological point that is being made in the Law, not a public safety or public health provision. The proof of this point is found in Leviticus 13:12-13. If their leprosy had been complete, covering their entire bodies, they would not be unclean, but clean. It is the mixture that pollutes them, much as mixing seeds in a field or materials in a cloth (Leviticus 19:19). The people of God are to be single-minded in their devotion and lifestyle. They are a heavenly people, a redeemed people, a holy people, and they must be what they are. We cannot be both worldly and heavenly. That is unclean. This is the theological point behind the leprosy laws. This unfortunate circumstance excommunicated them to make a point about God’s holiness, and his requirement of holiness in his people.
While we may or may not have a whole lot of sympathy for someone suffering from Psoriasis, surely we can appreciate the loneliness and emotional struggle that the men were facing. Each one of them was cut off from potential employment. Each one was deprived the embrace of his wife — if he had a wife, and if he didn’t he was cut off from the hope of finding one. If he had kids, he could only see them from a distance. But worst of all, he was cut off from visiting the temple of God and participating in the corporate worship of His people. And so, we can appreciate the cry for mercy — a request Jesus never refused in all of the Gospels.
Faith, Healing and Gratitude
But Jesus’ cure requires an act of faith on their part. He doesn’t touch them as he’s done before (Luke 5:13). Instead, he tells them to go show themselves to the priest, that they might be declared clean and be reunited with friends and family. They were asked to leave the doctor while their ailment was still evident. It required trust to turn and go.
To a man, they all complied and they were all cleansed. Each of them would have been all the more eager to reach the priest to begin the process of being restored to the community. But for one of them, it was more important to praise God and thank Jesus than it was to embrace father or mother or wife or son or daughter. And that man was, ironically, a Samaritan, a half-breed. The Samaritans were a mixed race of people, and so were the epitome of uncleanness. Yet only the Samaritan showed gratitude to the Great Physician.
Why is gratitude so rare, that only one in ten demonstrated it? One of the greatest drags on our gratitude is a sense of entitlement. But we should carefully consider the fact that God is under no obligation to any of us. The only obligation he has toward us is an obligation he sovereignly chose to take on when he chose to save us. Any obligation he has is a free obligation, and we have no claim on it. The Samaritan seems to have grasped this crucial fact. He grasped that he had been shown grace, and gratitude welled up in his heart.
I wonder whether this man wasn’t the only one who obeyed Jesus’ command in the truest sense, as he alone went to the Great High Priest. But whether that is over-reading the text or not, it is clear that, while ten men once stood at a distance, one man drew near. And that is the point. There is something different about this man.
It is for this reason that I think we should prefer the footnoted translation of the ESV. His faith did not merely make him well. That might be said of the other nine. This man’s faith saved him.
The text is not making the point that faith plus gratitude saves. Rather, it is making the point that saving faith bears the fruit of gratitude. If we are not grateful, it is doubtful that we are saved at all. Now, of course, our gratitude will not be perfected this side of Christ’s return. But it will be there. And it will be growing … if we are truly saved.
Thanklessness is at the heart of man’s fallen condition (Rom 1:21). And it is a danger that threatens even the church. We are to expect that there will be people who have “the appearance of godliness” (2 Tim 3:5) who yet are ungrateful (2 Tim 3:2). So we should beware any sense of entitlement or apathy toward the amazing grace of our God toward us.
Not only has Jesus humbled himself to take on human flesh with all its frailty for you. He lived a life of perfect obedience, suffering all the while, and suffering finally at the hands of men. Ultimately suffering the rejection of his own Father for the sake of His people. And even now, he intercedes on your behalf. You have food on your table and a roof over your heads. His mercies are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness.
Thanksgiving is the heart of our worship (2 Cor 14:16-17). It is the heart of our response to the gospel (Eph 5:17-21; Col 3:15-17). And it is at the heart of the apostolic blessing:
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:11–14 ESV)
Are you growing more and more thankful? Make it your habit to thank God for his mercy. It will keep you walking in the light of the gospel.